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The politics and the poetics of Sa'di Yusuf: the use of the vernacular.

When Irish poet seamus Justin Heaney was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995, the Academy praised him for "works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday life and the living past" (Schlessinger 93).(1) Though having no power to grant a Nobel Prize, many critics, students of literature, and general readers have noted with fascination the magical power of Sa'di Yusuf's unassuming, short, and subtle poems that exalt the heroism and the epical perseverance of everyday life in the Arab World, particularly in Iraq where the very act of surviving with some form of dignity becomes in itself heroic. Yusuf's poetry since the early 1950s has become an epic song of survival in the face of both fascism and Western intervention.

A major aspect of Yusuf's poetry that has been touched upon, but not sufficiently explored, by critics is his remarkable blend of standard Arabic (al-Lugha al-Fusha) with the Iraqi vernacular (al-Lahja al-'Ammiyya). In this essay I will argue that Yusuf's talent for "poetization of the familiar and the quotidian," as Ghazoul aptly put it ("The Poetics of the Political Poem," 117), lies largely in his capability of creating a poetic diction of his own - a linguistic synthesis that blends al-Fusha and al-'Ammiyya. Yusuf's new poetic diction reflects on the one hand his Marxist politics and on the other his poetics. Though most of the time a fellow traveler, his esthetics asserts itself with occasional rebellion against the ideological dictates of the Iraqi Communist Party. Yet his loyalty to his esthetics and to the ordinary, vulnerable individual never wavered throughout his long journey.

Born in 1934 (the year the Iraqi Communist Party was founded) in a village near Basra, Iraq, Sa'di Yusuf began writing poetry when he was about fifteen years old. Upon graduating from high school, he went to Dar al-Mu'allimeen al-'Allia in Baghdad (Higher Teachers' Training Institute), where he earned a B.A. in Arabic with a teaching certificate. His life in Iraq, from the early 1950s to 1964 and then from 1973 to 1978, was spent between teaching at various high schools, working with progressive or Communist journalism, and serving political prison terms. Like the majority of Iraqi writers, educators, and intellectuals, Yusuf was forced to leave Iraq in 1978, when Saddam Hussein assumed absolute power. After several years in Algeria, Lebanon, and Yemen, Yusuf settled in Damascus, Syria, where now he works as journalist with the Palestinians and with the Iraqi opposition groups.

Since 1952, Yusuf has published more than twenty volumes of poetry.(2) He has also published fiction, essays, and translated the Nineteenth Century American poet Walt Whitman and contemporary Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa'Thionga, as well as works by European authors. Yusuf learned English and French on his own, taking advantage of the periods of exile he was forced into due to his involvement, like most Iraqi writers, with the Iraqi Communist Party since his college years in Baghdad (probably even before that when he was in Basra). Although he demonstrated remarkable versatility in most literary genres, Yusuf is primarily considered a towering figure in Iraqi modernist poetry, Jama'at al-Ruwwad (The Group of Pioneers) established in the early 1950s.

From the beginning of his career Yusuf was interested not only in registering the poetic glow in the ordinary and the common, but also in portraying the seemingly insignificant. The majority of his characters are below even ordinary people; they are the marginalized and on the fringes of the society: children attempting to survive their vulnerability, women caught in the double plight of sexism and classism, the poorest farmers and menial laborers. Scenes and moments that inspire his best poetry are frequently the invisible and the unnoticed. This vision of the ordinary seems to account for Yusuf's language a language that suggests rather than oppresses or stifles the poetry of the ordinary. As many critics have observed, when we read Yusuf's poetry, we cannot help but notice the closeness of his standard Arabic to the vernacular.

In her Modern Arabic Poetry (1987) poet and critic Salma Khadia Jayyusi characterizes Yusuf's greatness as "his capacity to speak in direct and simple yet highly poetic terms about life's constant routine and day-to-day experiences, subjects which so many Arab poets shun"(480). Other critics point more specifically to Yusuf's talent for capturing the ordinary and the obvious in a kaleidoscopic poetic medium. "It seems to me," al-Saggar states, "that Sa'di is keenly aware of his environment, and he deals with it on the basis that it is a reality that demands his recognition without imposing on it any kind of logic that does not sound at any rate apropos. He is a hunter of the first moment - which is no doubt the essential stuff of poetry. Once it is in his hand, he does not allow it to escape by reflection and much analysis" (143).(3) More specifically, Ghazoul in her essay titled "Saadi Yusuf: Qasa'id Aqalu Samtan" focuses on what she terms Yusuf's "poetization of the familiar and the quotidian"(23).

Textual evidence from Yusuf's poetic work supports the critics' understanding of the crux of his poetic vision and the source of his inspiration. In one of his poems of 1976 titled "How Did al-Akhdhar bin Yusuf Write His New Poem," Yusuf, who had already made al-Akhdhar bin Yusuf his poetic persona or double (Ghazoul, "The Poetics of the Political Poem," 117) or a mask (Abbas,73-74) reflects on his own process of writing:

Well, here is al-Akhdhar bin Yusuf facing a problem more complicated than he initially thought.

It's true that when he writes the poem he rarely thinks of its destiny. But usually writing becomes easier when he can focus on a thing, a moment, a vibration, a leaf of grass.

Whereas now he is in front of Ten Commandments, he does not know which one he should choose. More importantly: How to begin?

Endings are always open. And beginnings are closed (Yusuf, al-'Amal al-Kamila, 62).(4)

The Ten Commandments, arguably a metaphor for ideology, seem to block the poet's vision from focusing on one thing, whether human or natural. Poetry flows naturally, Yusuf seems to suggest, when it is free from rigid thought, when it captures the rhythm within a scene or a moment.

Before the July Revolution of 1958, Yusuf's experiments with the vernacular(5) by incorporating slang words and phrases and even sentences in the standard Arabic were considered audacious, even blasphemous by the mainstream critics. What made Yusuf's experiments possible, it seems to me, is the fact that he was one of a group of young poets working independently to break the traditional poetic styles, what is usually called 'Amud al-Sh'ir (the pillar of poetry). Like Yusuf, Badr Shakir al-Sayyab (1926-1964), Nazik al-Mala'ika (1923-), Buland al-Haydari (1926-1996), and Abdul Wahab al-Bayaati (1926-), among others, were experimenting with new techniques in search of a language that expressed their new vision of reality. Significantly, all of these young poets were more or less progressive in their political views. Despite their nationalism, Marxism, or Communism, they were united in their opposition to the status quo in literature and life.

More than any of them, Yusuf has been interested in quietness in poetry as well as in politics. It seems that he believes that whispering is more effective than declaiming, suggesting is more convincing than stating, and portraying the ordinary is more enduring than portraying the extreme. Significantly, all three qualities are essential parts of folklore and vernacular literature. In a poem published in 1971, appropriately titled "Tanwima" (Nursery Song), Yusuf demonstrates his mature experimentation with the poetics of the ordinary:

In the steppes, there is a beautiful girl Her hair is blonde her face is yellow. In the steppes, a girl is singing to the little one whose hair is blonde whose face is yellow O, beautiful girl of the steppes How come you do not sleep? A star has already fallen, why don't you sleep, my beautiful girl? O, the beautiful girl of the steppes and look The face of the little one whose hair is blonde is red Then, go to bed, my beautiful girl of the steppes go to bed go to bed (al-'Amal al-Kamila, 225)(6)

The poetic diction is so simple that it is almost colloquial in its idiom and the choice of words. Any reader can relate to the poem; even the illiterate listener would not find it difficult to understand the general theme and the narrative line. In order to capture the situation suggested by the title, the speaker, a tired and sleepy young mother, wearily sings to put her baby to sleep. Similar to folkloric songs, the poem relies on the magic created by repetition of words and phrases. The repetition actuates the hypnotizing rhythm, which is the most effective aspect of the poem. The meaning of specific lines is vague and elusive, even as obscure and unlimited as the setting of the poem, the wilderness. The young mother, weary and sleepy, glows in the middle of the wilderness with yellow light intensified by the yellow light coming from her restless baby, whose face and hair are also yellow. The two faces, the mother's and the baby's, circled with yellow halos definitely evoke the Madonna, thus elevating the ordinary scene to a mythical level. No change happens in the situation until one star falls, indicating the coming of the dawn: the baby's face changes from yellow to red. At this point another speaker, apparently the poet, intrudes to urge the young mother to sleep.

Actually, in this poem there are two nursery songs being sung simultaneously: one by the young mother to her baby and another by the poet to the beautiful young mother in the wilderness. The poem tries to capture the anxiety of the anonymous young mother, lonely in the middle of the dark universe. The experience is not really unique; it is an ordinary every-night experience. The poetry in it arises from the poet's ability to make the agony of the young mother unique through imagery and rhythm. By both repetition and austere minimalism, Yusuf creates what he later calls al-qasida al-mutaqashifa, that is, the ascetic poem (Yusuf, "Letter," 1994). Because of the intensity of his language, its self-consciousness, its playfulness, and its ultimate defamiliarizing of the familiar, Yusuf's poetry would be the delight of the New Critic and the Russian Formalist. In a crucial passage from his Russian Formalism: History, Doctrine (1955), Victor Erlich identifies the technique by which the poet is able to transform ordinary language into poetry:

If in informative 'prose,' a metaphor aims to bring the subject closer to the audience or drive a point home, in 'poetry' it serves as a means of intensifying the intended aesthetic effect. Rather than translating the unfamiliar into the terms of the familiar, the poetic image 'makes strange' the habitual by presenting it in a novel light, by placing it in unexpected context. (150)

But like any good poetry, Yusuf's poetry both satisfies and disturbs poetic theory. As the Russian Formalist would like to see, language in Yusuf's poetry becomes, like a child, happily aware of itself. But when Yusuf liberates the language and makes it self-conscious, he inadvertently gives voice to new, even revolutionary, realities - realities that are relegated to the margins or made insignificant. As Derrida's deconstructionism has demonstrated - though poets and writers are always ahead of philosophers - to highlight the insignificant or the fringe or the margin naturally threatens the center, which is by definition a political act (Culler, 193-4).

Another poem titled "Ilhah" (Insistence) written in 1956 utilizes techniques from folklore and diction from the vernacular. These include magical repetition of words and phrases, entrapment of the vulnerable speaker/protagonist that immediately appeals to the reader and entices his or her identification, and the exposition of the elemental level of the desire. An ordinary individual, who seems to be a farmer or a shepherd, desperately tries to cross the river to meet his young wife, who is taking care of her sick father on the other side of the river. The speaker, who is the farmer, tries to beg a ride from a boat owner, Salim al-Murzuq:

O, Salim al-Murzuq, Please take me with you in the boat, in the boat take my eye as a price but let me go with you I'll do anything you want but not that "thing." O, Salim al-Murzuq, my sad wife is imprisoned in her father's house in a desolate village near Sihan. Her father has been sick, moaning like an old cat in the prime of winter. O, Salim al-Murzuq, I'll do whatever you want but not the woman "thing." O, Salim al-Murzuq, you are a man of courage. If I do not cross the river her crying will suffocate her and she will die in the prime of winter because of the greed of her father and the winter night. O, Salim al-Murzuq she is not like other women she is so pretty, Salim al-Murzuq, that crying withers her. She is still a baby, even the moon makes her giggle and the rain scares her. O, Salim al-Murzuq... (Al-'Amal al-Kamila, 499)(7)

For the traditional school of poetry the theme of this poem is unthinkable because of its apparent vulgarity. But what is the source of poetry in this experience? The conflict between the speaker's desperate desire to meet his wife and Salim al-Murzuq's desire to have sex with him as the only acceptable price for taking him on the boat seems both comic and sad. Again this unfortunate moment is elevated to a memorable folkloric level primarily by rhythm, repetition, and what might be called the vernacularization of the standard Arabic. Phrases such as "take my eye as a price," "and you are a man of courage," and "she is pretty" are as close as the standard Arabic can be brought to the southern Iraqi dialect. In the twenty lean lines of the poems, the name Salim al-Murzuq is repeated six times. Repetition of words and phrases, which can be seen as symptoms of entrapment, is the only way to express an elemental desperate desire, as is evident in the repetitive lyrical intensity of African American blues and spirituals. Also repetition gives the poem a child-like quality. By making the speaker repeat phrases and words, the poet captures his child-like character and his vulnerability. Specifically, the intensity of the desire expressed through repetition lends the entire moment an intimate lyricism - a prominent feature in most of Yusuf's poetry.

In both poems discussed above, "Tanwima" and "Ilhah," the poet does not seem interested in a closure: he captures the individual's vulnerability in a highly lyrical simple language, only to leave it jarring in our imagination. It is in this ability to depict the persistence and perseverance of the vulnerable that Yusuf seems to whisper and quietly celebrate the ordinary individual's heroism. Further, by using vernacular or near-vernacular diction, by employing the structure of the popular song, and by subordinating explicit meaning to the playfulness of the popular rhythms and the innocence of language (i.e. not traditional standard Arabic, the official literary language), Yusuf is able to construct near-folkloric song poems.

In Yusuf's near-vernacular poetic diction, the narrator frequently indulges in intimate play with words, like a child fascinated with colorful balls. In this immersion in language, meaning or theme becomes secondary, conceding the foreground to the innocence of the language that is just liberated from the tyranny of rational thinking and suffocation of ideologies. Let us look at the function of language in the following examples:

Do you remember? (When the action becomes a memory, the question is immediately lost) O sir, what a flavor does this evening have? In a cabaret in Rabbat we saw the bottles empty and the bottles were twenty, and empty in the evening and empty are the women eyes and empty are all those bottles ("Hiwar ma'a al- Akhdhar bin Yusuf"), (A Dialogue with al- Akhdar Bin Yusuf), (Al-'Amal al-Kamila, 101)(8)

"Empty" is repeated four times, and "bottles," three times. There is no logic or rhetorical rationale to the repetition, but merely association. On the sensory level the reader enjoys the repetition of the words without having time to think about their meaning. What the lines seem to convey is a kind of verbal music that seduces the emotions and suspends the reasoning. The language's capability to suspend reason and stir emotion is usually best achieved in religious sermons and in folklore, and in both traditions meaning is subdued by rhythm and the magical impact of language on the unconscious, as Lacan has demonstrated in his analysis of the unconscious as inseparable from language (Lacan, 147). More specifically, Robert Hass in "Listening and Making" has identified the naturally subversive politics of rhythm:

Because rhythm has direct access to the unconscious because it can hypnotize us, enter our bodies and make us move, it is power. And power is political. That is why rhythm is always revolutionary ground. It is always the place where the organic rises to abolish the mechanical and where energy announces the abolition of tradition. New rhythms are new perceptions. (Hass, 147)

Another example of the poet's gratuitous play with words can be seen in a poem titled "Khatawat," (Steps):

Of the mirrors of the gardens I can be satisfied with the slim woman and the burning thirst that I had and the meagerness that became mine and the dialogue that naturally harmonizes in a slender woman (Al-'Amal al-Kamila, 91)(9)

In the first line the word "mirrors" conjures up "woman" primarily because of the sound affinity between the two words: in Arabic "mirrors" is marayah and "woman" is mar'ah. Logically there is no connection between the two words, but linguistically linkage makes solid sense in terms of the verbal pleasure it provides to the reader. The play with words becomes more intense in the next line, further subordinating the meaning of the lines to the linguistic quality. "Burning thirst" and "meagerness" are in Arabic ghalil and qalil. They not only make a perfect rhyme, but through consonance and assonance, they resonate in our imagination. The last line is heavily charged with emotion, announcing the climax through lyrical intensity:

and the dialogue that naturally harmonizes in a slender woman

The word "dialogue," which is hiwar in Arabic, seems to exude an erotic glow before it collapses in the harmony with the slender woman. Actually, the Arabic verb yatajanas, which means "harmonize," has a definite sexual pun that transforms the word dialogue from its literal level to a symbolic level of sexual intercourse. Yet, one cannot resist feeling that the speaker's sensual, even erotic, pleasure shines not only through his harmony with the slender woman, but also through his child-like excitement at seeing his words linguistically harmonize in a slender poem. The poem gains its integrity not from its reasoning or its intellectual content. Rather it gathers force and focus from its emotional unity, which is expressed in a linguistic harmony that seems to liberate the language from reason, logic, and other symptoms of ideology. A reader familiar with Iraqi vernacular poetry, especially the folkloric part of it, can easily appreciate Yusuf's experimentation with the venacularization of standard Arabic.

In 1973, upon his return to Baghdad from a seven-year exile in Algeria, Sa'di Yusuf published "Fi Tilka Al-Ayyam" (In Those Days), his most impressive poetic collage of the vernacular and standard Arabic. The poem is a celebration of survival and safe homecoming, but it is also a glorification of the poet's involvement with the Iraqi Communist Party. On one level the poem is a tribute to the Iraqi people and their struggle against colonialism and fascism; on the other, it is the poet's tribute to himself and the pride he derives from the sacrifices he made in belonging to the Party and to the people. Significantly, the poem is dated 31 March, the birth-date of the Iraqi Communist Party in 1934. To express these layers of emotions, Yusuf chose the most popular and most folkloric of Iraqi vernacular poetry, the abudhiyia. It is a quatrain in which the first three lines rhyme; the fourth line usually has a different rhyme, typically presenting a resolution to the problem stated in the first three lines. Because the poem epitomizes Yusuf's main poetic characteristics, it is worth translating in its entirety:

On May 1, I was officially imprisoned And the royal officers registered me as a Communist I was charged - as usual in those days - and My shirt was black, my tie was yellow. I left the court, with the guards' beatings And the judge's ridicule. I have a wife Whom I love, and a book made of date-palms in which I learned the first names. I have been to some jails full of lice, and others full of sands, and others vacant, except for my face.

That day when we ended up in the prison that never ends I assured myself that the ultimate end is not ended O you who get to my people, tell them I am not ended Tonight we stayed here, the morning we will be in Baghdad.

Tonight I celebrate the moon that visits me through the bars, the Guard has slept, and the breaths of Siba are heavy with the humidity of Shat al-Arab, The visiting moon turned toward me, I was humming in the corner of my cell: What are you carrying for me in your eyes? Air I can touch? Greetings from her? The visiting moon used to enter my cell through the bars and sit with me, sharing the black blanket. When he left me I found a silver key in my hand.

All the songs have vanished but the people's songs. And when the voice is salable, the people will never buy. Deliberately I forgot what [went wrong] between me and the people For I belong to them, I am like them, and the voice comes from them.

On the third of May, I saw the six walls cracked up. And from them a man I know comes out, wearing a proletariat fatigue, and a hat of black leather. I asked him, I thought you left ... wasn't your name among the first names? Haven't you volunteered to fight in Madrid? Haven't you fought behind the revolutionary bunkers in Petrograd? Haven't you been killed in the oil strike? Haven't I seen you in the marshes [among the reeds] with your machine gun? Haven't you hoisted your red flag for [Paris] Commune? Weren't you organized in the people's army in Sumatra? Take my hand. For the six walls could close up any moment ... take my hand.

O Neighbor, I have believed in the homeless star. O Neighbor, the nights of my age announced: you are the home. We have traveled all ways, but the heart stays at home. O Neighbor, do not go farther, my destination is Baghdad. (al-'Amal al-Kamila, 132-134)(10)

The underlined quatrains are written in the traditional abudhiyya of the vernacular poetry of southern Iraq. Their poetic intensity, coming from their high pitch, enhances the dramatic sense in the poem by counterpointing the standard Arabic, which sounds more meditative and therefore prosaic. What gives the entire poem its distinct poetic quality is its surprising hybrid quality and the folkloric depiction of the popular Communist hero, who is given an archetypal dimension; that is, he is capable of transcending places and times in order to inspire the international revolution. While the peaks of emotion are expressed with highly lyrical intensity in the vernacular quatrains, the standard Arabic, al-fusha, is employed to capture historical moments of epic heroism. The folkloric element is deftly used to enhance that epic or mythical quality of the Communist hero. In lines 15-20, the moon collaborates with the hero in prison, bringing him good news from his faraway beloved and giving him a silver key. In southern Iraqi folklore, a silver key is supposed to have magical qualities that help one to open all kinds of doors, including prison doors.

Significantly, the three quatrains are devoted to celebrating the people, and the speaker in them becomes a collective voice of the popular masses, punctuating the three movements of the poem. The element of repetition, which is part of the structure of al-abudhiyya, is effectively utilized. As a quatrain, al-abudhiyya requires that the first three lines end in exact (or perfect) rhymes, that is, the same word with the condition that each time it suggest a different meaning. In the first quatrain, lines 11-14, the word intaha ("ended" or "vanished") has three different meanings. In the first line it means the prison "has not ended yet," in the second, our aspiration "has not vanished," and in the third, the speaker/hero has not, despite prison and torture, been defeated.

Repetition is one of Yusuf's favorite and most effective poetic techniques. It links his poetic discourse with the traditional poetic forms of the southern Iraqi vernacular. Furthermore, as Ferial J. Ghazoul has insightfully noticed, repetition in Yusuf's poetry becomes a means of resistance and defiance ("Qasa'id Aqalu Samtan," p. 247). In other words, Yusuf employs repetition as a means of political resistance. A good example of the defiant repetition is found in a poem titled "The Night of Hamra," written, as Ghazoul, who translated the poem into English ("The Poetics of The Political Poem," 113-114), notes, "in the summer of 1982 in West Beirut under siege by Israeli forces" (113-114):

The Night of Hamra

A candle on the long road A candle in the drowsiness of homes A candle for the shops in fright A candle for the bakeries A candle for the journalist agitated in an empty office A candle for the fighter A candle for the (woman) doctor next to the beds A candle for the wounded A candle for frank speech A candle for the ladders A candle for the hotel crowded with fugitives A candle for the singer A candle for the broadcaster in a shelter A candle for a bottle of water A candle for the air A candle for two lovers in a naked flat A candle for the enclosing heaven A candle for the beginning A candle for the end A candle for the last decision A candle for conscience A candle in my hand.(11)

In addition to the incantatory force the repetition of the word "candle" establishes, as Ghazoul notes, the ascetic slimness of the poem renders the poem itself into a candle that the entire Israeli blackout could not extinguish. Actually the last line, "A candle in my hand," transforms the poet, amidst the ruins of civilization in Beirut, into a Diogenes still for centuries carrying his lamp in the middle of the day, searching for meaning and truth in the absurdity of the human condition.

Sa'di Yusuf's fascination with and aspiration to the condition of vernacular and folkloric poetry are evident in the majority of his poetry. In fact one is tempted to say that Yusuf achieves his best poetry when he is closest to the vernacular and the folkloric. Significantly, in 1956, very early in his career, Yusuf declared his fascination with the vernacular when he discovered and introduced Muzaffer al-Nawwab, the most prominent Iraqi vernacular poet. In his article on al-Nawwab's first published poem, "Li al-rail wa Hammad," (For the Train and Hamad), Yusuf is reported to have said he would put all his poetry at the feet of that beautiful poem.(12) This love for the ordinary and the simple and the sonic as the natural attributes of the vernacular inspired Yusuf to creatively appropriate for his own poetic purposes both the vernacular and the classical Arabic forms. Whereas the other pioneers and practitioners in the free verse, such as al-Sayyab and al-Mala'ika, were liberating the Arabic poem from the traditional unity of the line and the mandatory use of the two-hemistich form, Yusuf's achievement primarily lies in creating what might be called a hybrid poetic form that collapses the traditional Arabic poetic forms into a synthesis of the Iraqi southern vernacular, folklore, and popular songs. Evidently, Yusuf's politics and his poetics, which inform each other, coincide and blend into a highly distinctive poetic style that influenced and has been influencing younger poets since the 1950s.


1. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 1994 Convention of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), Phoenix, Arizona. I would like to thank Professor Salih J. Altoma for his valuable suggestions on bibliography of Yusuf's work and on transliterations of his titles.

2. According to Sa'di Yusuf's C.V., which he sent to me in 1994, his published volumes of poetry, essay, fiction and drama are in chronological order: al-Qursan (The Pirate), 1952; Ighniyat Laysat lil-Akharin (Songs not for Others), 1955; 51 Qasidah (51 Poems), 1959; Al-Najm wa'l Ramad (The Stars and the Ash), 1960; Qasaid Mariyyah (Visual Poems), 1965; Ba'idan an al-Sama' al-'Ula (Away from the First Sky), 1970; al-Akhdar ibn Yusuf wa Mashaghiluh (al-Akhdar ibn Yusuf and His Preoccupations), 1972; Nihayat al-Shamal al-Ifriqi (The North African Finale), 1972; Taht Jidariyat Fa'iq Hasan (Under Fa'iq Hasan's Fresco), 1974; al-Layai Kulluha (All the Nights), 1976; al-Sa'a al-Akhira (The Last Hour), 1977; Qasa'id aqall Sumtan (Less Silent Poems), 1979; Man Ya'rif al-Warda? (Who Knows the Flower), 1981; Yawmiyyat al-janub, Uawmiyyat al-junun (Diary of the South, Diary of Madness), 1981; Miriam Ta'ti (Mary Comes), 1982; Khudh Wardat al-thalj, Khudh al-Qayrawaniyya (Take the Snow Flower, Take the Qairaniah), 1983; Muhawalat (Experimentations), [1990]; Qasa'id Paris (The Paris Poems), 1990; Jannat al-Mansiyat (Paradise of the Forgotten), 1993; al-A'mal al-shi'riyah al-Kamilah (The Complete Poetic Work), 1987; al-Wahid Yastayqaz (The Lonely Wakes Up), 1993; Kull hanat al-'alam, Min Jiljamish ila Marrakish (All the World's Discos: From Gilgemesh to Marrakish), 1994. Under the subtitle "Autres Oeuvres," Yusuf lists the following titles: Nafidha fi'l-Mazil al-Mughribi: [Stories] (A Window in a Maghribian House), 1979; Yawmiyyat al-Manfa al-akhir: [Essays] (The Diary of the Last Exile), 1983; al-Qunfud wa' l-hayya: [Children Songs] (The Hedgehog and the Snake), 1984; Sama' taht al-raya al-filastiniyya: [Essays] (A Sky Under a Palestinian Flag), 1984; Afkar bi Sawt hadi: (Thoughts in a Quiet Voice), 1989; Indama fi al-a'ali: [Verse Drama] (When in the Heights), 1989; Muthallath al-da'ira: [Novel] (The Triangle of the Circle), 1994. Other titles by Yusuf, including his volumes after 1994, are, according to the Library of Congress' listings: Awraq al-'ishb: Mukhtarat (Leaves of Grass: Selections) [Arabic Translation of selections from Walt Whitman], 1976; Kayfa Kataba al-Akhdar ibn Yusuf Qasidatah al-Jadida (How Did al-Akhdar ibn Yusuf Write His Recent Poem), 1978; al-A'mal al-Shiriah: 1952-1977 (Poetic Works: 1952-1977), 1979; Diwan Sa'di Yusuf: al-a'mal al-shi'riyah (Sa'di Yusuf's Divan), 1988; Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayati fi Mudun al-'ishu: al-layl wa-al-Maqahi wa al-askiqa [Edited by Sa'di Yusuf, et al.] (Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayati in the Cities of Love: The Night, the Cafes, and the Friends), 1995; al-A'mal al-Shi'riyah (The Poetic Works), 1995; Irutika (Erotica), 1995; al-Diwan al-Filastini, 1976-1993), (the Palestinian Divan, 1976-1993), 1996; Qasa'id Sadhijah: Shi'r (Naive Poems), 1996; Khatawat al-Kanghar: ara' wa-mudhakkirat (The Kangaroo's Steps: Opinions and Memoirs), 1997. For Yusuf's poetry in English translation, see Salih J. Altoma's "Iraq's Modern Arabic Literature in English: A Preliminary Bibliography" in this volume.

3. My translation from the Arabic text.

4 My translation from the Arabic text.

5. According to Chris Baldick in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, vernacular is "the local language or dialect of common speech; or (as an adjective) written in such a local language or dialect. The term distinguishes living languages from dead or priestly languages (e.g. French or English rather than Latin or Greek), the languages of the colonized from those of the colonists (e.g. Middle English rather than french; Welsh or Bengali rather than English), or the use of dialect rather than 'standard' forms of the same language; but in a looser sense it may refer to the use of a colloquial rather than a formal style." Evidently, there is an inherent political aspect to vernacular, at least according to this definition.

6. My translation from the Arabic text.

7. My translation from the Arabic text.

8. My translation from the Arabic text.

9. My translation from the Arabic text.

10. My translation from the Arabic text.

11. Translated by Ferial J. Ghazoul in her "The Poetics of the Political Poem."

12. Yusuf's statement is very well-known among Iraqi literary circles and readers of literature.


Abbas, Ihsan. Ittijahat al-shi'r al-Arabi al-Mu'asir. Kuwait: al-Majlis al-Watani, 1978.

Baldick, Chris. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Culler, Jonathan. On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism after Structuralism. New York: Cornell University Press, 1982.

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Saadi A. Simawe is an assistant professor of English and African American at Grinnell College, Iowa. He has published poetry, short fiction, translations, and literary criticism on Arabic and English literature.
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Title Annotation:Modern Iraqi Literature in English Translation
Author:Simawe, Saadi A.
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Date:Sep 22, 1997
Previous Article:Iraq's modern Arabic literature in English translation: a preliminary bibliography.
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