Academic journal article Arab Studies Journal

Egyptian Colloquial Poetry in the Modern Arabic Canon: New Readings of Shi'r Al-'Amiyya

Academic journal article Arab Studies Journal

Egyptian Colloquial Poetry in the Modern Arabic Canon: New Readings of Shi'r Al-'Amiyya

Article excerpt

EGYPTIAN COLLOQUIAL POETRY IN THE MODERN ARABIC CANON: NEW READINGS OF SHI'R AL-'AMIYYA by Noha M. Radwan New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012 (xii + 240 pages, bibliography, index) $85.00 (cloth)

Noha Radwan's study of three Egyptian colloquial poets-Fu'ad Haddad, Salah Jahin, and 'Abd al-Rahman al-Abnudi-is a welcome and timely con- tribution to the burgeoning scholarly literature on Arab cultural production in spoken Arabic. Through her nuanced readings of their poems, Radwan arrives at the conclusion that Egyptian colloquial poetry, starting with Haddad, needs to be understood as part of a larger modernist Arab poetry movement that aimed to break poetry free from the centuries-old strictures of meter, rhyme schemes, and classical Arabic syntax and vocabulary.

Fu'ad Haddad (1927-85) has been called the father, master, and imam of the Egyptian colloquial poetry movement. Of the three ^gures treated in the book, he is the most emblematic of the claim that this movement is a subset of the modernist movement in formal Arabic poetry. Radwan argues that his ^rst volume of poetry, the 1952 Ahrar wara' al-qudban (Free Behind Bars), meets all of Mahmud Amin al-'Alim's characteristics of modernist poetry as laid out in "Al-Shi'r al-misri al-hadith" (Modern Egyptian Poetry), the landmark 1955 essay demonstrating how Egyptian poetry in formal Arabic at the time was breaking new ground. Haddad's next volume of poetry, Hanibni al-sadd (We'll Build the Dam), was published in 1957, a^er he had endured approximately three years of imprisonment with thousands of other le^ists. The poems in this second volume add a few features that would become common in this movement: a narrative structure, as well as folkloric forms, elements, and ^gures.

If the singer 'Abd al-Halim Ha^z was the voice of the Nasser regime, cartoonist and poet Salah Jahin (1930-86) was its muse. Jahin is the only one of the three poets discussed here to avoid prison during Nasser's time. Despite his being seen as the most unabashed cheerleader for the regime of the three, there was always a tension in his work, which Radwan highlights effectively: he actually yearned to write nonpolitical poetry. His second volume, 'An al-qamar wa-l-tin (About the Moon and Clay), published in 1961, is an example of that desire at least temporarily winning out. Love is a dominant theme in this collection, but it is not "represented as the unrequited love that is typical of classical 'udhri poetry, nor as an erotic experience. Rather, it is part of a natural circle of life and an antidote against alienation and anxiety" (133). But it is his 1963 Ruba'iyyat (Quatrains) that he is best known for, a form he would write in on and off again throughout his career. This volume extended the previous collection's desire to avoid the directly political. Radwan tells us that his ruba'iyyat "combine the mysticism of sufi poetry and the skepticism of modern philosophy" (139).

Radwan also informs us that the 1967 naksa was a great blow to all of her poets. Perhaps due to his close association with the Nasser regime, Jahin seemed to be the most affected of the three, particularly if silence is an accurate gauge, as "he did not write a word of poetry for three years a^er those events" (152). Fu'ad Haddad, though, was the only one of the three to devote a volume of poetry to the events-his Diwan al-haml al-^lastini (The Diwan of the Palestinian Gestation).

If the loss of Palestine had a silencing effect on Jahin, it was the death of the Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-'Ali in 1987 that ended an almost eight- year period of poetic silence for 'Abd al-Rahman al-Abnudi (b. 1938), whose poetry, of the three studied here, is arguably the most connected to folklore. In addition to using folklore in his own writing, he also has collected and preserved it. One of his life's projects has been to compile as many versions of the Bani Hilal epic as possible. Radwan describes the arc of his work as one of a slow distancing from, and then a return to, Upper Egyptian Arabic and themes, with a middle period characterized by a "Cairo-ization" of his work. …

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