Happy International Poetry Month! Some awesome endeavors are cropping up in public schools, universities, and even coffee shops (where participating cafes are allowing customers to pay for coffee with poems) all over the world. However, some of the most impressive communities are cropping up all over the interwebs.
CrowdInk sat down with Abdulrahman Hammoud, founder of The Dirty Thirty Challenge facebook group to talk about what the heck that is, how it started, how it grew, and what International Poetry Month is all about.
CrowdInk: So what the heck is The Dirty Thirty Challenge?
Abdulrahman Hammoud: The Dirty Thirty is two things: it’s a book, but it’s also a community initiative. It’s just a bunch of poets (both new and old hands) that gather on a facebook page to respond to daily prompts for every day in April. Myself and the co-curator, Sara Saleh, go through every single poem each day and choose a “pick of the day.” That poem gets added to a physical anthology called The Dirty Thirty Anthology that will come out later in the year.
CI: Why should anyone get involved?
AH: I want people to find themselves in poetry the same way that I did. I found myself creatively. I want others to, as well. I also want people to find themselves professionally. If you can handle our system, write everyday, and maintain a measure of craft under pressure, then maybe you might find it in yourself to want to feature and become a practitioner. Others might find themselves as hobbyists. This is a test. And there’s no passing or failing, just learning about what you want. I want people to find themselves in that, too.
CI: How did you start the Dirty Thirty?
AH: In 2012 a friend in New Zealand started a similar facebook page during International Poetry Month. There were only like 20 or 30 people in the group and there were far fewer prompts. It was super low intensity. And I was just starting to find myself as an artist, so it was great timing to participate. But 2013 rolled around and I asked them if it was cool that I did it. I added about 50 people, just friends and writers I knew. But I was dedicated to posting a prompt everyday with either a video or written example explaining it. I also started sort of choosing my personal favorite poem posted each day. And people started adding their own networks. By halfway through the month, we had about 800 members.
CI: So when did Sara Saleh get involved?
AH: Well I made it an annual thing. By the end of April 2014, I was exhausted and I knew for the next year I was going to need some help. So April 2015 came around and we had grown to around 1400 members. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I literally couldn’t sift through that many entries, answer questions, and give the project the attention I wanted. Sara is the founder of Dubai Poetry Slam. That’s a full time show that draws about 400 people for every show. And she’s got a great eye for good poetry, while still having this amazing warmth. Sara was an obvious choice. And she’s made this sustainable.
CI: How did you accumulate so many members?
AH: God is the person who has the answer to that! It was just so organic. Word of mouth. People added their friends. And facebook now allows admins to see who has added who to the group now, so I can literally track that data in real time. It’s always funny to see one person in Melbourne added and all of a sudden you have 20 new people from Austin, Texas, and then they add people in San Antonio. It just snowballs.
CI: What’s been the roughest part of running the page?
AH: Keeping it engaging. I really struggle to come up with fresh prompts for each day. I want to challenge people and invite people to challenge themselves. There are a few prompts that come back every year. The best example of that is the Romantic Love Poem prompt. That always comes back and it’s early month and, for poets, you’d be surprised how many people hate that prompt. It’s engaging because people start having this dialogue about why love poems are terrible or great or whatever. It gets everyone talking to each other rather than just posting.
CI: What’s been your biggest surprise with running the page?
AH: Sara and I are kind of like 2 managers in a company with 1500 employees. (For a poet, I’ll go ahead and admit that analogy missed the mark a bit). But we came to this problem of, even with two of us, “how can we get to everyone’s concerns and complaints?” And the members have taken it up without us even asking. They’ve become admins in a way, responding to each other’s questions and directing new members to prompts. They give thoughtful feedback to each other, rather than just poting. That’s incredible and beautiful. It’s becoming this accountable entity.
CI: What’s next for The Dirty Thirty Challenge?
AH: The next step is a steering committee or board of directors. Like a think-tank. With all we have to read, we get burnt out. Last year all of the money from the sales of our first anthology went to the Islamic Help Australia’s Schoolbags for Syria charity. Which is really important and something Sara and I wanted to do and believe in. But we had a launch in Sydney and another in Melbourne and honestly, I don’t want to be bitter about this. I love poetry; I love this community; I love what The Dirty Thirty has the potential to do. And it’s so much work and also financially draining. So we’re trying to one-up last year and also make it financially sustainable for the admins involved. I want to do this until the day I die, every year. That just can’t happen without monetizing.
CI: Finally, why does Poetry deserve a month? We have Black History Month, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, etc. What makes poetry a vital thing to acknowledge?
AH: Like any other “month” it’s important to acknowledge the pioneers. In February, we remember Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr. And in April we remember Shakespeare, Plath.
But that’s not all those months are about. It’s romantic to study the “greats” of poetry in April and the “greats” of Black Rights Movements and Innovations in February. But it’s about the contemporary context. It’s about what’s going on in the here and now and how we’re a part of that.
Whenever I do a workshop with kids or adults new to poetry, I have two rules: 1. The normal respect each other, respect the space spiel. 2. Don’t tell me you can’t write. Your life is poetry.
Poetry needs a month, because what you already do, how you live, is inherently poetic. Rants are poetry. What you write in your diary is poetry. People just don’t know and don’t validate that about themselves. We should have a memorial for all of the poets who never were.
Heck, I almost never was. It was sixth grad and my best friend picked up my notebook while I was in the bathroom. He wrote out an entire piece I had written on the whiteboard. I came back in and the entire class was laughing. That almost had me. But this month isn’t about competing with other people over the validity of poetry. It’s about figuring out that everyone’s a poet and there’s no judgment. It just becomes immortalized. Poetry becomes immortalized.
Get involved with the project here.