This blog investigates the transnational movements that help shaped poetry in modern Arabia. It is written to engage conversation about poetic commitment and development of literature especially poetry in Iran and Iraq. We look at the modern poetry of Arabia and compare it to modern Persian literature.
Break Poetry’s Back
In a 1947 collection from an Egyptian writer was introduced where he presented his experimental work, Plutoland by saying Break Poetry’s Back. What Yasir Suleiman was stating is that there should be a radical change in the world of Arabic letters and poetry. Poetry in Arabia dates back thousands of years and poetry’s back (amud al-shi’r) had been the basis that all Arabic literature and poetry was structured on. There were sixteen standard meters of poetic verse which suited the speaking of Arabic poetry.
Yasir ordered readers of his poetry to break away from typical Arabic metrics, he was being highly revolutionary in his outlook as he disregards traditional Arabic form, shape and structure. Critics of his work said he was rejecting the acceptable conventions of traditional poetry.
Traditional Arabic poetry ends with Shawqi, he is the most famous traditional Arabic poet who helped to pioneer modern thinking in Arabic literature. It was Shawqi who announced the death of Arabic poetry and indeed to all intent and purpose it did die in 1932 with the great poet’s death.
But this comment, if true, leaves important questions to be asked including: Who killed off Arabic poetry? And if it is dead, what is left in its place?
When Shawqi was at his writing peak, Arabic poetry as a literary form was a tried and tested successful formula. The poetry went hand in hand with the global expansion of Islam and both developed across the Middle East, North Africa and Near East.
The Death of Poetry
In fact, the declaration that poetry had died was further qualified in a letter by Shawqi saying, Poetry has not died, but Arabic poetry has. If you look at the history of Arabic poetry you could consider that it was broken hundreds of years before Shawqi announced such a thing.
Perhaps as long ago as the 10th Century it went under massive reform by the Andalusian’s, and three hundred years before that the Egyptians altered Arabic poetry fundamentally. The poetry that the Egyptians wrote and composed in Arabic was vastly different than that of other ancient Arab poets.
The Arabic poets of Iraq, Syria and Arabia who stayed behind were composing vastly different material than those who had left for a new life in Egypt. Thus, emphasizing that transnational poetry was very much alive and kicking back then.
And as Arabic poetry spread further across the Middle East and the south part of the Mediterranean, it began a slow process of mixing with other cultural influences and of course literature. Which still continues today as relationships are altered between Arabs and other nations and cultures they come into contact with. In part two of this blog we continue our journey of transnational Arabic poetry in the modern world.