Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sukoon Magazine Issue ONE is now ONLINE!

The first issue of Sukoon Magazine- now online! Check it out- Art, Poetry, and Prose from a variety of excellent artists living/working/or just hanging out, in or around, the Arab world. 

Sukoon is also very proud to announce that the first issue includes previously unpublished poems by none other than NAOMI SHIHAB NYE, as well as an interview with her!

Poems by Frank Dullaghan, Zeina Hashem Beck, Hind Shoufani, Helen Wing, Hajer Abdulsalam, Farah Chamma, Dorian Paul D, Steven Schreiner, Kenneth E. Harrison, Emer Davis, Becky Kilsby, Dana Sleiman, Louay Khraish, Nicholas Karavatos, The Amazin' Sardine.

Prose by Marian Haddad, Helen Wing, Nour Ali Youssef.

Photography by Arz Azar, Omran Ali Alowais, Marie Dullaghan. 

Calligraphy by Majid Alyousef!

Friday, December 21, 2012

In the Beginning Was... The World

My toddler nephew has an obsession.

His "zizi."

In other words, the male organ of copulation, also used for urine excretion.

Well. Not entirely. All he wants to know is whether or not everyone else, including his mother, father, aunt, grandmother, uncle's fiance, baby cousin, the gardener, the car down the street, or the neighbor's bicycle has one too.

So he inquires, of course, rather randomly, and persistently, and of course, the answer is always ready, as well as the subject that is supposed to come right after the answer that came after the inquiry, nicely prepared to move the attention away from the question.

Discussing the weather for instance is a fairly weak subject with which to distract a two-year-old. Fondling a brightly lit Christmas tree, with breakable ornaments hung from its thick plastic branches, on the other hand, is not.

Apparently, say the experts, (actually I'm totally making this up), the idea is not to give too much attention to this fixation. The experts; you know, those faceless entities that write fancy articles with the intention of sounding like they know particular things. They also tend to enjoy defining the word "normal." And its antonym, "abnormal." From a scale of 1, to a zillion and three.

Ah, the empowerment that male children can't help but arrive at, thanks to the world's endorsement of it.

So anyway, the idea is not to dwell and just move on.

Just like when he playfully utters the word "shit" or "fuck," thanks to mindless adult rhetoric, it is fundamental that the adult not give any attention to this "mishap" and carry on with the day, like the miracle that it is. Apparently It is very important to communicate that the toddler's genitalia, this organ he finds absolutely fascinating, is really NOT the most important discovery in this whole wide, and reproductive-fixated, world.  It is a good idea, psychology implores, to tell the toddler, rather gently, that no, his "zizi" is really not that incredible or shocking, nor is it for public inspection.

The toddler will, of course, look up at you, with his big round eyes of Spring (kindly refer to Note #85 ), find you dull and stuffy, feel sorry for you for a few minutes, at which point he will decide to humor you for a couple of hours or days. Until the next round of further inquiry.

If you ask me, I don't think it's a big deal really. It's not like it's the end of the world, is it?

Actually it is. And as I sit snugly in my Lazy Boy seat, popcorn bowl in my lap, I wait patiently for all things to fall apart. Then I faintly recall Achebe's novel title, the plot of which I remember nothing. That's how thrilled I am about this event.

Luckily I live in Dubai. Where I can watch the whole thing crumble from the safety of my own cushy corner. No batteries or duct tape necessary. I can sit here and rock the damn seat back and forth and observe, while the festive tree laughs its blinking lights off at the sheer anticipation.

And then I come across this yesterday in the news:

"Cultural entropy, which is the level of dysfunctional, toxic or destructive energy people feel in a country, was at just 12 per cent in the UAE compared to 72 per cent in Venezuela, 63 per cent in Iceland and 60 per cent in Argentina. The UK, France and the US witnessed cultural entropy levels of 59 per cent, 57 per cent and 56 per cent respectively. Elements that contribute to cultural entropy, according to the service was people’s view of bureaucracy, blame, corruption, materialism, environmental pollution and aggression in their country."

Something about "shared values connect human beings beyond race, religion, politics and gender. And "human societies" that "grow and develop to the extent that we are able to reduce fear, build trust and increase love by reaching a common understanding of our shared values.”  And that "the low level of cultural entropy and high level of similarity currently experienced signals that people in the UAE feel that the society is on the right track."

V. insightful.

Thanks to "shared" values, apparently, we've been able to reduce fear, build trust and increase love. In Dubai, where an anonymous artist randomly sprays lines of graffiti on concrete walls.  Thoughts like, "All these lights, and nothing to display."

Amen is what I say to that.

Yes, that's us. As opposed to the rest of world, right?  The one that will end today, goodness knows at what hour and in which continent the conclusion will begin, I think we've also achieved these three things. Only not in that order necessarily. I think we've managed quite brilliantly, thanks to the shared value of: consumerism, to reduce: love, increase: fear and build: a lot of skyscrapers.

And speaking of "zizi," the organ which we keep telling my curious nephew women don't have, I think it's high time we changed that response. At least women have balls. If nothing else.

Which is more than a lot of us can say about the men in this Arab speaking region, post Arab "spring."

Like Egyptian activist Alia Mahdi, today, who stripped naked in Stockholm, in front of the Egyptian Embassy, and used her body as a medium to write her thoughts about a reformed Egypt. She used her naked body to prove a point, if nothing else. Which none of the Arab world will of course get. They will only see a publicly naked woman, which to them, means a whore who deserves slaying and raping and plundering, and an outrageous and scandalous initiative, which means, well, an outrageous and scandalous initiative.

The Arab speaking world will use their eyes only to see that yes, the world definitely ends today, there's that whorish Arab woman again, whose naked body is all over the news.

I think the world begins today. There's that stubborn Arab activist again, whose naked body that speaks volumes, is all over the news.

I hope my nephew will grow up to be half as courageous as women like her, and with the help of the right level of "scandalous behavior-supporting" family, he'll get over his fixation, and by the time he's her age, this penis-obsessed world would've grown new eyes.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Yet another Lebanon-inspired cliche

What's the point of bikinis and Jack Daniels in my closet?
Rave parties for teenagers and Miriam Klink for the tired?
What's the point of bars and clubs and champagne at the pool
before noon? Secret lovemaking and certain types of cigarettes
that burn like the inner thighs of the earth? What's the point of clapping
in airplanes and getting along during turbulence?

Festivals and music halls and dim bars in Hamra where the bartender
is my cousin. What's the point of eighteen religions, let's just stop calling them
sects shall we, and five different languages tap dancing
along a toddler's tongue? Gorgeous mothers swinging
high heels and men who never age. Switzerland or Paris twin sisters
to a few streets. Only a few streets. An old chapel rubbing shoulders
with an ancient mosque. Elderly balconies of stone houses as grey as wars
and peace treaties. What's the point of a nation conceived
along a Mediterranean coast where the blue glitters
like the eyes of young fishermen? Apple trees or orange blossoms
silver green olive leaves or almond flowers
blushing like newborn brides? And rows and rows and rows

of oleander trees? Have you seen the oleander trees? I bet you never noticed
like me. I bet you never noticed.

Like me. Busy keeping my head down, my blistered feet skipping the broken bits
in the streets, I'm watching out for the holes, like bullet scars
in the body of a war torn building, like open wounds in a body that never heals,
but instead invites more disease. More and more and more disease.

How else will it know it is still alive?

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Long and Short of It

So. Apparently people don’t read. Therefore, because people don’t read, copywriters need to write less copy. Why? Well, because apparently people don’t read.

If you’ve reached this point in the blog then I guess you’re one of the nine people left on earth who read. Ok, I exaggerate. But isn’t that the whole point of advertising? To exaggerate?


Right. In advertising, our job as head-in-the-cloud creatives is to say, in one line or twenty, in one visual or five, ‘this product is awesome, you should buy it.’
Let’s compare the line, ‘this product is awesome, you should buy it’ to this, ‘our product is awesome, you should buy it. Winners and front-runners bought it. In fact, they have been buying it for a long time now. Where have you been? It’s alright. It’s never too late. You’ll be fine as long as you run out and buy it now. Or in the next couple of days. You need to have this product, trust us, your life would be so much fuller, cooler, healthier, easier, less stressful, more fulfilling, and all good things that mean the same thing, if you have this product. Lack of this product will make you feel the opposite of all those things mentioned above. And who wants to feel the opposite of all those things mentioned above? Your family and mistress will thank you for it! So? Are you in?’

Of course I think the second big block of copy is far more ‘interesting’ to the reader than the first one-liner. Not only because I wrote it, but because it just is.
And we all know that with interest, conviction is possible. Bob Stone, founder of Stone & Adler, and author of Successful Marketing Methods insists that, “people will read something as long as it interests them.” 

Victor O. Schwab, author of How to Write a Good Advertisement and who has spent over 44 years as an advertising copywriter (seriously!) discusses why people will read long copy. “What subjects interests your reader the most? Himself and his family. So your copy subject is what your product will do for him, or for his family… It’s amazing how much copy any person will read, willingly, if it continues to point out these consumer benefits.”

Claude Hopkins, believed to have coined the term “scientific advertising” says, “Some say be very brief, people will read but very little. Would you say that to a salesman? With the prospect standing before him, would you confine him to any certain number of words? That would be an unthinkable handicap.”

In Confessions of an Advertising Man, David Ogilvy, (if you don’t know who that is, look him up!), says, “Research shows that readership falls off rapidly up to 50 words of copy, but drops very little between 50 and 500 words. In my first Rolls Royce ad I used 719 words—piling one fascinating fact after another. In the last paragraph I wrote ‘people who feel diffident about driving a Rolls Royce can buy a Bentley.’ Judging from the number of motorists who picked up the word ‘diffident’ and bandied it about, I concluded that the advertisement was thoroughly read.”  He continues, “I could give you countless examples of long copy which has made the cash register ring, notably for Mercedes cars. Not only in the United States, but all over the world. I believe that ads with long copy convey the impression that you have something important to say, whether people read the copy or not.” And then he sticks the gun right where it hurts, “Only amateurs use short copy.”

This blog is an ad for longer copy of course, (I’m a copywriter, words are my curse,) and so I’ve done the research necessary in order to support my point. Did I sell it well?

Only last week I fell in love with an ad campaign for Aza Video, done in Brazil. “Rent movies. Keep lessons.” The copy is heavy but it’s gorgeous. (Even if it was already written as part of a film script, which of course is the whole point.)

I’m not saying copywriters should write long copy for the sake of writing long copy. If it’s long but tedious and dull, with no meaty facts or surprise element whatsoever, forget about it. If it’s long, it better be good.

If it’s short, it better be better.