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Tension in the house: The contemporary poetry of Arabia.

ONE OF THE INTERESTING but highly telling semantic junctures in Arabic poetics is that the word designating the basic unit of a poem, bayt (a line divided into two parts or hemistichs), also means "house" or "home," which is why it cannot be translated simply as "line." For the ancient Arabs of the desert, the nomadic Bedouins who are still with us, the house is essentially a tent, a fact that explains why the eighth-century Arab linguist Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad, who laid the foundations for the study of Arabic prosody as poetry passed down from its ancient oral origins, chose the Arab tent as model. (1) Later scholars came to compound this domestic model by talking about the thematic progress of the classical poem as if it formed `amud, "pillar" or "pole" (that which props up the tent). Until now the term shi'r `amudi (literally, verse that follows the pillar model) has referred, though not accurately, to all poems based on the bayt as nucleus.

Today, however, the semantic and poetic dimensions of the bayt are not so easily recognizable, not only because the old tent is almost extinct, but also because the modern poem has largely replaced the bayt with the culturally different Western line. The gradual transformation of Arabic culture since the eighteenth century left a deep impression on Arabic poetics. The change acquired a stronger momentum toward the middle of the twentieth century. Around that time, the traditional structure of the classical poem was drastically and finally revised, creating two major forms, one preserving essential features of the classical structure and the other breaking that form to constitute what came to be called, again not quite accurately, "the free-verse poem." (2) This latter change took place under the impact of a Western culture that filtered through the minds of poets and critics who either traveled to the West or studied Western literature at home, and who in turn communicated their knowledge to others.

These momentous changes took place first in Egypt, Lebanon, and Iraq, but it wasn't long before other parts of the Arab World followed suit. Of course, those changes did not go unchallenged; a stiff resistance accompanied them, forcing some changes and modifications on the outcome. The ensuing battle of books centered on something that certainly went beyond the technicalities of prosody; it was a battle of basic cultural concepts and values. Tampering with the poem meant to many a tampering with the essence of culture, an encroachment upon the sacrosanct, not so much upon the "house" of poetry as upon the "house" of culture as a whole. Despite the fact that early modernist poets of the forties and fifties did not go beyond the traditional meters, that they simply wanted to break free from the unity of the bayt as an enclosed unit inside the poem and replace it with lines that flowed into one another, thus giving the poet more space to move, the innovation was still seen by many as a serious breach of an essential component of Arab cultural identity. The well-known story goes that when the Egyptian critic Abbas El Akkad was chairing the poetry committee at a national contest in the fifties, he rejected a poem written in the new verse form because he insisted that it belonged within the purview of the prose committee instead.

The irony in El Akkad's position was that he himself was part of an earlier wave of modernization that brought, among other innovations, a Western-oriented romantic flair into the arena of Arabic letters. As a consequence of the efforts of people like him, Egypt became a leading country in the process of modernization that swept the Arab world, a process that basically meant embracing Western models in various areas of cultural and social life. The resistance to a drastic change in verse forms while accepting other forms of Western culture was one of many ironic yet telling anomalies that still persist in several areas of life in Arab countries. But if the irony is clear in countries such as Egypt, which were closer to Western models in several areas of cultural life, it is all the more glaring in places such as the Arabian Peninsula, that remained for a long time far from Western influence. (3)

The Peninsula, or "Arabia" as it is sometimes known in the West, is historically regarded as the cradle of Arab culture. Over the centuries, it has remained the place that supplies the description "Arab" with its etymological and semantic base. When modernity began to shake dormant life in the Peninsula around the second half of the nineteenth century, the Arab identity there retained a strength scarcely to be found elsewhere. To this day, numerous social and cultural phenomena in the life of Arabia are less prone to change, or at least to drastic change. Whether one looks on the surface at the continuing traditional (un-Westernized) dress, or the lingering and largely characteristic modes of architecture, or, more deeply, at the persistently dominant forms of oral culture, the scenery is highly suggestive of an anxious guardianship over the remnants of Arab identity. First-time visitors to contemporary Saudi Arabia (where the second part of the country's name retains the historical designation of the Peninsula), or to any of the five Gulf states, are likely to be struck by this seemingly anachronistic situation, which becomes all the more obvious and paradoxical as one contemplates the other side of the coin: the relatively high degree of modernization that those countries have achieved in many other sectors of life. (4)

One of the familiar sights in the modern cities of Gulf countries in recent years is the architectural curiosity of combining a modern, Western-style villa with a traditional tent in the middle. The latter customarily serves mainly as a reception hall, exactly as it used to be in nomadic life. The combination is emptied of any sense of clash, as is the case with the sporadic presence of folkloric literature, particularly oral, Bedouin poetry on state-run television and radio stations. The architectural and technological innovations are not seen as serious threats to cultural identity -- a tolerant, almost magnanimous attitude largely denied to changes that touch upon something like language. It is as if the bayt that needs to be kept intact is not the one where people live, but rather the one where they articulate their views of life.

This public opposition has not, however, prevented poetry in the Arabian Peninsula from adopting a variety of modern forms, or from finding a receptive audience. The opposition that faced the earlier "free verse" (or taf'ila) has reached unprecedented hostility in the case of the prose poem, yet even this highly controversial form succeeded in securing a prominent position in the poetic output of several countries in the area. The interesting thing, however, is that the success achieved by modernity has not resulted in unchecked progress, but has too often been accompanied by a revisionist stand. Instead of basking in their success, the leading figures of the movement have themselves often found it necessary to modify their positions by adapting their innovations to local culture. More often, this did not occur for practical or pragmatic reasons, but rather because of genuine attachment to that local culture. It is this interesting situation that I have found worth discussing in the following remarks, which are bound to be introductory, given the expected lack of familiarity with the literature of the area among the majority of non-Arab readers. (5) My objective is to paint a picture of the tensions occasioned by modernization in the contemporary poetry of Arabia, a picture as comprehensible as it is comprehensive. The ironies and paradoxes of modernization, however, have, as usual, dictated their own choices, and the final picture is certainly more selective than I would have liked. It goes without saying that the examples chosen are not to be seen as the best there are. They are mainly representative of the argument.

The need to modernize while maintaining a distinct cultural identity is of course a global dilemma. In non-Western regions of the world, this dilemma is increasingly aggravated in proportion to the accelerated process of globalization exercised by Western systems --political, economic, cultural, and otherwise. What is of concern in the following remarks is the particular form this dilemma has taken in the literature of a specific area, the Arabian Peninsula. I am concerned, in other words, with the particular manner in which the poets of modern Arabia have tried to overcome the impasse of adopting Western poetic forms and techniques while maintaining an indigenous identity that is both personally meaningful and locally acceptable.

The poets I am referring to are those who generally came to the fore during the 1970s. Those who belonged to earlier generations found little problem in continuing to use traditional forms in order to articulate themes either totally classical or colored by shades of romantic interest. A notable exception within that earlier generation is the Yemeni poet Abdullah al-Baradduni (1922-99), who came up with the rare combination of traditional form and a strikingly modernized set of themes and verbal structures. Yet there is no indication that al-Baradduni went through any identity crisis similar to that suffered by the younger members of the modernist generation before they produced their best work.

A somewhat different case is that of the younger `Abd al-'Aziz al-Maqalih, another notable Yemeni poet and critic. Al-Maqalih belongs to a transitional generation that still exerts influence throughout the Peninsula. He achieved eminence by early espousing, both critically and poetically, the modern literary trend in the Arab world, especially in Yemen. His poetic modernity stops, however, at "free verse," having already composed in the traditional bayt or `amudi verse. Nevertheless, his critical or theoretical modernity includes discussion of poetic prose, defending its legitimacy as part of the poet's freedom and right to experiment. In an article published in the first volume of the Yemeni literary periodical Aswat (Voices) in 1993, al-Maqalih identifies the current stage of Arabic verse as "the stage of the newer poetry, that type of writing which tries to go beyond the poetic forms, both traditional and liberal, that Arabic language is accustomed to" (Aswat, 13).

At the end of the same article, the writer refers to himself as someone who "has always written rhythmic poetry, which is not devoid sometimes of rhyme." In this, al-Maqalih could be taken to exemplify the response of an entire generation to the advent of modernization in Arabic. The writer is split between what he rationally espouses and is willing to defend but cannot be entirely part of, on the one hand, and, on the other, what he, as a consequence of education or training and therefore of taste and creative skills, can actually engage in. Al-Maqalih will defend prose poetry, accepting the famous pioneering study of this genre by the French critic Suzanne Bernard, (6) but he cannot or will not write prose poetry himself. At the beginning of his creative efforts he straddles the two forms: the traditional bayt poem and the taf'ilah, as in some of the verse he produced in the early seventies (e.g., in Hawamish Yamaniyah [Yemeni Margins]). But in some of his later work, as in two poems published in 1989 in the London-based journal Mawaqif, we find him adopting the taf'ilah form.

In almost all these poems, the early ones and the more recent alike, the Yemeni poet is driven by essentially the same concern: the Yemeni struggle to overcome the variety of political, social, and economic problems facing the country's effort to join the modern world. Whether he falls back on the rich past of Yemen itself, the part of Arabia once known as "Arabia Felix," or meditates on the distinguished heritage shared by all Arabs, including those as far away as Andalusia, the poet is painfully reminded of a tragically inferior present, not only in Yemen, his main concern, but throughout the Arab world.
 A flood flows out of the body of a banner-covered homeland:
 A banner with a sword in the middle
 A banner with a barrel in the middle
 A banner with a grave in the middle
 A banner with nothing in the middle.
 (Mawaqif, 129)

This multiplicity of banners strongly evokes an agonizing multiplicity of identities, a maze of dizzying political identifications that serve only to thwart the historical Arab longing for unity. It is a state of dismemberment and weakness that came about in modern times as a consequence of a long history of Western colonialization. The experience of modernity has been gruesome from this perspective. The resulting distress is summed up more suggestively, though from a slightly different standpoint, by another, somewhat younger Yemeni poet, `Abd al-Wadud Saif who addresses his readers as follows:
 Ask us about the distress deified on the
 throne of our dismembered bodies:
 Are we to leave it in the lips of silence
 Until the ice wall falls
 --on the ground -- ?
 Or are we to throw it in the lightning of the first elegy

 Alighting on our ears?
 (Aswat, 26)

The dilemma is one of a nation that has lost its features, a nation that looks like nobody, like nothing: "We belong -- perhaps -- / To that which doesn't look like us! ... / We look neither like this ... nor like that" (Aswat, 27). These questions about identity are not entirely philosophical; the immediate political, social, and cultural anxieties are too pressing to allow the luxury of philosophical speculation.

One of those pressing anxieties is silence, "the silence that has bred silence in us / That will ignite all the snow mountains" (Aswat, 25). The politico-social implications of silence here are perhaps too obvious, but they do not preclude another implication: the difficulty of poetic articulation within a cultural environment that sets limits on innovation. Saif is one of several Yemeni poets who accepted the risks of experimentation, writing the taf'ila as well as the prose poem in a milieu wherein orality and conservative forms predominate. In this he had to face strong attacks from those who, according to al-Maqalih, considered "the new poet a heretic on the level both of religion and of language" (Fadhil, 349).

Attacks upon modernization efforts are rampant on the Peninsula. The responses to them have varied, but a common denominator has been compromise: no one could afford simply to ignore the consequences, which could sometimes be serious, threatening both the persons themselves and their livelihood. (7) But political pressure has not been the sole motive behind such compromise. There is much to indicate that the cultural legacy each poet carries was a conditioning force behind the modernization project, in addition to the pragmatic but vital need to reach out to the poetry-reading audience. Thus the issues of political dispersal and its impact on identity that we have seen in the two Yemeni poets are found almost everywhere in the countries of Arabia, but the responses to those issues are not at all the same.

In Saudi Arabia, which covers the largest part of Arabia, the tensions of modernism over the last three decades have been at least the most visible, if not always the strongest. The long process of political unification that the country has been through since 1902, the year the capital Riyadh was conquered, was the result of geographic distance and diversity, something that resulted in diverse responses to cultural modernization in general. Thus, the province of Hijaz, where the holy city of Makkah (or Mecca) is located, was the earliest to respond to changes taking place in Egypt and other parts of the Arab World. Movements like Romanticism, for example, found early echoes in the work of Hijazi intellectuals well before the country became part of the political entity that joined Najd (the middle province) and other parts of Arabia, mostly constituting what the Greeks and Romans knew as Arabia Deserta. This is perhaps why, when modernism touched the traditional bayt or "house" of poetry in the seventies, violent reactions did not come from Hijaz or from any other similar region, for that matter, but rather from Najd, the vast central province and the conservative citadel of the country -- this is in spite of the fact that poets and critics of the movement came from all different parts of the country.

One of the more prominent poets of the movement is Ali al-Dumayni, who came from the southwest, an area whose geographic nature is similar to that of Yemen. In the sixties, al-Dumayni moved to the eastern region, where oil is produced, only to find himself beset by agonies not so very different from those of Yemen's `Abd al-Wadud Saif:

 You who are hiding at the end of the garment
 Will you feel ashamed that you are smaller than all these wounds?
 Will you laugh secretly,
 When your candor hugs you switched between the damp ceiling
 And the eternal loneliness at night? ...
 When people exhaust you
 Or when they are exhausted by me
 I search my chest, searching
 For a green seagull
 A small country.
 Have the birds left there their virginity yet?
 Or have the Bedouins erected their tents?

 (Riyah al-Mawaqi' [Winds of Sites], 51)

Behind this reticence and pain lies the poet's daring choice to bring tension into the house of poetry. He is "accused of swallows / and bleeding language" (Riyah, 50), of being too poetic, as he would like to put it.

At the same time, however, the poet's venture into modernity is not an exercise in masochism, but an acceptance of responsibility. He is aware that "a street is seeking refuge in you from the heat of the sun / and the wind is sheltering in your arms" (Riyah, 50). This is why it becomes vitally important for him to find a language that reaches out to that human, natural reality outside without sacrificing his modernist quest. One of the options here is to create a poem that accommodates the local element, the homegrown, by resorting to folklore and to common heritage. Al-Dumayni's poem quoted above, for example, is titled "They Ask You About the Hour," a phrase taken directly from the Holy Qur'an, where the sacred verse refers to the Day of Judgment. (8) For the poet, it is an hour open to several implications, but "change" and "truth" seem to be prominent. The poet is invested with a leading role, which is why he is asked about the time. That the time is not exactly a religious one becomes clear at the end of the poem, where the speaker refers to himself as "still not lost, but having not yet found the right path." A true modern dilemma.

Another strategy for dealing with such a situation is to use folklore, and this is done by deploying expressions from colloquial Arabic as well as by injecting the text with specimens of relevant oral poetry, or simply by recalling an idyllic nomadic life in desert homes. We find these strategies in the verse of al-Dumayni and several other poets of the seventies and eighties in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries (although it seems to have disappeared from the more urban prose poem of the nineties). Among the poets who use this strategy are the Bahraini author `Ali al-Sharqawi, the Kuwaiti woman poet Sa'diyya Mufarrih, and the Omani writer Sayf al-Rahabi. Al-Sharqawi is well known as an accomplished poet both in classical Arabic and in the Bahraini dialect. In both forms of expression, but perhaps more so in the colloquial, he makes heavy use of oral tradition familiar to everyone, especially the illiterate. His modernity extends at times to delicate, single-image poems, as in "Desert":
 She enacts laws for the sea
 Pulls its blueness
 Pollutes it with common pebbles
 Preparing nets
 To catch the fish's water.
 (Ma'idat al-Qurmuz [The Kermes Table], 107)

Yet the presence of such flights into modernity is always qualified by strict attention to traditional rhythm and the accessibility of colloquial verses, many of which have become popular songs in the Gulf area.

Qualifying modernity is also an outstanding feature in the work of the Kuwaiti Mufarrih, especially in her early publications. One of the poems in her first collection is titled "Confessions of a Bedouin Woman," a text entirely focused on a heritage shared by both the poet and a large part of her community. The confession concerns the poet's sense of a split between an urban modernity into which she was born and a nomadic culture she cannot deny in her background. It is when "the winds of change blow in [her] chest," she says, that she recalls the Bedouin tent, "the house made of hair" (Akhir al-halimin Kan [He Was the Last of the Dreamers], 33) The details of such a house are all related to the body: "Its black color is in my eyes / Its wooden nails deep and sarcastic in the heart" (33). It is at such moments of identification that she longs for "a smell that / Despite all the perfumes of civilization / is still stuck to my clothes" (34).

One decade later, Mufarrih's most recent work appears to veer away from these torturous memories, both formally and thematically. The prose-poem form that she adopts to articulate modern (or postmodern) urban concerns is accomplished by a series of complex metaphors that bear little resemblance to what the author has written previously. Still, it is not difficult to sense the old concern in a short poem like "Forlornness," in the collection Mujarrad Mir'at Mustalqiya (Just a Mirror Lying, 1999). Here a paradoxical situation unfolds: the emptiness and abandonment of urban houses and streets, which ought to be full, force the poet to seek refuge in a vast, vacant, yet more intimate desert: "How much I miss it in the space of cities / Where streets are endlessly wide and long / In the midst of low-flying planes" (34).

Highlighting a similar, though more direct view of the desert, the Omani poet Sayf al-Rahabi addresses the adjacent Empty Quarter, the most expansive and awe-inspiring of Arabia's deserts: "We look into your dense darkness / Begging your mysterious gifts, / Your scattered members in the distances / Have been refuge to an outcast / Wisdom for a deception crowded with mountain goats" (Yadun fi akhir al-A'lam, 9). Al-Rahabi's vigorous experimentation in poetic form, which put him from the outset on the road toward the prose poem, did not prevent him from launching a critique of modernity, whether in his poetry or in the essays he wrote as editor of the avant-garde Omani journal he edits, Nazwa. In a poem from a recent collection, he looks homeward, only to find his people, having abandoned the desert camel, blindly straddling "the camel of technology / Now so popular in markets." This disappointment with technology is the impetus behind the search for refuge in the desert. Yet the poet is not consistent in his search. In one of his essays he looks at the Empty Quarter and sees it "changed from a limited geographic area into a symbolic universe spreading cruelty, emptiness, and loss, from which the young generation find no refuge except in ... language" (Hiwar al-Amkina wa al-wujuh [A Dialogue of Places and Faces], 34). The poet's dissatisfaction with Western culture, and his citing of the failure of enlightened reason as proof of that culture's inefficacy (26), mean that he is not far from his Saudi counterpart al-Dumayni's proclaimed oscillation between not having been lost and not having found the right path as yet.

These intellectual dilemmas take another turn in the case of a female poet who sees herself caught up in her femininity within a society that imposes strict codes of behavior and expression on the female. Examples of such a situation are plentiful in modern Arabia: Ashjan al-Hindi from Saudi Arabia, Maysun Saqr from the United Arab Emirates, Hamda Khamis from Bahrain, and Sa'diyya Mufarrih from Kuwait, to whom I have already referred, are but four among the numerous examples that could be cited in this context. The Emirati writer Maysun Saqr is a particularly interesting case, not only because she is a noted poet and painter, but also due to her personal history as a member of the ruling family of Sharja, one of the constituent Gulf emirates forming the UAE.

In a poem titled "Flowing in the Body Matter" ("Jarayan fi Maddat al-Jasad," 1992), in a collection bearing that same title, Saqr stages a bold but generally delicate protest against a social ambience that can scarcely tolerate female freedom: "Each tribe is a draft copy of my suppression / They are all a door leaf: repressing my stature." The climax of the poem comes in a passage found toward the end. A series of paradoxes contribute to the esthetic pleasure of reading this passage:
 Half of my body is paralyzed in movement
 The other half is still
 Dreaming only of that half where suicidal thoughts
 Are extinguished.
 I set fire in my room
 Hoping to save a flooding motherhood
 Hoping to bum down a country of cardboard
 To burn myself in it.
 Fire is intimate with me
 Eager to sting my ego.

The paradoxical reference to the intimate fire is reminiscent of the equally intimate desert in the verse of the Kuwaiti poet Sa'diyya Mufarrih. Both fire and desert form a bulwark, a refuge, as the Omani writer Sayf al-Rahabi put it, against the atrocities of excessive social control. The image of the cardboard country, and the fragility this implies, recalls the political protest suggested in the image of a many-bannered Arab world in the poem by al-Maqalih from Yemen. From another standpoint, however, the image bears a significance that translation cannot convey. The Arabic for "cardboard," waraq muqawwa, literally means "hardened paper," an expression that opens up implications of writing in a way that "cardboard" does not. The most immediate implication is that the country is fragile, but the presence of "paper," in the Arabic original, opens a space for writing as a way out of the local confinement, in a fashion similar to that found in al-Rahabi's poem.

The paper country in Saqr's poem, the small country in al-Dumayni's, the desert tent in the work of Mufarrih are all variations in a continuum of hope and disillusionment. The fact that they are all related to the "house" of poetry, the bayt, seems completely self-evident. Poetry, or writing, or art in general, has functioned in this way in various cultures. It forms the "raw towns that we believe and die in," as W. H. Auden put it in his famous elegy on W. B. Yeats. The difference lies in the particular forms it takes in each culture or individual work, the diversity of expressions, images, metaphors, et cetera into which it formulates itself.

One of the noted poets of modernism in Saudi Arabia, Muhammad al-Thubayti, paints a fantastic portrait of the artistic refuge in a poem called "Taghribat al-Qawafil wa al-Matar" (The Westward Movement of Caravans and Rain). The country appears here as a drink to be served to a group of nomadic travelers who have stopped to rest. A necessary complement to the relaxation is the sound of the rababa (rebec), the stringed instrument predominantly used by the Bedouin Arabs in their desert tents. The tribal soothsayer (the kahin) is asked to deliver his prophecy about the future of this group as they try to find their way in an endless desert. That this soothsayer represents the poet himself is obvious to the reader.
Pour down the mourning heartblood Pour down a country in cups To turn heads

Give us more of "shadhiliyya" (9) until the cloud covers us Pour down the
mourning heartblood Shed on people's heads your sour but delicious coffee

(Attadharis [Land Undulations], 50-51)

The image of pouring a country in a cup recalls Keats's famous beaker which is "full of the warm south" -- with, however, one big difference: the Arab poet wants the drink to be a sobering instead of a numbing tool. The drink, after all, is coffee (although an argument to the contrary could be made on the basis that the word for coffee in Arabic, qahwa, which is said to be the basis of the European word, formerly meant wine).

Al-Thubayti's poem narrates a symbolic trip that epitomizes the quandary of modern Arabs. By selecting his symbols, images, and characters from the desert culture, the poet simultaneously raises the vital question of identity and selects the poetic vehicle that facilitates his crossing of the modernity bridge to a potentially alienated audience. The taghribah recalls a famous, part-historic, part-legendary exodus by a tribe known as Banu Hilal from Najd in the middle of the Arabian Peninsula to North Africa. (10) The poem is full of direct allusions to the life of such a tribe and the hard circumstances that forced them to leave, thus addressing a collective memory among the poet's audience. But this is all done in a highly sophisticated language and with imagery that is full of complex metaphors and expressions of the sort indicated above.

From this perspective, one could argue that al-Thubayti's poem may also be seen as epitomizing the modernist enterprise as a whole. For at the nucleus of the enterprise there lies the movement westward -- in the direction, that is, of Western culture, from which came the very idea of breaking the forms of traditional Arabic poetry. At the same time, however, the westward movement is inherently eastward, a journey into the heart of Arabic culture, as exemplified by a well-known saga. The conflict between these two directions has created the tension of modernity in the work of Arabian poets, a tension that constitutes at once the impediment and the impetus of that movement.

(1) The linguist was al-Khalil bin Ahmad, who also authored the first Arabic dictionary. The thirteenth-century critic Hazim al-Qartajanni, in his book Minhaj al-Bulgha' wa Siraj al-Udaba', Beirut, Dar al-Gharb al-Islami, 1966, pp. 249-51.

(2) Specialists in Arabic poetry are likely to see my statement as too simplistic; the so-called classical poem has itself passed through a number of developments in the modern age, paving the way for the switch to free verse. My argument, however, cannot go into such details; besides, the modifications that took place in the classical poem stopped short of dissolving the old form entirely, thus resulting in a bifurcation of modern Arabic poetry into its present double forms.

(3) The Arabian Peninsula includes seven countries: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Yemen. The first six constitute a Cooperation Council which is given the common designation "the Gulf countries," although geographically speaking Saudi Arabia remains somewhat distinct. Covering about eighty percent of the Peninsula, and sharing some basic features with the other Arab countries bordering on the Gulf, Saudi Arabia is simply far too large and diverse to be subsumed under the same geographic or cultural umbrella. This is unlike the other five countries, which share a higher degree of homogeneity.

(4) Over the last three decades or so, oil wealth has made it possible to raise the area's standard of living to a level higher than that of most Middle Eastern countries in most areas of modern urban life. Saudi Arabia, to take one example, is now the largest computer market in the Middle East, and the United Arab Emirates, to take another, is preparing to make Dubai one of the first Internet-wired cities in the world.

(5) In fact, even Arab specialists from outside the Peninsula are not as familiar with the literature of Arabia as one would expect them to be. Despite some increased familiarity in recent years, the literature of the area is still excluded from the majority of studies and anthologies published in most other Arab countries. In 1988 Salma K. Jayyusi edited the only comprehensive anthology of the literature of Arabia in translation (The Literature of Modern Arabia, London, Kegan Paul [in association with King Saud University in Riyadh], 1988). Yet, despite her valuable contribution, Dr. Jayyusi has unfortunately continued to pay little attention to the literature of the area, as in her essay on modern Arabic poetry in Modern Arabic Literature (ed. M. M. Badawi, Cambridge University Press, 1992), which almost completely ignores the entire poetic output of the countries of the Peninsula. Her attitude is representative of a general stance in the Arab world. Nevertheless, I must emphasize that both of her works, the anthology and the essay, are important references for anyone interested in familiarizing himself or herself with modern Arabic poetry.

(6) Le pomme en prose de Baudelaire jusqu'a nos jours, Paris, Librairie Nizer, 1959. Bernard's book was introduced to Arab readers in several partial translations. The latest was published in Baghdad in 1993 by Dar al-Ma'mun; it was done by Zuhair Majid Mghamis.

(7) The modern history of Arabia is full of political persecution practiced in several countries there. Writers, including some of the ones mentioned in this essay, were prominent among those who were either jailed, prevented from traveling abroad, or harassed in various ways for their political or cultural opinions. On the cultural level, a book was published in 1985 in Saudi Arabia attacking the modernist movement from a religious perspective. The book was Al-Hadatha fi Mizan al-Islam (Modernism from an Islamic Perspective), Riyadh, Hajr, 1988.

(8)See the Holy Qur'an, sura 79:42: "They ask thee about the Hour: `When will be its appointed time?'"

(9) A type of coffee named after the Sufi Abu al-Hassan al-Shadhili, who used to drink it.

(10) An important study of this taghribah in its Najdi version is the one completed by the American Arabist Allison Lirick, Riwayat min Taghribat bani Hilal and Horoub Al-Dhaigham, Riyadh, n.p., n.d. The book is a modified version of the author's doctoral dissertation, presented in 1984 to Princeton University.


Aswat, 1 (Autumn 1993).

Al-Dumayni, `Ali. Riyah al-Mawaqi'. N.p. 1987.

Fadhil, Jihad. Qathaia Ashi'r al-Hadith. Beirut/Cairo. Dar Ashuruq. 1984.

Al-Maqalih, `Abd al-'Aziz. Hawamish Yamaniyah a'la Taghribat Ibn Zuraiq al-Baghdadi. 2d ed. Beirut. Dar al-Awdah. 1982.

Mawaqif, 59/60 (Summer/Autumn 1989).

Mufarrih, Sa'diyya. Akhir al-halimin Kan. 2d ed. Kuwait. Dar Su'ad Al-Sabah. 1992.

--. Mujarrad Mira't Mustalqiya. Damascus. Dar al-Mada. 1999.

Al-Qartajanni, Hazim. Minhaj al-Bulagha' wa Siraj al-Udaba'. Beirut. Dar al-Gharb al-Islami. 1966.

Saqr, Maysun. Jarayan fi Maddat al-Jasad. N.p. 1992.

Al-Sharqawi, `Ali. Ma'idat al-Qurmuz. Bahrain. Kalimat. 1994.

Al-Thubayti, Muhammad. Attadharis. Jiddah. Jiddah Literary and Cultural Club. N.d.

SAAD AL-BAZEI is Full Professor of English and American Poetry at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. His publications include papers on English and American literature and criticism, as well as several books, two of which are on modern Arabic literature: Thaqafat Assahra: Dirasat fi Adab al-Jazira al-Arabiyya (Desert Culture: Studies of the Contemporary Literature of Arabia, 1991), and Ihalat al-Qasidah: Qira' at fi Ashshi'r al-Mua'sir (References of the Poem: Readings in Contemporary Poetry, 1998). He has reviewed contemporary Arabic poetry and prose for WLT since 1993.
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Author:Al-Bazei, Saad
Publication:World Literature Today
Geographic Code:70MID
Date:Mar 22, 2001
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