Have Egyptians Stopped Reading Poetry?

Will Egyptians rush out to get translations (in Arabic  or English) of Tomas Tranströmer’s collected works? Well, some surely will. We are a country of tens of millions.

But Ola el-Saket recently wondered in Al Masry Al Youm: Have most Egyptians given up on poetry? Has it become a form no longer relevant to contemporary life and experience? She asked four Egyptian poets to share their (often very interesting) thoughts on the matter.

Prominent free verse poet and journalist Ibrahim Dawood: “Reluctance to read poetry is a worldwide phenomenon. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing.”

And: “Despite the declining audience base, creativity among Egyptian poets is rising. I can easily cite the names of 25 good poets from different generations. I attribute this poetic renaissance to the absence of critics, which paved the way for more experimentation with form and themes.”

Also: “I do see increased interest in poetry since the revolution began. Publishers and media outlets, however, are too conservative to introduce new forms. It is easier to present the work of a poet who meets the audience’s expectations, and that’s what curtails innovation.”

And: “Poets who focus on pleasing readers actually harm poetry.”

Work from Dawood, via Arab World Books:

We stand in front of the cafés/ as if bidding them farewell,/ leaving our lovers,/ deserting intimate places/ and dreams we struggled to fabricate./ Suddenly,/ we laugh hysterically about naive things/ and stop without reason/ in order that the scene which repeated itself fifty/ times in those days preceding war would appear — / sad and mute.

’80s generation colloquial poet Amin Haddad: “I do not see people losing interest in poetry. For years now, I have witnessed young people sharing the poems of Mahmoud Darwish, Nezaar Qabbani, Salah Jahin and Fouad Haddad online.”

“Poetry is not meant to be read in the first place. Like singing, people should listen to poetry through recitations. Even those who decide to read poetry at home should do it out loud until they are overtaken by its rhythm.”

“The revolution offers opportunities for poets and the public to reconnect.”

More about Amin Haddad,who is also the son of the popular Egyptian poet Fouad Haddad.

And from Haddad, “A Nationalistic Song“:

Can you write a nationalistic song? / Can you sing loudly: / Long live my Arabic country? / Can you watch the news, listen to it, or read the newspaper? / Can you say to an immigrant: / “Stay here; your country comes first”? / Can you not cry? / Can you not hate bad people? / Can you live with your head up high / And say:” I have done my duty / Towards my country, / Towards my family, just like I should”? / Can you see in the people’s eyes something else but sorrow? / Yes! Just like that! Bow your head! / Bend your back! (Keep reading.)

’90s generation poet Ashraf Youssef: “Those who declare the death of poetry see poetry as rigidly confined to a particular style. I believe that poetry develops along with the reader. And new meanings are created as the reader engages with the poem.”

And: “As for the effect of the revolution on poetry, I do not think poets have to use their works as a political platform. But, are we not all involved in politics, anyway?”

I couldn’t find Youssef’s work in translation. On Jehat here.

Colloquial poet Sallem Al-Shahbany:“The Mubarak regime promoted low-quality works at the expense of good ones. It repeatedly excluded serious artistic works so as to distract the public from local conditions.”

And: “Several movements in poetry have focused on form at the expense of ideas, and the state encouraged this through awards and publishing prospects.”

And: “At the same time, state-run media often presented poets as stereotypical and cartoonish characters, who are detached from society. To sum up, I see the alienation of poets as the work of a corrupt political regime.”

I couldn’t find any translation of his work.

بساطة صدفة في الشارع
تغير لون
تفكرنا بماضي كان
وعود تشبه قزاز عربية بيصيبها الفراق سرطان

ورود محدوفة م الكوبري
ف قلب النيل
شجر بيميل
في ريح شاردة
نسلم والأيدين باردة
طفل في الحمي ..
برودة سور حديد بينا
بيجبرنا النظر في الأرض
هوايا ف قصتك سنة
هواكي في قصتي كان فرض

Also, from Ahram Online: Adonis on Tranströmer’s poetry.

1 Comment

  1. I often thing people are scared of poetry what ever language it is in ,I wish i read more I plan to look at transtromer work as the couple I saw via links on twitter were very thought provoking ,all the best stu

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