Rasheed al-Enany may be right that the novel is taking poetry’s place in the Arabic literary landscape. Yet poets still have their privileges: They perform their work on TV, win millions in competitions, and are heroes who have their work chanted in Tahrir. And I have yet to see a billboards promoting a feature film about the life of a living novelist.
The Fagoumy billboards have been up for several days now; the film, based on Ahmed Fouad Negm‘s autobiography, is out today. Surely it will receive a boost of popularity from revolution-minded viewers, although they should note that—although “The film closes with the current revolutionary events and Al Fagoumy’s role in it, with many scenes shot inside Tahrir Square”—the core script was approved by censors of the Mubarak regime.
Al Fagoumy is notable for another reason: It’s the first big commercial film to be released since January 25.
Al Fagoumy‘s action stretches from the mid-1950s revolutionary period through the late ’70s, and thus doesn’t touch the Mubarak regime, which Negm criticized relentlessly in his work.
Indeed, for generations, the octogenarian poet has been a poet tied to revolution. As Alwan for the Arts noted a year ago, “if the Internationale were to have been written in Arabic, its author would likely have been Ahmed Fouad Negm.”
From the Alwan for the Arts essay about Negm and his oft-time partner Sheikh Imam:
The poetry of Negm is never a poetry of praise and celebration, no friend to power. Like the man himself it resides with the downtrodden. It lives where he lives, in one of the poorest sections of Cairo on the top floor of a five-story tenement. It gains its form from the content of the lived, happy and revolting, experiences of many and countless millions of the oppressed.
Negm has been little-translated. His poetry is deeply embedded in Egyptian colloquial, relies in part on charismatic personal presentation, and often uses humor, three factors that make it a particular challenge. But a new blog from Walaa Quisay, revolutionaryarabicpoetry.tumblr.com, is giving it a shot.
She has already been hard at work. For instance, she translated the famous البتاع, as “The Thingy.” While I particularly like the word “thingy,” I think an Anglophone reader might need a little preface about censorship to grasp the poem.
This is one of the most easily accessible:
I never fret, and will always say
A word, for which, I am responsible
That the president is a compassionate man
Constantly, busy working for his people
Busy, gathering their money
Outside, in Switzerland, saving it for us
In secret bank accounts
Poor guy, looking out for our future
Can’t you see his kindly heart?
In faith and good conscience
He only starves you; so you’d lose the weight
O what a people! In need of a diet
O the ignorance! You talk of “unemployment”
And how condition have become dysfunctional
The man just wants to see you rested
Since when was rest such a burden???
And this talk of the resorts
Why do they call them political prisons??
Why do you have to be so suspicious?
He just wants you to have some fun
With regards to “The Chair”
It is without a doubt
All our fault!!
Couldn’t we buy him a Teval Chair?
I swear, you mistreated the poor man
He wasted his life away, and for what?
Even your food, he eats it for you!
Devouring all that’s in his way
After all this, what’s wrong with our president?
 It’s common knowledge among Egyptian housewives that kitchen appliances made of “Teval” never get food stuck in them.
Cheers to Walaa and follow that site.