THE POETESS WHO TRANSCENDED THE BARRIERS OF TRIBE – Princess of Modern Arabic Poetry
There are not many women in Kuwait who have written poetry. Among them, the poetess Dr Suad Al- Sabah stands first. Her poems are praised not only in her own country, the State of Kuwait or the Gulf region (GCC countries), but all over the Arab world where her poetic voice transcended the barriers of tribe. Dr Suad Al-Sabah is a veteran Kuwaiti poetess, lyricist, essayist, writer, author, critic, litterateur, intellectual, researcher, historian, biographer, publisher, painter, economist, businesswoman, social activist, nationalist, feminist, humanist and philanthropist. She is a multifaceted personality par excellence.
Sheikha Suad Al-Sabah is also a member of the ruling family in her country, Al-Sabah, the royal family of the state of Kuwait. She was born in 1942 in Al-Zubair district which is affiliated to Al-Basra province, south of Iraq and she was the first child as well as only daughter of her parents, Sheikh Mohammad Sabah Al-Sabah who was named after his grandfather Sheikh Mohammad Al-Sabah (1838-1896), the sixth ruler of Kuwait, and Shaikha Al-Thagib, the daughter of Sheikh Ahmad Al-Thagib, the former ruler of Al-Zubair who was hailed from Najd in Saudi Arabia. She grew up in Al-Zubair and Suad’s father exerted great infl uence on her when she was a little girl at an early age, as well as when she went to visit the Al-Fao region along with her paternal grandmother where the beauty of orchards and greenery of farms which were owned by her family at that time had also greatly infl uenced her.
Schooling and family
After obtaining her primary education from Halimah Al- Saadiyah School in Al-Basra, Sheikha Suad and her family moved back to their home country, Kuwait where she completed her schooling from Al-Khansaa Intermediate School and Al-Murghab Secondary School, respectively.
In those school days, her literary talent was apparent and she has interested in writing poetry. She penned her first poem at the early age of thirteen. Thereafter, when she was at grade ten her marriage to Sheikh Abdullah Al-Mubarak who served as a deputy of the ruler of Kuwait (Crown Prince) at that time had been arranged by her family in 1959. Sheikha Suad as a teenage girl loved Sheikh Abdullah from the first moment she saw him and he was definitely her prince charming with whom she had five children. Her three sons are: the late Sheikh Mubarak (1961-1973), her elder son who died on a plane in mid-fl ight at the age of 12, Sheikh Muhammad, the charismatic statesman who was born in 1971 and serves in his current position as a Minister of State for Council of Ministers Affairs, and Sheikh Mubarak who is named after his elder brother and his grandfather as well, was born in 1978 and he is a successful businessman.
Her two daughters are Sheikha Omniyah who was born in 1972 and Sheikha Shaiymaa who was born in 1980. Om Mubarak (mother of Mubarak) as she is commonly known by her kin as well as close friends, and she herself still likes that beloved agnomen which was always dearest to her heart in which she remembers her first and eldest son, the deceased Sheikh Mubarak. Dr Suad still keeps his pictures on her mobile phone and on the wall of her room as well. After the independence of Kuwait in 1961, the couple moved to Lebanon and Sheikh Abdullah had voluntarily resigned from his position as a deputy of the country’s ruler at that time when Sheikha Suad had just lost her parents, paternal grandmother and maternal uncle who passed away within only a year. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Mubarak became everything to her. He was a husband, a partner, a father, a teacher, a friend and a lover of course. Soon after, he encouraged her to write as well as publish poetry early, and also allowed her to attend his diwan (a meeting place for men) daily to mingle with different kinds of people there
As a poetess
Therefore, Sheikha Suad released her first three collections of poems in Beirut which were titled: Wamadhat Bakerah (Early Gleams) in 1961, Lahadhat Min Omri (Instants From My Lifetime) in 1961 and Min Omri (From My Lifetime) in 1964. Indisputably, she was the first woman poet to publish a book of poetry under her own name in the Arabian Gulf region, so she is considered a path-breaker for women poets in Kuwait and GCC countries as well.
In 1965, the couple moved with their son Sheikh Mubarak to Cairo by the invitation of the former president of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Jamal Abdul-Nasser. She engaged in many activities there such as supporting the war effort, writing and reading, playing basketball and pursuing her studies. So, Sheikha Suad passed her matriculation examination firstly, then she earned both her Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree in Economics from Cairo University in 1973 and 1975, respectively. She held her first evening of poetry in 1970 there, and recited an elegy on the death of President Jamal Abdul- Nasser, who died that year. Her daughter Omniyah is named after the title of one of poetess Suad’s books, the collection of poetry of the same name Omniyah (A wish) which was published in 1971 and contains 50 poems.
At that time, two of her children, Sheikh Muhammad and Sheikha Omniyah were born in Cairo, Egypt. Then, Sheikha Suad traveled along with her family to England for higher studies where she obtained her Doctorate’s degree in Economics from the University of Surrey, one of the UK’s leading research universities, in 1981 for a dissertation entitled (The Planning and Development in the Kuwaiti Economy and the Role of Women) in English while she was raising her children. Dr Suad was the first Kuwaiti woman to receive a PhD in Economics and she credited this achievement to her beloved husband Sheikh Abdullah Al-Mubarak who used to encourage her.
Dr Suad Al-Sabah and her family returned to Kuwait where she published an elegiac poetry book entitled Elaika Ya Waladi (To Thee O My Son) in 1982, which includes 20 mournful poems to commemorate her deceased son, the late Sheikh Mubarak who passed away on a plane in mid-fl ight at the age of twelve in 1973. Her poetic collection of 18 poems Fatafeet Imraah (Crumbs of a Woman) was issued in 1985. Unfortunately, this book was banned by the government of Kuwait and other GCC countries. The poetess waged a war against the Ministry of Information in the court and finally got her book released. In that year, she also launched her own publishing house, named “Dar Suad Al-Sabah for publishing and distributing” which publishes many books in different fields, and established Jaezat Suad Al-Sabah Al-Adabiyah, the literary prize of Suad Al-Sabah which also bears her name to support authors and encourage talented young writers in the Arab world.
Her poetry books fiAl-Badei Kanat Al-Ontha (In the Beginning was the Female) which includes 97 poems was published in 1988 as well as her collection of poems under the title of Hiwar Al-Ward Wal-Banadegh (The Dialogue of Roses and Rifl es) in 1989. In 1990, when Iraqi forces occupied her country, the state of Kuwait, Dr Suad Al-Sabah as a reactive poetess published her poetry book titled Barghiyaat Aajelah Ela Watani (Urgent Telegrams to my Homeland) which contains 8 nationalistic poems from her exile in London where she heroically participated in the resistance to support the Kuwaiti people inside her country in order to liberate it. She insisted on using the weapon of the word by writing many articles which were published in several expat newspapers such as Sawt Al-Kuwait, Al-Qabas International, Al-Hayat and Asharq Al-Awsat as well as hosting radio programs through her own broadcast station there at the time of invasion. She also released a publication entitled Hal Tasmahoon Li An Oheba Watani (Do You Allow Me to Love My Country) which contains some of her ironic and political essays that were written between 1990 and 1991.
A year after the liberation of Kuwait and death of her husband, Sheikh Abdullah Al-Mubarak, Dr Suad Al-Sabah published a collection of poetry entitled Aakher Al- Siyoof (The Last of the Swords) as an elegy in 1992, and she also released her poetry book titled Ghassaed Hob (Love Poems) which contains 8 poems. Then, she issued her collection of 8 poems entitled Imraah Bela Sawahel (A Woman Without Shores) in 1994, and her poetic book Khothni Ela Hodood Al-Shams (Take me to the Borders of the Sun) which contains 14 poems and was published in 1997. She also released her collection of poetry titled Al-Ghasseedah Ontha Wal Ontha Ghasseedah (The Poem is a Female and the Female is a Poem) which includes 79 poems in 1999. As a prolific poet, Dr Suad Al-Sabah also published her poetry book of 24 poems titled Wal Worood Taarefu Al- Ghadhab (And the Roses Know the Anger) in 2005, and her collection of 45 epistolary poems entitled Rasael Min Al-Zaman Al-Jameel (Letters from the Beautiful Time) was released in 2006. Her latest collection of poetry was published in 2016 under the title of Al-Shieru Wa Al-Nathru Laka Wahdak (The Poetry and Prose Only for You) which contains 9 poems.
As a lyricist
As a lyricist, Dr Suad used to write her verses in both colloquial Kuwaiti and modern standard Arabic (Fasseeh), and some of her significant melodic poems have been sung by many famous Arab singers such as Abdul Kareem Abdul Al-Ghader (Kuwaiti), Abdullah Al-Ruwaished (Kuwaiti), Nawal Al-Kuwaitiyah (Kuwaiti), Abadi Al-Jawhar (Saudi), Majidah Al-Roumi (Lebanese), Najat Al-Sagheerah (Egyptian), Assalah Nassri (Syrian) and Rajaa belmaleeh (Moroccan). She was also written some wonderful songs about Kuwait and love such as Lel Kuwait Gassaed Hob (Love Poems for Kuwait), Nahnu Al-Kuwaitiyoon (We are Kuwaitis), Nughoush Ala Abaat Al-Kuwait (Inscriptions on the Cloak of Kuwait), Nahnu Baghoon Huna (We Are Still Remain Here), Hor Wa Bedoon Ghuiyood (Free and Without Limitations), Kon Sadheeghi (Be My Friend), Ietithar (Apology), Anta Adra (You Would Know) and La Tantaghed Khajali (Do Not Criticize My Shyness).
Her poem “Anta Adra” has been awarded the first prize for the best lyric poem at the Arab Song Festival in Cairo, Egypt in 2001, and her poem “Khothni Ela Hudood Al-Shams” has been also awarded the first prize for the best lyric poem at the Arab Radio and Television Festival in Cairo, Egypt in 2005. Undoubtedly, she is a sensitive and accomplished lyrical poetess.
Poetic writing style
Dr Suad is a celebrated poetess and one of the most widely read contemporary Arabic poets, best known for her unique style of poetry and she has actively participated in several poetry recitals around the world. She established and enriched Arabic language poetry through her modernist innovations and techniques as well as bringing up Kuwaiti Poetry from imitation to authenticity which earned her considerable recognition and praise. She writes her poems in both metrical poetry and free verse. Dr Suad has also written multiple genres of poetry.
Al-Sabah’s poetry is heavily infl uenced by her life experiences and most of her poems are autobiographical, confessional, nostalgic with rich narrative content. She is a realistic poetess and her frank, candid and honest personality has been refl ected clearly in her poetical output where Dr Suad emerged as a significant voice of feminism in a male dominated society. Her poetry reveals the boredom and restlessness of modern Arab women and tries to express her feelings like anxiety and self identity. Some of her major themes are love, compassion, sympathy, sensibility, pain, sorrow, alienation, loneliness, nostalgia, death, philosophy of life, beauty of Kuwait, patriotic sentiments of Kuwaitis and common concerns of Arab people. As a Kuwaiti citizen, her burning nationalistic zeal has been a notable feature of Al-Sabah’s poetry, and she is certainly the poetess of situations.
The sea of the Arabian Gulf and the desert of the Arabian Peninsula are frequently evoked as traditional images in many of her poems. In her poetry, Dr Suad has always used various images and symbols in the form of simile, metaphor and figurative expression. She has a special pure love for her husband, the late Sheikh Abdullah Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah and for whom she wrote her finest poems during his lifetime or as a loyal widow later. Her poems such as Kon Sadeeghi (Be My Friend) and Aakher Al-Siyoof (The Last of the Swords) are the best examples of the poetess’s love poetry where her images are highly sophisticated and elegantly written as well as refl ecting a sincere expression of deep love towards her deceased husband. Definitely, this kind of love appears to be an objective lesson for lovers everywhere. The chosen titles of her volumes of poetry are always impressive and show the theme and matter of her poetry where she has given new definitions to our bookish titles.
She has carved a special niche for herself in Arabic literature, and Dr Suad’s poetic voice is distinguished by her individual style and unique perspective. Al-Sabah has 17 poetry books and hundreds of poems to her credit. Some of her notable verses were published in several literary journals and prestigious anthologies. Her significant poetic works have also been translated into more than 15 foreign languages including English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Romanian, Albanian, Bosnian, Korean, Persian, Urdu and Hindi.
As a historian and biographer
Apart from a variety of poetry collections and poems, Dr Suad also wrote historical and biographical books about her husband, the late sheikh Abdullah Al- Mubarak Al-Sabah (1914-1991) and his father , the late Sheikh Mubarak Al-Sabah (1840-1915), the seventh ruler of Kuwait and founder of modern Kuwait, her father- in-law. These books namely: Saghr Al- Khaleej: Abdullah Mubarak Al-Sabah (The Falcon of the Gulf: Abdullah Mubarak Al- Sabah) (1995), Mubarak Al-Sabah: Muases Dawlat Al-Kuwait Al-Hadeethah (Mubarak Al-Sabah: Founder of the Modern State of Kuwait) (2007) and Tareekh Al-Sheikh Abdullah Mubarak Al-Sabah fiSowar (The History of Sheikh Abdullah Mubarak Al- Sabah in Pictures) (2015). Dr Suad through her writing in this field, is rightly considered to be the most loyal cultural protector of the political legacy of Sheikh Mubarak in Kuwait where he is commonly known by his title Mubarak Al-Kabeer (Mubarak the Great) who was the grand-uncle of her father Sheikh Mohammad Al-Sabah.
As an economist
As an erudite economist, she published several books related to socio-economic issues that include: The Planning and Development in the Kuwaiti Economy and the Role of Women (1983), Lights on the Kuwaiti Economy (1985), The Gulf Woman and her Participation in Manpower (1986), OPEC: The Previous Experience and Futuristic Outlooks (1986), The New Oil Market: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Regains its Initiative (1986), The Crises of Resources in the Arab World (1989), Papers on the Gulf Economy (2006), Papers on the International Political Economy (2006) and Papers on the Petroleum Policy (2006).
She also conducted many economic researches and wrote essays which were published in book form such as The Role of Muslim Women in the Economic Development in the Arab Gulf Countries (1982), The Kuwaiti Female Participation in the Workforce: An Experimental Field Orientation (1982), The Women Laborers in the Gulf (1985), The Economic Development in the Petroleum Producing Countries and the Modern Economic Change (1985) and The Petroleum Policy within the Framework of GCC (1985).
Her love for economics brought her enthusiastically into her new destiny as the most powerful businesswoman in Kuwait where she runs her own business as Chairman of Action Group Holdings Company, and the Chairman of Action Consultancy Bureau as well as the Director of Egypt Kuwait Holding Company. Dr Suad Al-Sabah also served as the Director of Kuwait Stock Exchange (KSE), the national stock market of Kuwait. Kuwait is always a major theme in some of Dr Suad’s prose works like her two collected essays titled Papers on the Issues of Kuwait (2006) and Words Outside the Boundaries of Time (2008) where she proved herself a great essayist.
Dr Suad campaigned heavily for women’s political rights in her country, the State of Kuwait where its native women were granted the right to vote and participate in politics via both suffrage and candidacy in 2005. She was selected by Boutros Ghali, the sixth Secretary General of the UN to represent the United Nations at the Fourth World Conference on Women (1995) in Beijing, China as part of an all-female delegation consisting of five honorary guests including the first ladies of the USA, France and Nigeria as well as the President of Iceland at that time.
As a humanist
As a human rights activist, she has been associated with numerous social organizations and Dr Suad as a founding member of the Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR), still holds membership number one since 1983. Her contributions in this regard are greatly valued. Some of her political opinions and humanistic views were also published in book form such as Human Rights in the Contemporary World (1997), Human Rights Between Theory and Implementation (1997), What Do You Know About Human Rights? (1997) and Papers on the International Policy (2006). Her publishing house, Dar Suad Al-Sabah published 8 distinguished publications to commemorate the literary and scientific achievements as an initiative as well as a kind of honor for those eight celebrated figures who are regarded as the symbols of Arabic culture in their time.
She has contributed as a supervisor and co-author in these following commemorative books: Abdulaziz Hussain: The Dream of Arabic Enlightenment (1995), Ibraheem Al- Oraiyedh: The Radiance of Cultural Bahrain (1996), Nizar Qabbani: A Poet For All Generations (1998), Dr Tharwat Okashah: The Rifl e and the Feather (2000), Abdullah Al- Faisal: Between the Feelings of Deprivation and Alienation of Soul (2001), Abdulkareem Ghallab: A Light Rises from Morocco (2003), Ghassan Tuwaini (2007) and Dr Saleh Al-Ojairi: The Dean of Astronomy (2013).
Many critical studies have been written on the poetic works of Dr Suad Al-Sabah in different languages and some were published in books including Suad Al-Sabah: The Poetry and the Poetess by Fadhel Khalaf (1992), Suad Al-Sabah in Fatafeet Imraah: The Sentimental Duality and the Multiplicity of Dimensions by Dr Azzah Agha Malak (1992 in French). In the Beginning was the Female: The Instinct of Life and the Experience of Contact with Suad Al-Sabah by Dr Asmahan Badeer Al- Saidawi (1992 in French ), A Traveler’s Reading in Suad Al-Sabah’s Poetry by Dr Muhammad Al-Tonji (1993), The Poetic Experience for Suad Al-Sabah by Piere Risha (1993 in French), Suad Al-Sabah: The Poetess of Pain by Dr Azzah Agha Malak (1992 in French ), The Play on taut Strings by Dr Nabeel Ragheb (1993), Critical Readings in the Poetry of Suad Al-Sabah by Saeed Farahat and Belal Khair (1994), Suad Al-Sabah: The Poetess of Intimate Belonging by Fadehl Al-Ameen (1994), The Language of Tangency by Mahmood Haider (1994), Suad Al-Sabah: A Journey in her Incomplete Works by Abdulateef AlArnaoudh (1995), Suad Al-Sabah: A New Study by Burhan Bukhari (1999), In the Shadows of Creativity by Najwa Hasan (1999), The Text and the Absent Text by Dr Abdulmalek Murtaadh (2000), Suad Al-Sabah: A Wintery Poetess by Dr Ismael Ismael Murrowah (2000), A Minart on the Gulf by Najm Muhammad Youssef (2001), The Anthology of Suad Al-Sabah’s verse by Dr Muhammad Anani, The Linguistic and Artistic Structure in the Poetry of Suad Al-Sabah by Dr Tayseer Rajab Al-Nassoor (2002), Destruction and Construction by Dr Maha Mirdem Baik (2002), The Poem is a Female and the Female is a Poem by Dr Fawzi Issa (2003), Issues and Implements: A Study in the Poetry of Suad Al-Sabah by Dr Mukhtar Abu Ghali (2003), The Rose of the Sea and the Freedom of Feminine Imagination by Dr Salah Fadhel (2003), Studies of Love Poems by Dr Natheer Al-Adhamah (2004 in English), A Woman from the Beautiful Time by Ali Al-Masoudi (2004), The Image of Arab Reality in the Poetry of Suad Al-Sabah by Dr Sameer Sarhan (2004), The Woman Among the Commas of Words by Dr Fatimah Al-Jmeiy Al-Hababi (2005), The Poetry of Suad Al-Sabah: A Study in the Poetic Inclusions by Rabehah Mahmood Al-Bahar (Master’s thesis in 2007), The Planning of Text: A Theurgical Observation in the Poetry of Suad Al-Sabah by Dr Hamad Al- Dookhi (2013), Questions of the Sun by Ali Al-Masoudi (2014), A Rebellion of a Gulf Woman by Dr Abdullah Al-Muhanna (2015) and Suad Al-Sabah: The Memory of Time which Crowned with the Poem by Ethab Al-Rekabi (2015).
Al-Sabah has 33 books to her credit which include 25 of her own writings while the rest were ones she edited or co-authored, and she also experimented with different genres such as essays, history, biography as well as various socio-economic studies.
Dr Suad has delivered many lectures at several universities worldwide such as the University of Oxford, University of Surrey, University of Aden, Cairo University and Kuwait University. She is fl uent in Arabic, English and French.
Honors and recognitions
Apart from many honors and public felicitations, Dr Suad Al-Sabah has been conferred with the highest award in Kuwaiti literature, the State Appreciative Award for her contribution to Kuwaiti literature in 2002. She received the Prize of Poetic Creativity from the Foundation of Abdulaziz Saud Al-Babtain in 2006, and she was the recipient of the South Korean Manhae Prize for literature in 2012 for her contributions to the world of literature. Dr Suad has also won Arab Woman Award in 2016 for her literary and cultural contributions. She has been awarded a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in recognition of her cultural and educational contributions in 2007.
She was also awarded a fellowship from St Catherine’s College at the University of Oxford. Dr Suad also received the Tunisian Cultural Excellence Order of Merit and was honored with the decoration of Cultural Merit as well as the Female Creative Plaque from the Tunisian government. She received the Plaque of Honor from the Arab institute in Paris, France and also received another Plaque of Honor from Taawon foundation in Palestine. She was also honored by Kuwait University on the occasion of the Kuwaiti literature day.
Dr Suad was the first Arab (non-Egyptian) woman who was awarded a commemorative plaque from Cairo University on the occasion of the world education day. She was also honored by the Arab League which named her the distinguished Arab woman in appreciation for her contributions in literature and culture. She is an honorary member of the Board of Trustees of the Arabic Cultural Council in Lebanon and a honorary member of the American University of Beirut (AUB) Alumni Association. She also holds membership in a number of professional and honorary societies in Kuwait such as the Kuwait Writers Association, Kuwait Journalists Association and Kuwait Teachers Society, Kuwaiti Graduates Society, Kuwait Economic Society, Kuwaiti-British Friendship Society and Kuwaiti-American Friendship Society. Dr Suad was also a member of the Higher Council for Education in Kuwait, and a current member of the Arab Council for Childhood and Development as well as a founding member of the Arab Cultural Foundation. She is a member of the board of trustees and the executive committee of the Arab Thought Forum, and also a member of the executive committee of the World Muslim Women Organization for South East Asia.
In addition to founding Dar Suad Al-Sabah for publishing and distribution as well as the Jaezat Suad Al-Sabah Award, there are two schools named after her; Suad Al- Sabah Secondary School for Girls in Al-Manssouriyah, Kuwait and Suad Al-Sabah Elementary School in the Gaza Strip, Palestine. The theater of the Kuwait Writers Association is named after her, Dr Suad Al-Sabah Theater in Al-Odailiyah area, and she has had a library named after her by the Arab Media Forum at its venue in Hawalli.
Recently, the Suad Al-Sabah Bienalle has been named after her by the Kuwait Arts Association — a contemporary art exhibition and momentous event for painters at all levels every two years. A multitude of literary activities and cultural occasions have been named after her, including The Exhibition of Suad Al-Sabah for the Creative Gulf Kid, The Formative Forum of Suad Al-Sabah and The Festival of Suad Al-Sabah for Gulf Art. Some of her timeless patriotic poems have been taught in Kuwait intermediate and secondary schools as a part of the curriculum (Arabic subject). Dr Suad Al-Sabah has been also a subject of various Master theses and dissertations for PhDs in Arabic poetry, and a number of her verses are used as a curriculum at several universities in the Arab world.
Dr Suad Al-Sabah currently lives with her family in their spacious residence, the White Palace (Al-Ghassr Al- Abiyadh) which is located in Al-Surrah area where she still writes her new poems brilliantly and draws her beautiful pictures with a sense of creativity. And when she is seen in public as a patron of literature and arts from her presence and support, Dr Suad seems sedate and motherly, so she could now be considered a grande dame of Arabic culture circles.
As a philanthropist
As a Sheikha and one of the members of Al-Sabah royal family, generosity was always the virtue that she inherited from her parents and ancestors. Her estimable philanthropic personality is based on intense religious convictions and strong moral sense. Despite her fame and success, she has secretly given out donations even from her tender age. Dr Suad is a founder of the Sheikh Abdullah Al-Mubarak Al- Sabah charity in 1992 and she still heads it till date. Finally, it would be no exaggeration if we rank her with such literary female stalwarts in the Arab world as Nazek Al-Malaekah (Iraq), Fadwa Toughan (Palestine) and Ghada Al-Samman (Syria) in terms of her literary productivity and poetic imagery as well as aesthetic consciousness. In my humble opinion, she is the only living Arab woman poet who deserves the Nobel Prize in Literature for her phenomenal contributions to the world of literature since 1960s.