‘Ulayya bint al-Mahdi (777-825 CE) was half-sister to Harun al-Rashid, daughter of Caliph al-Mahdi bi-‘llah and a concubine named Maknuna, and she was remembered for her poetry and music, featuring in al-Isfahani’s Book of Songs:
A number of ‘Ulayya bint al-Mahdi’s poems were translated and included in Classical Poems by Arab Women, issued by Saqi in 1999, and recently, artist Saffa Khan created a response to poetry by Ulayya bint al-Mahdi for the exhibition Radical Love: Female Lust.
Now, Yasmine Seale has a fresh translation of an ‘Ulayya bint al-Mahdi love poem. It opens:
To love two people is to have it
coming: body nailed to beams,
But loving one is like observing
Keep reading at Youssef Rakha’s Cosmopolitan Hotel.
Also: Matthew Gordon writes interestingly about the role of competition in the lives of songstress-poets of the era, focusing on ‘Ulayya bint al-Mahdi and Arib al-Ma’muniyya.