Three Arabic Poems Chosen for 50 Greatest Modern Love Poems List

The poetry team at the Southbank Centre worked for a year to come up with this international list of the best 50 love poems of the last half-century:

The Saison Poetry Library.
The Saison Poetry Library.

According to The Guardianthe team used experts at its Saison Poetry Library to come up with what the Southbank’s head of literature and spoken word James Runcie called “a truly international and stylistically diverse selection of what we see as the best 50 love poems of the past 50 years.”

There is still perhaps an over-accounting of Anglophone poets and an under-accounting — for instance — of poets who work in Indian languages. But the list makes a real effort to embrace poetry from arond the world.

The Guardian also reports that the poems will be read on July 20 at a Southbank Centre event that will see 50 readers — ranging from actors to poets — perform a poem each from the list. Readings will take place in the poem’s original language as well as in English translation.

The three poems translated from the Arabic are:

Egyptian poet Iman Mersal’s (@ImanMersal) “Love”:

After watching for it for years from the window

and tucking it with anti-depressants in a backpack,

love suddenly explodes where no one expects.

The situation does not lack literary intentions

like scraping rust off the word “love”

and washing words like “abandonment,” “connection” and “weariness”

from all the saliva that soaks them when they are sung.

Keep reading>>

Many other works by Mersal, among Egypt’s greatest living poets, are online, mostly trans. Khaled Mattawa. You can find them at Words Without Borders, Blackbird, Canadian Poetries, Jehat, Molossus, and Mersal’s own blog.

Jordanian poet-novelist Amjad Nasser’s (@AmjadNasser) “A Song and Three Questions”

Nasser has shown — with his poetry, his newspaper articles, and his debut novel Land of No Rain — that he is one of Arabic literature’s great stylists and innovators. His “A Song and Three Questions,” also trans. Mattawa, begins:

Talk is silver,
poetry is gold,
and women are the ringing of both metals.
will be our songs from now on.
Let’s start then without borrowings or embellishments
and look at the living things between us
with an eye for praise.
Let the song
celebrate our contentedness
and those joys only shepherds know,
whose song and the smell of their armpits
have spread
among goat paths and scrub grass
and who have disappeared never to return.

Keep reading>>

Saudi poet Ashjan Al Hendi’s (@AshjanHendi) “In Search of the Other”

Al Hendi was born in Jeddah and published her first poetry collection in 1996. A number of her poems were included in Gathering the Tide: An Anthology of Contemporary Arabian Gulf Poetry, including “In Search of the Other,” translated into English by the poet:

She searches for someone else every day;
and finds me
And I search for someone else;
but find her
It is said: that East and West shall never meet
but Isabella and I
Meet every day
on our trip in search of others.

The poem and footnote>>

Other poets from the region include Palestinian-American Naomi Shihab Nye, with “Shoulders,” and Iraqi-Kurdish poet Choman Hardi, for her “Summer Roof.” The latter tweets at @chomahardi.

You can read the whole list over at The Guardian.