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Success: British Council International Heritage Protection and Sustainable Development grant awarded to Janet Watson

Funding success
Language and Nature
Janet Watson has been awarded a British Council International Heritage Protection and Sustainable Development grant, which will fund a Yemeni ECR scholar to come to Leeds for nine months and work on the rich traditional ecopoetics of the endangered Modern South Arabian language, Mehri, as spoken in al-Mahrah in Yemen. The fellow will be supervised by Janet Watson together with Dr Maria Beger (Biology) and Dr Tim Thurston (LCS).
Heritage protection, sustainable development and resilience through traditional ecopoetics in al-Mahrah, Yemen

The focus of the fellowship programme is the ecopoetics of two types of traditional poetry: Bāhīn or Haff, lullabies traditionally produced and sung by women to help their children sleep, and Danadon (Liebhaber 2018), a traditional informal sung poetic form produced and recited by men, composed in hemistichs, which can be broken into three types.

Danadon commonly involves two poet groups – an initiator and a responder – and is frequently accompanied by dancing, known as tədrawt and yədaws. It exhibits significant metaphor relating to the local natural world, metaphor that personifies the winds, the desert, the sea and fauna, thus expressing a close, symbiotic human–nature relationship, and metaphor that is becoming decreasingly well understood by the younger generations due to a break in the traditional human–nature relationship. As an informal poetic form, it is often performed in evenings, but encompasses a number of poetry types which share the characteristic Danadon melody, typically accompanied by the Danadon metric filler (Liebhaber 2018).  

The four principal aims of the fellowship are: 

  1. to create an open-access, community-friendly archive of traditional Bahīn, Haff and Danadon recorded from men and women from al-Mahrah that address the human–nature relationship in the desert, the mountains, the coastal region and the sea, to analyse the metaphorical language of traditional ecopoetics; 
  2. to collaborate with men and women local community members to re-value and produce ecopoetry in Bāhīn and in Danadon hemistich forms.  
  3. to collaborate with the supervisors and Dr Tom Jackson from Media and Communication (UoL) to host two online poetry workshops for the Mehri communities in al-Mahrah. Dr Jackson will be brought in, not as a supervisor, but as an expert in multimodal documentation. The aim of the online poetry workshops is to encourage younger generation speakers to disseminate traditional Mehri ecopoetry, to produce poetry of other types relating to the current environment, and to reflect on the effects of biocultural loss. 
  4. to facilitate online collaboration between women poets in al-Mahrah and women poets in the Yemeni diaspora in the UK, to ensure that women’s voices are heard, responded to, and promoted.