The (Young) Arab Poets

Nizar was young once.

How old are you?

I don’t generally keep track of poets’ birthdays.  My prejudice is to read more prose than poetry — although I do love poetry. But once I clamber up into a poem, it’s quite enough for me to spend time there; I’m not particularly good at taking down the author’s ID-card particulars.

Nonetheless, when Muhannad Salhi of the US Library  of Congress sent out a call for names of “young and rising Arab poets (ages 35 and under),” I responded that, sure, I’d send some names. And then the dizzying question of who is under or over 35.

Obviously Qatari poet Maryam Al-Subaiey is young  enough. Bahrain’s Laala Kashef Alghata is young. You can see their photographs here. See? Very young!

Oh, and yeah, I get that — on the other side of the spectrum — Adonis is overaged for this project.

But are Palestinian poets Tamim al-Barghouti (born 1977, apparently, so sufficiently young) and Najwan Darwish? (1978, yep!)

Is Egyptian Ahmad Yamani, one of my favorite “young and rising” poets, sufficiently young? (1970. No.) Iraqi Bassim al-Ansar? (1970 again, so no.) Libyan blogger-poet Ghazi Gheblawi (1975, too old). Lebanese poet Nazen Elsayed (1976.) Youssef Rakha? (1976.) Emad Fouad? (1974.) Yasser Abdel Latif? (Woops, 1969.) Khulood al-Mu’alla? (She won a “young poets award” in 2008, but is she still young-ish in 2012? I don’t know.)

Perhaps the problem is that many of these poets I see as “young-ish” were born around the same time as me. (Cough.)

Egyptian poet Rana al-Tonsi! She was born in 1981.

So, I’m old and tired and turn the question over to you. Who are some bright young Arab poets?

Some help:

 Algerian poet Hanin Omar, was winner of 1st Prince of Poets competition. Don’t know age but she looks young!

And so, with thanks to Nadia & Omar, the list as it stands so far:

Tamim Barghouti, (Palestinian and Egyptian)

Mahmoud Abu Hashhash (Palestine)

Abdul Raheem Shaikh (Palestine)

‘Ali Mahmud Khudayr (Iraq)

‘Umar al-Jaffal (Iraq)

Mu’ayyad al-Khaffaji (Iraq)

Zahirah al-‘Alawi (Bahrain)

‘Id al-Khumaysi (Saudi Arabia)

Samar Diyab (Lebanon)

Maryam Al-Subaiey (Qatar)

Laala Kashef Alghata (Bahrain)

Najwan Darwish (Palestine)

Rana al-Tonsi (Egypt)

Hanin Omar (Algeria)

Mouna Ouafik (Morocco)

Mona Kareem (Kuwait)


  1. Moroccan poet (and short story writer) Mouna Ouafik ( منى وفيق ), born 1981, author of poetry collections فانيليا سمراء and نيون أحمر

    1. Thanks, ya Omar!

  2. Mona Kareem published her first book when she was 14. she was born in 1987 i think

  3. Ahmed Haddad (Egypt), definitely under 35

  4. Hmmm, the horrible question of what constitutes ‘young’. Having fairly recently exited ‘youth’ by the definition of this competition I can’t work out if I’m bemused by the idea that someone might still be young at 35 or scared that I’m now definitely no longer young by any official classification. I think it might largely be a relief. But onto a proper point – why is age a good cut-off here? What if you’re 40 but have been busy raising kids, supporting parents or getting a job and have never had the time to write much before? You might be on your first publications, and therefore what is the useful comparison with some 25-year-old infant prodigy who’s been cranking them out since 16? I can’t help thinking that a better measure would be based on experience, not numerical age.

    1. Sarah, I totally agree, and you know I recently exited youth myself… This is especially true for women writers, in Arab countries as elsewhere. Toni Morrison published her first novel at 39, blah blah blah.

Comments are closed.