السبت، 12 أبريل 2008

My Introduction to "The Gate to Modern Arab Poetry" Published by Artgate Agency, Romania

My Introduction to "The Gate to Modern Arab Poetry" Published by Artgate Agency, Romania in Collaboration with the Great Arab Poet, Novelist and Critic Mr Munir Mezyed and The Great Romanian Poet Mr Marius Chelaru
A Foreword

This book is an anthology of Arabic Free Verse incorporating new selections of Arab poets of different generations and experiences, environments and countries. The poets are more than 180 in number all in all, each with one poem with exception of one or two to make the number of the poem reach 180 only. Some of the poets of the Anthology are of a very high credit whose oeuvre have been in circulation in languages other than Arabic, the Original. Some other poets, whom the readers of the world at large have no access to , for no reason but that of the language barrier, are very well read, appreciated and taken by their homeland readers and audiences. They are represented here regardless to what-not differences and contradictions, irrelevances and inconsistencies among Arabs; such differences and contradictions do extend to nearly many aspects but, fortunately enough not to the significance or the role of poetry. This is because Arabs, all Arabs, while they don't agree on anything else, as they do agree on one fact: they read poetry, they listen to poetry and they love poetry. However, these disagreements have an unlimited number of poets' voices gagged, curbed and neglected for multifarious reasons above which is the 'level line' of free expression that fluctuates, never up , but always down, ebbing and only not to flow once more, here and there! In this Anthology, those unlimited have got a voice, one poem each.

The idea behind making out the whole Anthology as well as planning for the project and right away from its early stages to the collecting of the material in its source language and contacting Mr Marius Chelaru , the Romanian Translator, and giving me the honour of participating in this honorable feat that serves to boost this dialogue among peoples despite their differences in languages, religions etc…are mainly the responsibility and contribution and initiative of the hard-working man and brilliant poet Mr Munir Mezyed. However, it is left for the other English-Arabic translators mentioned below to choose the poems they like to have here included.

This Anthology does not follow a chronological way in classifying poets into generations, as it is patterned in almost all anthologies of poetry. Neither does it categorize the poets in any form nor are their poems arranged alphabetically or thematically or even according to their related IDs (of countries) although we discussed this matter at the very beginning a lot. The poet Mr Munir Mezyed attempts to keep the poems as they are in the same order he chooses. I felt that he may aim at tracing the way he feels first about them, at documenting and recording his feelings and choices the way he finds these voices, all voices with no exception expressing him via their own. The Anthology, then it seems, follows a psychic method, the psyche of a poet when he loves, when he yearns for his lost paradise, when he rebels and smashes all taboos, when he weeps, sings or when he is religious or irreligious, a man in want of a loving woman's lap, a woman wanting man to share the cup of ecstasy, when feels the world as a tree or a wave or dewdrop or a poem neighing like a horse or words flying like pigeons or flocks of sheep fleeing away once he utters them, when he starts with Iraq and ends in craving for Phalestine. This is an orchestra mastered by a poet with a magic wand in hand. He is the Yanni of the Modern Arab poetry. This is where this Anthology differs from other editions. It is the first of its kind!

This Anthology is issued in a trilingual edition – Arabic, Romanian and English set together under one cover. The Arabic text is, of course, the source language. The Romanian translations of the poems are done via English by the Romanian Poet, Critic and Translator Mr Marius Chelaru, poem by poem , verse by verse, image by image. Here, in this step, in particular and in order to keep the sense and spirit of the poems translated indirectly to another language via not that of the source, Mr Munir works, side by side, with Mr. Marius in the Romanian Version as he reads every poem Mr Maruis translates to make sure the Romanian version gets the exact meaning and keeps the artistic image and soul. The English has been the work, if none referred to otherwise, of the Arab Poet, Novelist, Researcher and Translator, Mr Munir Mezyed. Moreover, there are other contributors as translators via the source language, Arabic into English. They are in an alphabetical order: Mrs. Betoul Ahmed, Eman Ahmed, Mr Hassan Hegazi, Mr Sami Khamu, Mrs Khulud Al-Mutaliby, Mr Samir Al-Shanawy in addition to the Editor, Prof. Al-Assady, who also shared in translating a number of poems. All names are from WATA.

Since the Anthology is trilingual, it is printed though under one cover but in three separate parts; each part for a language. Each part includes the same number of poems the other two parts carry. Poems in each are numbered. Each poem carries the same number in the three versions. The Idea behind that is to facilitate things to readers who want to check or follow or entertain themselves with poems of other versions; so instead of making them go to the index or the contents page to look for names or poems' titles , we may make things easy, i.e, just to look for numbers of the poems , not pages .

The Anthology offers this great number of Verse selections only as specimens of the Arab Free Verse Movement, the Movement which in 1947 radicalized the elements of the Arabic Qasida, smashed the rules of the Classical prosody that enchained poets more than one thousand years ago, and initiated a new track in Arab literature. Hence, it is quite proper to allude to the features of the Arab Ancient poetry, the significance of poetry in a Nomadic society and the status of the Ancient poet among his tribesmen as well as the etymology of the word 'Shi'ir' before we deal with the movement itself. And these items are the mainstreams of Introduction below.

Prof. Abdul-Settar Abdul-Latif Al-Assady
Dept of English/ College of Education
University of Basarah/Iraq

The Introduction

Prof. Abdul-Settar Al-Assady

1. Poetry: The Etym of the Word

In English as well as in some European languages, the word 'Poetry ' is taken from the Greek 'Poetica' which is derived from the verb 'poiein' that means 'to make'.

In Arabic, the word 'Shi'ir' means 'to feel' and 'to express feeling' .It dates back to 'Shiru', a word of Akkadian origin. The Akkadian is a very akin language, if not an ancestor, to Arabic in all language levels: syntax, morphology, phonology and semantics as a great number of archaeological researches showed. 'Shiru', as specialists of old languages of Mesopotamia said, has a double meaning. It stands for two verbs, the first is 'surakhu' (to mean 'weep), and now in Arabic 'sarakha', i.e., cry and weep- it bears the same meaning though with a very slight variation in pronunciation. The second is 'zammaru' (to mean 'sing'), now in Arabic 'zammara', i.e, sing using flute.It bears nearly the same sense and a slight variation in pronunciation. Moreover, the Akkadian word 'Shiru' itself had come, with the same pronunciation bearing the sense of ' a song or a sad song', as a loan word into the Akkadian language from the Sumerians, the most ancient people of the world , and the early natives of Mesopotamia, now Iraq. Hence, the word 'Shiru' avails in almost all the languages termed as Semitic languages: Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic and Phoenician. Now, in Hebrew for instance, 'Shir Hishreem' means the 'the song of songs'.

According to historical evidences based on excavated tablets taken from Ur site at the South of Iraq, it is known that the Sumerians used to sing their lyrics that expressed mirth, suffering or dejection, in all religious rituals ( that of fertility and rebirth), coronation festivals and feasts of the sacred marriage about 3000 B.C.. Archaeologists in Mesopotamia could excavate ancient tablets written in the Cuneiform inscription, the most ancient language of the world, portraying the rituals of the sacred marriage as performed by Shu-Sin (3030-3038 B.C), the Fourth Ancient Sumerian King of the Third Dynasty of Ur as the god of fertility together with a Sacred Temple Woman representing the goddess of fertility. At the Wedding Night, the Woman of the Temple cited and sang a happy 'shiru' as the rituals were in process. Below is one of the ritual poems ever reached us:

Oh, Bridegroom. So dear to my heart
How exciting your making-love is.
Your charm has captured me! I only stand to tremble before you.
Oh bridegroom. I wish you take me to my Boudoir
Oh, Bridegroom. Let me kiss you.
My kiss is sweeter than honey!
In the Boudoir, full of honey
Let me enjoy your nice beauty!

Hence, the word 'Shi'ir' as it is used in Arabic is rendered the most ancient word history of mankind ever recorded. It has kept its sense and form despite the progress mankind witnessed.
It even is more ancient than the word 'poetica' which is related to 'making' while the Arabic word is related to' feeling'. What a difference!

2. Characteristics of the Arab Columnar Poetry

The Classical Arab Poetry is dubbed with two different terms. Either it is called 'the Ancient Poetry' . This is because it dated back to a period of time as ancient as the Jahilayah Epoch, i.e., nearly 200 years before the birth of Prophet Mohammad (PUH) at 570 A.D. Or it may be called 'the Columnar Poetry' after the 16-metre form of prosody it follows in writing: this form Ancient Nomad Arabs who toured the saharas of Arabia carrying their tents, flocks of camels and woman and children, using a figurative language, was considered as the pillar or the column they employed or put into use when setting up the bases of their tents. They started with the Main pillar or Column; hence came the appellation or the title of Arab poetry as Columnar. The concept of the Column signifies the important role both poetry and its columnar form itself played in their desert habitat in Arabia. Sometimes, the columnar form is named 'Al-Khalili Column' after the name of Ahmed Ibn Al-Khalil Al-Farahidy, the first Arab grammarian, lexicographer and inventor of the Prosody Rules in the way they have been in use up to the initiation of the Free Verse Movement, the mainstream of this Anthology, in 1947.
Accordingly, each metre gets a number of feet the stem of which is based on two sounds – a sound with a diacritic and a sound without. The two would form a dual sound pattern that could be joined into different relations from two to six; each a new relation is considered a foot. The Arabic prosody has neither been related to stressed syllables nor to unstressed ones as it is the case for instance in English prosody.
Among other features that complicated the matter a little bit for Arab poets is that a final sound should rhyme the whole poem regardless to how long it might be in terms of the number of its lines. This is called 'Rawy letter'. Moreover, an Arabic verse line contains two sub-lines that are separated by ' caesura ', the first sub-line is 'Shatre'(i.e. division) and the second ' Ajiz' (i.e. Back) . The two subs may or may not form one meaningful unit. The two could be totally independent; hence the impression it leaves that the Arabic Classical poetry is disconnected lacking unity …etc. This is true to a great extent. This is why poets in the various epochs of the history of Arab literature exerted a lot to abide by these rather very strict rules. However, it takes time to jettison them away thanks to the Free Verse Movement in question.

3. The Status of the Poet among his Tribesmen

As Arabs were a nation in the becoming, the 'tribe' as an institution was still the nucleus around which Arabs' life and society pivoted. The tribal relations, norms and visions governed every aspect in Arabia. There were wars, conflicts and raids and forays here and there among all tribes. The reasons and excuses differ but the cruelty of nature and the scarcity of water and other requisites of life in such arid habitat like Arabia together with different tribal idiosyncrasies to control scant numbers of wells of water and main trade routs were among the causes of such belligerent nature of the Nomads. Tribes reared their male children on values of horsemanship and cruelty; revenge, self-pride connected to tribe-pride and honor; on principles of defending the oppressed tribesmen and refusing injustice or harm inflicting the tribe and taking part into the tribe's raids, wars and conquers in right and in wrong, though all the time in the wrong.

Poets were born amid these tribal values and impacts and visions .And their poems were the vehicles for Arabs to spread the tribal doctrines from one generation to another. Poets were considered as the defenders of the tribe at the time of war, preachers at time of peace, verse orators to instill the magic eloquence of their language into the younger breeds, chroniclers who recorded their history though orally and even the sacred temple men as ancient Arab Nomads believed that every poet got one genii or 'a Follower' coming daily to inspire him with verse, adage and wise sayings. Thus, poets were sought for, bestowed with all kinds of hospitality, generosity by their chiefs. They were the symbols of tribe-learning, and -dignity and history as well.

At certain times in Ancient Arabia, there were literary markets and poetry forums held so that poets of different tribes came to initiate flyting. Also, there were big tents set up for big poets (as Al-Thibyanni) to put their poetry to his criticism. The best poems hence were celebrated and inscribed on posters and hung on the walls of the Ka'aba especially at the annual rendezvous of the Arabs. They called these poems 'Mu'allaqat' meaning 'hanging verses'. Such display on the walls of the Ka'aba was the reward for the poets.

When Islam was revealed, it respected poets on new bases – their obeyance of the Islamic doctrines of good faith, of call for virtue, love and peace, of defending woman's rights, of abandoning vendetta, profanity and vice. Prophet Mohammad considered poetry ' the wisdom by instinct…and Arabs can stop saying poetry only if camels stop craving', while 'A'isha, his younger spouse rendered poetry 'the water for children's arid souls'. Omar, the 2nd Caliphate enjoyed himself by reciting Al-Asha's long poems; Ibn Maso'od, the Prophet's Disciple, considered poetry as 'the discharge emitted for one wounded in chest!'. There are so many sayings and examples in this respect, all enhance the role of poetry in the life of Arabs. Poetry, when Arab civilization came to its ascendancy at Abbasid Caliphate, was used in jotting down Arab scientists' discoveries, inventions, theses and books. It is there in books of grammar, chemistry, philosophy, medicine, astronomy …etc. Many verses are put into the warp and weft of the Arabian Nights, the Epistle of Love by Ibn Sinna (Aviccena), of Ibn Hazim's Ring of the Dove…etc. It is through such books that Arab classical poetry moved to Europe when great Arab masterpieces in different fields of learning were translated at medieval ages to Latin, Spanish, French …etc. In addition, direct and indirect contact with Arabs in Al-Andalusia, Sicily, Malta, and Cyprus as there were centres of translation, played a great role in triggering new movements in medieval literature, in general and in poetry in particular. Troubadours for instance were influenced by Muwashahat and Ghazel. And Dante learnt to write his first sonnets via following the Ghazel examples. There are many other European poets who were affected by one way or another by the Arabic Classical poetry.

4. Arabic Free Verse

When the Arabic Free Verse began or who was the pioneering poet of the Free Verse Movement is still a disputable matter. Some said it was initiated by Nazik al-Mala'ika in 1947 when she wrote ' Cholera', as the first poem in free verse: the new way of writing poetry in Arabic literature that changed the course of modern Arabic poetry in years to come and radicalized all the ingredients of the Arabic poem. Some said it was Badr Shakir al-Sayyab when he published 'Was It Love?' the same year. In addition, there were poets who soon followed in track from all over the Arab countries, now considered as the first generation of the Free Verse Poets: from Iraq (Al-Baiyaty, Al-Braikan, Buland Al-Haidery), from Egypt ( Salah Abdul-Saboor, Ahmed Mu'ty Hijazi ), from Lebanon (Khalil Hawy, Yosif Al-Khal), from Syria (Nazar Qabani, Adonees), from Palestine ( Fadwa Toqan, Salma Al-Juwaisy) , from Sudan ) Mohammad Al-Faitoory) and others. The Anthology has included some works of Al-Braikan and Qabani while it focuses on the generations that came later.

It has been taken for granted that the Free Verse Movement was triggered in this part of the world because of multifarious factors – internal and external. The internal ones are related not only to the intrinsic shackles the Columnar poetry impose on poets but also to some objective factors having a lot to do with the vehement upheavals overwhelming the political, social and cultural premises everywhere in the Arab Homeland at the forties of the 20th century. There was prevalent a sense of the necessity for change. Backwardness, illiteracy, poverty and ignorance were rife. Poets, the sensitive minds felt it was their tasks to ignite change in one domain that was rendered a taboo – the Columnar Poetry. The external factors included the contact, direct or indirect, with the poetic experiences in the civilized world. All the pioneering names of the Arab Free Verse Movement were in touch with or influenced by English, American and French poets, the Symbolists Baudelaire, Lafourge, Rimbau, Valery, Mallarme, the Dadist Briton …etc, the Modernists Eliot, Pound, Emy Lowell, W.C.Williams, Edith Sitwell, Ted Hughes…etc; the Confessionist Robert Lowell, Allen Ginsberg , and Walt Whitman and Emily Dickison… etc. The experiences of all these great poets were at hand to Arab Free Verse Poets who were either specialized in English or Arabic or they completed their degree studies in European universities.

The new movement smashed the Columnar Verse though not in all its features. Old prosody was no longer followed as a new one was initiated free from the shackles of the final rhyme sound, the number of feet in the verse line, the unified metre of the whole poem and the division of the lines – no caesura any more ; no longer the line is divided into two sub-lines. The new movement furnitures the Arab Modern poet with new tools to express himself, the tools may extend to incorporate all mankind's mind product within, from the use of myths to philosophy, from the east to the west. The Free Verse poet is free to employ what imagery, style, vocabulary, meter, foot, form, content, rhythm… etc he likes, prefers and goes congruous with the line of his thought, mood, background and mastery of the art itself as craft and devices. Moreover, the movement enables the poet for the first time to utilize what semiotic signs and topology could offer the poet with – silence enters as a device; blank space becomes meaningful; all irregularities, inconsistencies, irrelevances sound regular, consistent and relevant. The Free Verse movement works with a poet who is no longer obstructed to a constricted sense of the tribe, country, race, religion, society, mentality and prejudices the Classical poet was enchained with since the modern Arab poet adopting this movement now comes to belong to a new world; he has become consciously or unconsciously a cosmopolitan citizen even before the advent of this debatable 'globalization'. However, the freedom he cherishes does not mean that he gives no heed to discontents, whatsoever, his kinsmen suffer nor he turns his face to their moments of relaxation. He, as compared to the Ancient Columnar poet, is more well-versed and involved in the matters of the world, the whole world if not the universe, whether at the moment or thousands years before! Still, there is a slight difference between the two, a gap that cannot be abridged, i.e., the Ancient Arab poet was celebrated and sought for whether by his tribesmen or by the chiefs of all Arab tribes in Arabia two thousands years. The contemporary poet suffers a lot. He suffers his loneliness and alienation. He is exiled reluctantly whether he chooses to live within the political borders or out. He is gagged if not silenced and traced though he cherishes absolute freedom in the domain of his rhymes but never outside!

In this Anthology, the themes dealt with are as multifarious as the poets' experiences, backgrounds or IDs are. One may move from chanting to one's Land (as in Maha Al-Khatib's Only to You) to expressing existential loss of man ( as in Al-Braikan's the Manner of Sand); from a manifesto-like declaration of why a poet ever writes (as in Sulaf Abbas's I Write) to declaring death-in-life in a form of an elegy to Father (as in Fatima Al-Hamzawi's The Female{Infant}, Buried Alive); from the Gothic fears of Loneliness (as in Hassan Khashab's A Call for Return) to a metaphysical trepidation of the hurrying time (as in Mohammad Al-Laghafi's Not in Our Capability); from expressing mutiny against ideological Authorities ( as in Mostafa Morad's Allah) to saying farewell to rocks (as Ziad Al-Saudi's All This and More); to craving for the King of Romance (as in Miner Mezyed's Abdel Halim Hafez); to 'Praying to the Sea' ( by Hassan Assi El-Sheikh). However, a casual eye may trace common motifs recurrent in lines, images and stanzas, keeping popping up here and there as one goes on reading, though the manipulations or perspectives differ, of course, in their particularities, from one poet to another. And this is natural. Such motifs could be of Love, of Death, of being forlorn, of being fraught with certain unknown dismays. Yet, Love prevails: the love of man to woman, of woman to man, of man to mankind, of peace and of saying no to shredding more of blood, of saying no to absurdities of War:

I will sort out my dreams
And my only shoe
Once besmirched with war-and –peace Chronicles
As I possess nil from the war
Except dust of fake triumphs
(From I'll Get my Bags Ready to Travel, Mohmood Sulaiman)

Accordingly imagery differs. The differences may reveal the Arab poets' Shamanism of their domains. The Arab Free Verse poets as represented here in this Anthology have shunned off all taboos in setting up undreamt-off relationships among vocabulary in Arabic, found similarities and even absurdities, within dissimilarities or impossible things, blended various vistas in moulding their images. Hence, there are medleys of all sorts of images: the Symbolist and Surrealist, the Gothic and Metaphysical and Realist.

Despite the high mastery of the translators having worked in this Anthology, the translation of the poems has been done not without difficulties. Some of them are related to the source language: in an attribution of, say, a singular 1st speaker pronoun to a vague antecedent; in the absence of diacritic of certain Arabic words that may be problematic and disputable and confusing without, that may have more than one meaning, all possible!; sometimes, the difficulties are in Arabic words that have no English equivalents – things related to cultural context and even if there such equivalents, they wouldn't have nor bear the same connotations in the target language, for instance words such as ( نذ ر , أ مانة , السمك المسكوف , ابو نؤاس ). Sometimes, the difficulties are met in words that convey condensed images – that should be de-condensed into their threads – thread by thread, while translating words such as ( أناخ , هودج ) . Sometimes, the difficulty is deliberately worked upon by the poets themselves as they avail of not only ambiguities of syntax that are easily offered in the source language but also of opacity or obscurity of ideas…Again and again, the structure of a poem in Arabic may dwell upon repetitions of some words that have the same spellings and stems and seemingly look the same ; yet they bear different meanings each time they occur, for instance ( وً رً دً , وً رْ دٌُ , وِ رِ د ُُ , وُ رُ ود , أ ورٍد ة ) . By all means, all the translators have done all their utmost and passed what-not hurdles rather with remarkable success so that they convey a readable text in the target language.

Now to Poems!

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