Must-have Arabic Poetry Collections of 2010 (in English)

Over at Ron Slate’s website, On the Seawall, he asked nineteen poets to recommend new and recent titles for holiday gift-giving purposes.

While I certainly respect the sentiment, readers over at ArabLit are free to buy the below-listed books for themselves.

On the Seawall list, poet Ange Mlinko recommends Mahmoud Darwish’s Now, As You Awaken, translated by Omnia Amin and Rick London and published in 2007. I haven’t read that translation, and, in any case, since we’re talking about 2010, I must point you toward one of Darwish’s poetic-prose works: Journal of an Ordinary Grief, translated by Ibrahim Muhawi and published by Archipelago in 2010. You can buy it with Darwish’s Memory for Forgetfulness, also translated by Muhawi.

Coming out later this month—I hadn’t realized there was a competing U.K. translation and don’t have a copy—is Darwish’s Absent Presence. It’s translated here by Mohammed Shaheen and published by Hesperus Press. Next year, Archipelago will publish Sinan Antoon‘s translation. (You can read an excerpt of Antoon’s translation here.) At some point, you’ll want all three of these books. Perhaps Archipelago will sell them as a set.

Also on the On the Seawall list, poet Philip Metres recommends The Earth in the Attic, by Fady Joudah, published in 2008. Joudah—who has also translated Darwish—publishes his own poetry in English. If I were to allow myself a 2010 English-language collection on this list, it would be Khaled Mattawa’s Tocqueville, published this year by New Issues Poetry & Prose.

You may know the award-winning Mattawa as the translator of Adonis: Selected Poems, out this fall from Yale University Press. The book ranges through Adonis’s work, from his first collection to present, and Mattawa does a beautiful job both of selecting a broad and ever-changing range of Adonis’s work and rendering it in English. Bravo.

Although I don’t have Sargon Boulus’s Knife Sharpener collection, published by Banipal Books in 2010, I have been enjoying the two- and three-at-a-time translations that Sinan Antoon has published in Banipal or posted on Jadaliyya.  As for the poems in Knife Sharpener, Boulus translated himself.

Last: For this past summer’s Reading Challenge, Elias Muhanna—a.k.a. Qifa Nabki—suggested The Poems of al-Mutanabbi, selected and edited by A.J. Arberry, as one of the five Arabic books (in English) that you must read before you die.  Now, the collection was published in 2009, which I suppose makes it ineligible for this list, but since I am my own editor…well!

Other poetry news:

Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art has issued a call for poets. Bloomsbury-Qatar adds, via Facebook: “Email – at – to obtain the submission guidelines and materials for the Images & Words poetry competition we’re holding with the soon-to-be open Mathaf! Yalla only 4 days left!”

If you’re following the “Prince of Poets” phenomenon.

From WAM, the Emirates News Agency: ADACH publishes works of 56 historic Arab veteran poets (although I don’t really understand what they mean).

From the Palestine News Network: Najwan Darwish Reads for New York City Crowds

Please do add your own suggestions below!


  1. I am a writer and teacher of high school students in Northampton, Ma. I have been following Mahmoud Darwish’s work and career since 1977 when I read an anthology A Lover From Palestine ( with his and other Arab poets’ work).
    I’m thrilled to have found this website and would love to continue to receive any and all information
    Seven years ago, I developed for my high school’s senior world literature class a month long unit on Literature From the Middle East, featuring various writers including Darwish, Adonis, Rumi, Hafiz, and prose writers Tarig Ali, Yahya Yahklif, Nawal El Saadawi, Mahfouz, Hanan Al Shaykh, and others. Since then I’ve added other writers- Samir Al Qasim, Zakaria Tamer, and Hadaaway’s version of the Arabian Nights, along with Sayed Khrasrue’s Let It Be Morning. I also have a library of authors for extra credit reading inclung Maghut, Hiket, Qabbani and others. I
    I ‘m one of a burgeoning list of Americans who admire and appreciate the astonishing gifts of these writers and wish to promote them among American audiences and classrooms.

  2. I notice some fellow enthusiast’s listings of “must read before you die” authors. I would include the poetry of Samir (Samih ?) Al Qasim, a Palestinian poet. In 2006 Libris Press in Jerusalem published the first collection of his poems translated into English ( a bilingual book)- Sadder Than Water. I had a selection of Qasim’s poetry in anthologies, including Salma Jayyusi’s monumental anthology of Modern Palestinian Literature, and Victims of A Map featuring Qasim, Darwish , and Adonis.
    I would add fiction writers as must reads, including Ghassan Kanafani’s three short story collections translated into English: Men In The Sun, All That’s Left To You, and Palestine’s Children. Kanafani is a remarkable and astonishing writer. His assassination at such a youngish age was an abysmal loss for world literature.
    Other remarkable fiction writers perhaps not as well known would include Mohammed Abdul-Wali (Yemen) They Die Strangers, brilliant short stories, Emil Habibby (The Secret Life of Saeed The Pessoptimist and Sanaya, The Ogre’s Daughter), and the Syrian writer Zakaria Tamer, master of the short short story (The Hedgehog and Other Stories, and Breaking Knees). More later.

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