For One Saudi Poet, The Bridge Between Different Cultures Is Paved With Words

“Artists of all kinds carry the stories of their populations in their work."

Abdulatif Yousef was destined to be a poet. It was written in the cards of his life before he was even born and now he is traveling the globe to share his poetry, which brings attention to the Arab world while bridging societies and cultures.

"My mother decided to take a course in ancient Arabic literature while she was pregnant. And as you may have heard, while in the mother's womb, a baby absorbs much of what his or her mother reads," the Saudi poet explains to A Plus. "The fact that my birthday miraculously coincided with her final exam, and that she missed the poetry exam to give birth to a poet, feels almost like a poem itself."

That love for poetry continued throughout his young life as he spent most of his youth memorizing ancient Arabic poetry, which he used to express himself, even for everyday things such as asking his father for money.

But it wasn't until he was a college student studying engineering that he truly found his poetic voice when several of his closest friends left to attend an educational program in the U.S.

"This gave me the space to discover myself, to get to know myself better," he says. "And that is when I wrote my first lines of poetry — my first four lines."


Still quite unsure of himself and his poetry skills, Yousef posted that poem to an online forum and was quickly pegged for plagiarism. He immediately replied to his accuser with another poem and realized at that moment that the words flowed effortlessly, quickly, naturally.

"It starts as singing. I don't know what I am saying, but there is a beat. This beat brings all these visuals, images to me, and eventually, they become words. And that is when I sit and write," he says. "The only thing I don't have control over is the beat. In Arabic poetry, there are seven patterns of beats or seven types of meter. I don't choose the meter — it chooses itself based on the feeling."

Those feelings continued to pour out of him and onto the page, creating remarkable pieces that are now bringing attention to the Arab world "by showing how we dream and feel, sharing our pain, our misery, our happiness: our humanity."

"How can my poems be relatable to someone who reads them 100 years after my death," he says. "When I write, I think about the future; and this is why I refer to history."

Yousef made his United States debut in Providence, R.I., and performed again at the Poets House in New York City where he was accompanied by esteemed Yemeni oudist Ahmed AlShaiba.

Throughout his travels in the Arab world and beyond, Yousef is working to leave a legacy of poetry behind that continues to impact people for generations.

"I want to leave a word, a sentence, a thought, something that can tell the future generation that someone like me was there," he explains. "What makes me continue writing is when I see the impact of my words on others, and when I receive their feedback."

Yousef knows he is living out the life he was destined to live and the beauty of it all is in the artistry that connects him to poets from all walks of life, cultures, and societies.

"Artists of all kinds carry the stories of their populations in their work. They carry the songs, the pictures, the feelings, the dreams. The development of societies and cultures can only occur through exchange with others," he says. "Cultural exchange allows us to know how others think about us, and let us know how we think about others — by producing art to exchange, we can help share and change this. I hope to be a part of the movement that produces what we may exchange."

Check out one of Abdulatif Yousef U.S. performances with Jessica Damouni reciting in English:


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