Imprisoned for (Arabic) Poetry

Surely most Anglo poets—well, until they think about it—are jealous of those Arab poets who are so fresh, alive, and relevant that they are jailed for their works. Indeed, although the era of Arabic poetry is over (ahem), newspapers in rebel-controlled Libyan cities are apparently full of poems.

Yesterday, Jadaliyya published a poem by dissident poet Muhammad Farhat al-Shaltami. Al-Shatami “was imprisoned more than once during the 1970s by the Qaddafi regime,” according to Jadaliyya’s culture editors, and was the author of “many poems originally composed in and about prison.”

From the poem “Indictment,” translated by the site’s culture editors:

You issue your verdict,

While morning still follows evening

And our mother, the great sun,

Dawns red despite your lowly informant.

Let me say this: Neither you nor I hold Time in our hand

As it passes by this huge world of ours.

Keep reading on Jadaliyya…


  1. A wonderful thought about the subtlty in this woman’s poetry, but perhaps the work’s seduction, subtle as it is, is due to the nation she is a part of. By the way, MAKHLUK, comes from the word for creation, and is as such creation, the work of God.

    1. Yes, I suppose if she weren’t Saudi (if she were an Egyptian girl who said her father was the kindest on earth) I would likely be a stone.

      Is her nationality a legitimate part of the poetry? My immediate reaction would be that no, the author’s life-story is not a legitimate part of the poetry, that’s just marketing, that a poem must stand on its own.

      But maybe I’m wrong.

  2. As far as “Anglo poetry” goes, I dont think there is an Anglo poet alive who can even begin to hold a candle to Samih Al Qasim or Adonis. And why are Anglo poets the standard( are you implying that?). So many Anglo poets are quite pathetic and meagre, with some notable exceptions- Blake, Symborska, Ahkmatova, Rukeyser, Hopkins, Yeats, Thomas McGrath (an American radical poet who was blacklisted), Seamus Heaney, Paul Eluard, others.
    Why not have criteria of imagery and themes of social justice? The greatest poets- Neruda, Darwish, Blake, Nelly Sachs, Rumi, have both.

    1. Am I implying that? I certainly hope not. What I think is that Anglo poetry shouldn’t shy from looking elsewhere—for instance, Arabic poetry—for an infusion of life and inspiration.

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