Monday, 6 May 2013

CONSUMMATE PRACTITIONER OF THE FINE ART OF POETRY

RAMY SALAMA

DOHA DR ZAKIYA Ali Malallah has worn many hats in her life. A graduate of Cairo University, she has a doctorate in pharmacy, and has headed the Quality Control Department in the Department of Pharmacy and Drug Control laboratory of the Supreme Council of Health in Qatar.

In addition to this, she is known to readers of Arabic literature as a poet who has nine books of poems to her credit, in addition to having published her poetry in anthologies, the most recent of which, a collection of poems titled ‘Gathering the Tide: An Anthology of Contemporary Arabian Gulf Poetry’, was published by Ithaca Press, a UK-based leading Englishlanguage publisher of academic books devoted to the Middle East studies.

Dr Malallah has also written for several local dailies, including Al Watan, having started out writing a column in the culture section of Al Sharq newspaper.

Dr Malallah continues to keep herself busy, but she was kind enough to talk to Qatar Tribune about her poetry, her writing in other directions, and her personal experiences as a poet in Qatar.

Talking about her literary works, she said, “I have more than 21 publications, which include both poetic works and other literary publications. I have experimented with a wide variety of poetic forms, from rhyming poems in classical Arabic to free verse in the colloquial tongue. I have also written prose poems, which in Arabic favours the use of evocative words in order to make an argument, or convey a point of view. This is in terms of the form of my work.

“In terms of content, much of my poetry is love poetry, or is of a romantic nature.

However, the subject matter of my poetry has also included issues of local interest in Qatar, as well as issues which have been in the consciousness of the Arab nation: the Lebanon War and the wars in Iraq to just give name two examples. I have also written poems about countries I have visited, or lived in, such as Egypt, where I studied for several years. I have also written many religious poems.” Dr Malallah describes her poetry as a craft for which she has a natural aptitude, rather than a hobby, as evidenced by the early age at which she started writing. She said, “I started writing poetry at the age of twelve, and soon found that I had a natural talent for poetic composition, which I have developed and honed over the years.

I have even published some of these poems, written when I was twelve or thirteen years old, in collections which I published much later. I still remember my first published piece, which won the second prize in a poetry competition, and as a result, it appeared in a magazine in Cairo, Egypt, during my years as a student. My first book followed this by a couple of years, and being my debut work was very important for me personally, it was a poetry collection titled In the Temple of Longing, published in 1985. This too was published in Egypt.

“Even though I studied the sciences, I attended to my literary inclinations, and nurtured them in order to hone my skills.

This was a matter of balancing my career with my literary vocation.

“Admittedly, I had many responsibilities as the head of the Quality Control Department in the Department of Pharmacy and Drug Control laboratory, but since my work in pharmacy was during the day, I was able to do this. After work, I would set the time in the afternoons and evenings for writing and other cultural activities and pursuits.” Qatari heritage is an important influence on her work.

She said, “there are dozens of poems which I’ve written as a result of being inspired by the Qatari heritage. The poems which I’ve written in the Qatari dialect in particular demonstrate this influence, both in terms of form and content, as I often use words specific to Qatar’s heritage and culture. Even the particular environment of Qatar has permeated my work, and there are countless references in my work to the sea, which is of course an essential aspect of our identity here.” Dr Malallah has been active on the cultural scene in Qatar for many years, and this continues to the present day.

About this she says, “I’ve been working with the Ministry of Culture for more than two decades, and I have engaged in a lot of cultural activities over that period of time.

These include attending poetry sessions, in some of which I recited my own poems.

“Poetry is actually fairly popular in Qatar, and there are regular events and even venues dedicated to the recital of poetry. This is in spite of the fact that there are, relatively, a small number of poets working in the country. The Ministry of Culture takes a special interest in the promotion of poetry, and provides a great deal of support to local artists. I can speak about this from my own experience, throughout my literary career they have provided me with support, having published several of my poetry collections.” As for being a female poet, this has not been any kind of hindrance for my creative work. On the contrary, both here and abroad, I have been lucky enough to find an audience receptive to my work, and I’ve met and spoken with many people who enjoy my poetry. I have received invitations to attend cultural events, and especially those concerned with poetry, and continue to receive these to this day.” Dr Malallah’s writing was not restricted to poetry.

She said, “I have also done a lot of work for newspapers, over a period of 20 years.

Over that length of time, and while I was not working as a journalist as such, I engaged in many journalistic activities ranging from investigative journalism to interviews, to writing columns on various topics.”

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