Anthropology student wins Sapiens poetry competition.


30.04.2020

MA student Susana Fabre has won the Sapiens poetry competition for her poem Blinded

Landscape picture of Doha, Qatar

Susana Fabre - winner of Sapiens poetry competition

Susana, who is studying the MA in Anthropology, is an artist and ethnohistorian who lives in Doha, Qatar. In her winning poem, she has tried to make anthropological sense of that uniquely effervescent place.

The competition was organised by Sapiens, an editorially independent magazine of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.

In Blinded, Susana considers a city that is both visible, and invisible. She says: “For the past eight years, I have had the opportunity to bear witness to the metamorphic stages of the construction of Doha, the capital of Qatar, a peninsular country wedded to the Arabian Peninsula. This city is an uncommon sight, more akin to the surrealness of dreams than to the flesh and concrete reality of urban centres. And, like dreams, with their contradictory nature, I have found my thoughts about the place hard to name, but easy to know.

As an anthropologist studying our relationship to nature in a setting where it can seem evasive, I have searched for the underlying human impulses and dreams that have birthed this otherworldly place I now call home.

Last summer, I revisited Italo Calvino’s oneiric novel Invisible Cities. My mind, suffused in a surreal mist, felt at ease in its poetic prose. In the book, Marco Polo, the notorious Italian explorer, engages in enigmatic dialogue with Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan, who, unable to visit his vast kingdom, asks his companion to describe it for him. What follows are a series of short descriptions of cities inside the kingdom: cities of memory, cities and desire, cities and signs, thin cities, trading cities, cities and eyes, cities and names, cities and the dead, cities and the skies, continuous cities, and hidden cities.

“These invisible cities have been called metaphors, fables, and parables by readers and literary critics. The descriptions seem truthful. However, the most accurate definition I have come across is that of “states of mind.”

“Doha seems to bloom, like a time-lapse video, from the desert sand. The city I think I know can become another city—sometimes overnight. I have come to realize it is not made of concrete or steel but of the things our human minds manage to conjure up—it is invisible, like Calvino’s cities.

“Its population of 2.9 million, many of whom come from every other part of the globe, has composed this state of mind—a chapter in the book of cities we dream about, dreams that make up cities, invisible cities that only exist in dreams”.

Dr Luci Attala, Course Director, said: “What a wonderful piece of writing! I am so very pleased with what Susana has achieved - and this isn't her first publication since being a student with us. I am genuinely humbled and grateful to have been a part of her journey.

“Anthropology at UWTSD encourages students to engage creatively with different methods of expression, and, most importantly, we nurture the student to realise their role as an innovative researcher from the outset - regardless of their entry level.

“Imaginative ways to research, produce knowledge and disseminate ideas not only allows for a wider reach of important ideas, but also contributes to the necessary transformation of the academy at this difficult point in history.

“Susana is looking at conceptions of nature at a time when humanity is having to think again about past methods. As we can see, her research is generating interest, and I am proud of her for it.”

Read and listen to Susana reading her poem here.

Picture of Susana Fabre in Doha