(Poet) Youssef Rakha on (Poet) Ahmad Yamani

Poet/journalist Youssef Rakha has a lovely assessment of Ahmad Yamani’s work, and his position in contemporary Egyptian poetry, on the occasion of Yamani’s new book, Amakin Khati’ah. The piece was published in Al Ahram and re-published on Rakha’s blog.

The context:

More than other “Nineties” prose poets working in standard Arabic, Ahmad Yamani was accused of hartalah, contemporaneous slang for prattle or drivel. That was when he lived in Talbiyah, the semi-provincial suburb of the Pyramids where he was born in 1970. No one doubted his talent, but even the quasi-Beatniks of Cairo were not ready for the irreverent lack of polish in his first book, Shawari’ al-abyad wal-asswad (The Streets of Black and White, 1995), particularly clear in the long, epoch-making poem whose title translates to Air that stopped in front of the House.

But despite his success in rattling the poetry institutions, in 2001, Yamani left Egypt and moved to Spain—and started over again.

The chance to start over, Rakha says, has been good for Yamani’s work:

In Yamani’s case, I think, that journey has been overwhelmingly positive – partly because the resulting changes meddle with neither content nor style. There is a heightened sense of geography and multiplicity (in the cultural as well as the physical sense); the poet’s inherent, often laugh-out-loud sense of irony responds to a broader range of stimuli; far from the fluid vitality of Shawari’, his modus operandi reflects meticulous reworking of the short piece: a process through which the rawness of the writing nonetheless emerges intact.

Rakha cites several poems that appeared in English translation (his?) in Al Ahram and on his blog, including the lovely prose poem “The Two Houses.”

I don’t want to quote too liberally; go ahead and read the piece.