Do Revolutions Create ‘Bad’ Poetry? Or Just Bad Poetry Events?

Yesterday evening, Egyptian poets Ahmad Yamani and Nasser Farghaly read at an event titled “Egypt: poetry from the public square,” which, according to the Shubbak website, was intended to discuss how “poetry is serving as a mediator of change and public debate in the Arab Uprising.”

ArabLit participants @Zuberino, @ayatghanem, and Sarah Morris were in attendance at what was apparently a rather poorly organized effort. Initially, the evening was supposed to feature Beirut39er Yamani and superstar poet-of-the-revolution Tamim al-Barghouti, who was this week celebrated in a Guardian editorial. However, al-Barghouti was unable to make it.

After readings in Arabic and English translation by Yamani and Farghaly (and some other shenanigans), someone in the audience asked whether revolutions spawned bad poetry.

According to Sarah Morris, “Yamani gave a resounding no to that, arguing that any emotion, love included*, can give rise to bad poetry. Asked if the revolution would lead to a new form of poetry, Yamani answered that it needed time, that it was early for such a thing to happen, if it was to happen at all, and that it would normally follow long after social change.”

It’s a shame that the reading, which Morris said was “in a large chamber within the Mayor of London’s City Hall overlooking the Thames,” didn’t come off well. According to @ayatghanem: “@arablit well it could make a good comedy, we didn’t know who was on stage for one, both poets were irritated by questions, and somewhere in the middle+” she added, “@arablit a prof of international politics (Nicola Pratt from Warwick uni) gave a lecture on egy women suffering from Mubarak’s ‘neo-liberal authoritarian’ regime!!!??!!” (Punctuation @ayatghanem’s, but entirely appropriate.)

I am rather irritated on behalf of Yamani’s poetry. Apparently, he read from a longer new poem, and then “Funeral,” which is in the Beirut39 collection, trans. Sinan Antoon.


Chimo died this morning
Chimo is not my friend, but he died
He used to talk non-stop as if paying an old debt to words
which were about to abandon him
Tomorrow I will put on my black coat and go to the funeral
When I come back home I will smile to myself
Today Chimo, one of my acquaintances, died
and I am no longer a stranger in this country

*I thought, at first, that love had probably given rise to the worst poetry (as well as much of its best). But then I later decided, nay, it’s probably power + nostalgia that’s spawned the most dreadful of poems.

More on Yamani: and a poem of his in translation by Elliott Colla.