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Talents of Amman: Aysha El-Shamayleh

In support of local talents and the brilliant artists of our city, we bring to you our segment: Talents of Amman!

So celebrate with us! One of our very own, Aysha El Shamayleh

Name: Aysha El-Shamayleh

Isim il 7arakeh: Souq Mansi

Facebook fan page:

Twitter: @AyshaShamayleh

Aysha, thanks for sitting down with us – you are a spoken word poet so tell us.. What is spoken word poetry?

It is performance poetry; a literary genre that returned back to the roots of oral culture, which has always been entrenched in Middle Eastern history. Back in the day poets used to read their poetry to their audiences in Souq Oqath; most Arabic poetry was memorized, it was never documented on paper. With regards to spoken word poetry, the text of the poem is given life through its performance, voice control, pace. Poems are meant to be performed out loud, as opposed to being read on page. It uses common street language. You seek to break all barriers with your audience; you break the distinction most people have between a stranger (audience member) and their long time friend; it is honest, fragile, personal, and strays away from censorship, flowery language and formalities.

You were born in Amman and went to do your undergrad at U Penn, how has that influenced or changed your passion for poetry?

I only began writing poetry during my college career at the University of Pennsylvania. It was pure coincidence, one of the most recognized spoken word teams happened to be based at my school. I auditioned and was selected to join the Excelano Project in 2007; UPenn’s first and premier spoken word initiative. From there on, I was part of a slam team that won two national collegiate slams, and one world youth slam title in 2008. I absorbed all I could from that experience. The familial community of poets I had met along the way is what made me commit to my writing, even after I left the comfortable familiarity of American stages. There’s too much honest, humanity and fragility in poet communities; it’s everything I stand for.

You write your own material, what influences you? Politics, social issues, love, freedom?

My poetry happens to be quite personal. It’s the result of humble life experiences. I have been inspired by social dynamics, being broke and young, falling in love, morning conversations with my mother, certain childhood memories and my eternal search for ‘home’. I have had jobs that politicized me, and I had something to say about the system. All in all, my writing comes from an urge for sincerity, and a passion for language and self-expression.

You have taken part in several competitions – tell us a little bit about them.

I was on the Upenn Slam team (2007-2010), where I competed in three National Collegiate Poetry Slams (CUPSI 2007, 2008 and 2009), winning two national collegiate titles in 2007 and 2008. I was also one of four poets on the Philadelphia Slam team in 2008. We represented the city at the world youth slam “Brave New Voices”, where we reached the final stage, only to forfeit (due to non-poetry related issues), although when it came to the scoreboards, we did win by a margin. As part of the philly team, I was also featured on Russell Simmon’s documentary “Brave New Voices 2008” which aired on HBO in 2009.

Tell us a little bit about the scene in Amman with regards to your talent, is it understood? Accepted? Appreciated?

I have to mention that the spoken word scene in Amman is only a few months old, but despite that I witnessed sincere appreciation for the art form, even though it is unfamiliar to most. Our audiences openness to interact with a new art is something I never expected. I was quite nervous to begin performing in Amman, I thought people wouldn’t support it but I was proven very wrong (thankfully). Yes, we are criticized; the credibility of spoken word poetry is questioned here, some times due to the unfamiliarity as well as the emotional and personal content, but we do have enough of a following to persist, and I personally do understand the opposition. Doing what you love never comes easy, and in all honesty it shouldn’t, but in the meantime I cannot but be thankful for the extensive support I’ve received in Jordan, from strangers, local artists, and my own family and friends.

We spoke about Suhair Hammad, and as I understood you are a big fan, who else inspires you to write & pursue this talent?

I do appreciate Suhair Hammad’s work, I am inspired by Beat Generation poets; however specific poets and writers are not what inspire me to pursue my poetry career. My urge is more personal than that. I am an artist in the sense that my method of self-expression (in life) pours out in rhyme; it isn’t something I consciously chose to be. I do not limit my sources of inspiration, nor do I always fully recognize what influences my writing. I live something, and it builds an urge in me to say something abou it. My writing process is as simple as that.

Is this your full time job/hobby? If not what do you do for a living?

I do have a fulltime job, but in all honesty its simply a source of income to pay bills, however, it also happens to give me life experiences to write about. I’m currently a journalist, which is a good middle ground, since I do make a living off of writing. However, it is very limiting.  Poetry is not a hobby to me. It’s a lifestyle. I make life decisions based on what will help my writing evolve. I do plan on perusing a Masters in Creative Writing. I want to get published. I want to live off of my craft. Its something I’m working on.

You ran a fantastic event at Makan this past weekend, tell us a little bit about it and about the great local talents you’ve gathered.

After being a part of the Exclano Project, I realized how a group dynamic helped me grow both as a writer and as a human being. So last summer I decided I should take a stab at replicating that experience for Jordanian poets, especially since an initiative like this would set the foundation for the young spoken word scene here, hence Souq Mansi was born. A group of 7 poets; Amer Al Taher, Bilal Shouly, Izzy Afyouni, Aya Lozi, Tala Abdulhadi and Shahd Shammout. They’re ages range from 15 to 25, their backgrounds are diverse, but they’re talent is certain. I have seen, read and heard quite a few poets; and I must admit Amman surprised me with it’s untapped artistic potential.

The event at Makan was Souq Mansi’s debut show, we were lucky enough to have Hana Malhas as our feature.  It marked the city’s first spoken word poetry show, however, we also had an open mic (where members of the audience shared the stage with us) and a jam session (organized chaos, or improvised music session).

How have you seen Amman evolve in terms of the music scene?

The music scene in Amman is one of the richest I’ve seen. There’s a lot of growth, experimentation, and hunger for originality. I am a very loyal fan of local independent musicians and hiphop artists; among my favorites are Hana Malhas, Amer Al Taher, Tareq Abu Kwaik, Khotta B. Their work is up to par with international standards, no doubt. The scene is growing and maturing by the second.

What should we expect from Aysha El Shamayleh in the near future?

I have begun writing a book. I’d like to pursue a Masters in Fine Arts in creative writing. I want to compile a manuscript. A poetry album. More events to support and give exposure to the local art scene. It’s all on the list.

Where can people watch you perform live? Anything lined up?

I will be leading small-scale, quality driven poetry workshops with Project Pen, and in cooperation with Mlabbas.

Favorite hang out in Amman?

Makan Art Space.

Favorite quick bite in Amman?

Al Quds Restaurant.

Know of a talent you want to see on our next Talents of Amman?
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