Jennifer Muller, firstname.lastname@example.org, Office of Communications
Spoken-word poet Rabab Chamseddine, a 21-year-old senior majoring in English literature, won the Beirut Poetry Slam and will participate in the Poetry Slam World Cup in Paris this May, becoming the first person from the Middle East to take part in this event.
Having previously written poetry in French, Rabab was introduced to English poetry by a friend when she was 14 years old. That friend passed away when Rabab was 18, sending her into a period of deep grief. After that, she decided to change majors from psychology to English literature, which was her friend’s major. One of her creative writing professors encouraged Rabab to work through her grief in poems and, after receiving positive feedback, Rabab decided to bring her poems into the public realm.
For the past few years, Rabab has performed her poems at open mic nights and eventually as a headliner at spoken poetry events around Beirut. At the Beirut Poetry Slam on September 15, held at Station Beirut, Rabab competed against ten other finalists, performing two poems in front of the audience and a panel of three judges.
The first poem Rabab presented was “To Honey.” When asked about the subject of this intensely passionate poem, Rabab said: “People are curious to know who I'm addressing in this poem. I usually ask them if they'd ever ask a woman in labor what inspires her to give birth – because clearly, such a question wouldn't make sense. The same applies to writing; when a person needs to write, the poem must be written.”
The other poem she performed was “Not Your Type of Woman,” again addressing themes of love and passion, although partway through the poem she reveals that she is speaking of her love for the city of Beirut.
“When I moved to Beirut, I realized that I think of myself the way others think of this city – we're either too much or too little. I couldn't help but feel a strong connection to it,” Rabab told us. “In fact, I've lived ten years in Ivory Coast and seven in South Lebanon but only found my true self in Beirut. Though this city stands on shaky grounds due to political and religious conflicts, it offered me a safe place to build my identity.”
Looking ahead to La Coupe du Monde de Slam in Paris this May, Rabab is determined yet also a bit apprehensive. “I’m quite excited but also afraid; coming from a place that people are not very familiar with and there are all these misconceptions in the West about us…and the veil adds an extra layer for sure,” said Rabab. “I’m just going to prove a point that, yes, in the Middle East we have a lot of talent. I’m not going in order to win anything. I’m going to represent.”