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Terreson Profile
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Poetry of Arab Women


I was recently introduced to an anthology of Arab women's poetry. I know that many women poets resent how women's poetry gets anthologized as poetry by women. And I understand the complaint. As one critic pointed out the packaging amounts to a certain marginalization. Another critic pithily asked how would it be if an anthology of white Euro-American men was put out? All the same, my confession is that I am a sucker for collections of poetry by women. I have a number of such anthologies and it always feels as if I am let into a kind of college, maybe even a college of priestesses.

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What an extraordinarily rich collation of poetry! The poets are from around the world, some living in exile. But I think it is right to say they all draw on a tradition of poetic expression reaching back to the Persian poet Hafiz, the same source Lorca maintained that Spain's flamenco poetry drew on. (Perhaps Shabfriend could weigh in on the matter and correct me if necessary.)

I am sorely tempted to break a board rule concerning copyright protection and cite a number of poems in toto. But that would show disrespect to these poets, most of whom are living. But I think it is okay to pull stanzas and strophes from a few, the ones I find particularly striking, both for content and expressive means employed.

Here is from a poem by Mohja Kahf. She is from Syria, came to the US when a child, and teaches in Arkansas. What blows me away is how she keeps true to her roots in spite of the distance. The poem is called "On the Death of Nizar Qabbani." First strophe reads as a poem complete in itself.

~ I will never be this beautiful again
My body will never be like light across a fountain
My breasts will never be this full and tipped with milk
I'd finally learned to own myself
I'd finally learned to give myself
Because of you and now you're gone
Nobody talk to me about accepting
You're the one who taught me to say no ~

Here is from a poem by Salma Khadra Jayyusi. She was born in 1926, in then East Jordan, to a palestinian father and Lebanese mother. She has taught in both the Middle East and in the US. The poem is called "In the Casbah."

~ I thought the war was...
here we died, Mai and I,
flattened by armored wheels
while you were fooling around
           in the Casbah...

I found my children's broken bodies
lying in the streets and picked them up,
I swam over my head in nightmare,
then yanked off my skin,
hung it over the flame to dry
and once more I almost drowned
           in their dream. ~

Here is from a poem by May Muzaffar. She was born in Baghdad and lives in Bahrain. The poem is called "The Absent."

~ When pigeons returned
to the roof of the house, we said,
maybe the absent one has returned.
After the torrents of fire were removed
           and emptiness spread
outstretched arms around the city...
Sorrow was buried in the earth. ~

I remember something Lorca said about the poetics behind flamenco poetry, that it always ties itself intimately to the elements: earth, air, fire and water. This is my orientation to the poetry of these poets too. He also said that, in its duende, flamenco pierces the body like an arrow of light. This too I find in these poems. I have a collection of flamenco poetry. (The book was discovered by a young women in her college library and stolen for me over twenty years ago. I've never felt bad about the theft.) Back to back the two collections sure seem to have a kinship, which is why I feel sure both traditions draw on the same source.

I read poetry like this and I know again why poetry is not just the thing, it is the only thing. I hope I've said something here to persuade everyone to find a copy. These poets are striking.

Tere
Oct/11/2009, 12:27 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Katlin Profile
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Re: Poetry of Arab Women


Tere,

Thanks for recommending this anthology. I notice it contains the work of Naomi Shihab Nye, a poet whose work I enjoy. Although I understand the objections, like you, I am often taken by women's poetry anthologies.

I am fascinated by the Hafiz, Lorca connections you point out. I think the directness and immediacy evidenced in the poems you cite are the result of these influences. The excerpts you've quoted are riveting.
Nov/2/2009, 6:15 am Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Poetry of Arab Women


Thanks back at you Katfriend. It is all so fascinating to me. This poetry of women working in Arabic. And sure. Category driven anthologies can marginalize a group grouped by grouping. On the other hand there is something special about this anthology. It gives voice to a group not just marginalized, or put down, but among whom there are poets speaking to my body in the significant way, which is the big thing.

And thanks for a notion you've incited, what I'll try to follow up on in a new thread.

Tere
Nov/3/2009, 8:48 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
deepwaters Profile
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Re: Poetry of Arab Women


Tere, Thank you for your recommendation. I am about to order the book, and look forward to reading it.

Katlin recommended Naomi Shihab Nye to me a couple of years back I think. She has ended up being such an inspiration. So, I am excited about finding other sources in this anthology. Thanks!
-s
Nov/10/2009, 2:13 pm Link to this post Send Email to deepwaters   Send PM to deepwaters
 
Katlin Profile
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Re: Poetry of Arab Women


Nathalie Handal, the editor of the anthology of Arab women poets Tere recommended in this thread, and current IBPC judge, talks about teaching poetry in Afghanistan.

]Check it out.
Nov/7/2011, 12:52 pm Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 


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