Tomorrow will mark five years since the death of Egyptian poet and folklorist Shaimaa al-Sabbagh:
Al-Sabbagh — a folklorist who researched the traditions of villages along the Nile — also wrote poetry and shared her short works, which spoke to daily life, with fellow poets in Alexandria, where she lived.
She was shot and killed in Tahrir Square on January 24, 2015.
Two poems of hers were translated soon after her death by Egyptian poet Maged Zaher: “A Letter in My Purse” and “I’m the Girl Banned from Christian Religion Classes.”
The first — a funny and sympathetic poem for her anthropomorphized purse –ends on a moment of pause, the keys and purse not reunited with the narrator. The second overlays religion, power, and the possibility of using one’s voice: “To crucifying Jesus naked in the crowded square on the clock arms as it declared one at noon/
I, the girl banned from saying no, will never miss the dawn[.]”
Sabbagh also appears in Sofia Samatar’s compelling short story, “Mahliya and Mauhub and the White-Footed Gazelle,” which was published in The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe in 2017. Samatar’s story, which plays with a story from the Arabic Tales of the Marvelous and News of the Strange, also pays tribute to al-Sabbagh, “the poet who wrote of the streets.”
“I’m the Girl Banned from Christian Religion Classes.”
Dear Marcia, Thank you for posting this piece about Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, I remember first learning of her murder and reading her work on your posts about her. She was a “natural” poet and one could feel so much of her life in everything she wrote. I remember a video of her reading to some other people at a table outside a café and you could feel her strength in her voice and manner. So many fine writers dead or imprisoned in Egypt! But their voices continue beyond borders with the help of people like yourself. Marcia, you truly “see into things” like Shaimaa did, and like all good poets do.
You and your contributors do us all such a great service and need to be told that again and again. Poetry reveals the “politics of the everyday.” And that is a cornerstone of social and political change.
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