Tunis women’s slam poetry café
Tunis - The cultural café was packed with people chatting and awaiting the first reading. Some sat on the floor while others stood at the door. Liber’thé was crowded with fans of slam poetry. Silence gripped the room as one of the organisers of the event, Sabrine Ghannoudi, stepped to the microphone to welcome the participants and the audience.
“It is with great pleasure that I welcome you all to the second edition of the Queen of Words, where all the participants and all the texts are written by women from different parts of Tunisia,” Ghannoudi said.
“Some came from other towns, not just from Tunis, like Mahdia and we even received a request from a Palestinian who found us on Facebook and requested to have her message read wishing that one day all women in the Arab world have such an event.”
The event’s title said it all. It is a monthly gathering to give women a chance to share their poetry and feelings with others. It was inspired by initiatives that had encouraged slam poetry in Tunisia but soon died out.
“We thought about having one for women only since they do not have space in other initiatives. A lot of men write poetry of this form but often use vulgar language. I wanted to have something for only women where they can speak freely,” Ghannoudi said. “Along with other organisers, we set on the mission of promoting the event and selecting texts that are relevant in terms of form and topics.”
Although the event welcomes participation only from women, it does not exclude men, who will always be part of the event in some way, Ghannoudi said.
“We are not excluding men because the event relies on the help of men. Men help with the organisation, with the promotion and coverage of the event. Even the owners of the place where we hold our meetings are men, and they supported the initiative right from the beginning,” Ghannoudi explained.
The event, however, focuses on women and their writing as a means of expression and assertion of their presence in Tunisian society.
“It is meant for women to feel comfortable. After all we are in an Arabic society, and we are missing so much, and we need to prove that writing for women is a way of expression and evolution through which they can talk about taboo subjects. On the long term, we would like to focus on taboo subjects and expand to interior regions,” Ghannoudi said.
She added: “We would love to have women come and open up to us about their daughters, their issues, about rape, early marriage, discrimination and the issues of women farmers.”
On this day, Shayma Labidi was reading at the Queen of Words for the second time. Nervous at first, Labidi won applause.
“I have participated in this event for the simple reason that I like writing but I have never read my texts to a large public. I only read to my close friends. When I found out about [this] I decided to try that experience of sharing emotions with a larger number of people than my friends,” Labidi said.
“It was important to me to meet people with whom I share the same experience This would really help many women to cope with society but, personally, I don’t really think about society since I am still unable to share with my mother my erotic texts or even texts with erotic allusions. For me, it is about sharing what I usually keep to myself with strangers who might agree or disagree with what I say.”
Salma, a student, has been to both Queen of Words performances in Tunis. “This event is very interesting,” she said. “I have enjoyed the mood of freedom and expression that it provides. Now that we have freedom of expression in the country, what else is better than expressing it in art? ’’
Ghannoudi echoes those thoughts: “We hope this continues and women feel more at ease to express themselves on different topics in front of a large audience.”