The material I have to offer in this volume has a long history. All but two of the twenty items included have had a life in print before this one. The journals, books and conference proceedings that gave them shelter are all named in the table of Contents, and to the editors and compilers of these I offer heartfelt thanks. For it is the responses of their readers that gradually gave some impetus and some scope, perhaps even some direction, to the study of a vast but long ignored aspect of Arab literary life.
The Table of Contents identifies who the adoptive parent of each article was. From as many as I could trace I sought a blessing for this rebirth, and many earned renewed thanks by the readiness and generosity of their responses. Failures to get such responses have to me been akin to the loss of old friends. Particularly keenly felt has been the frustration of all efforts to renew contact with my former student Ali Obali, who more than twenty years ago espoused my project of familiarising Western readers with the long ballad of ‘Karam il-Yatīm’ as an example of an Egyptian folk singer’s narrative skills, so he buckled down to transcribing the entire text while I worked on its translation, and the results of both our labours were published together.
I am certain that if we had managed to make contact we would both have enjoyed reliving our months of collaboration, and that he would now agree to put his piece through the limited but indispensable revision which all the other items in this book have undergone. Since he alone has the right to re-edit his work, I have had to consider whether I would be doing it good service by including it in a collection where it would be out of step with all others even in the method of transcription it uses. In the end, I deemed it best to point the reader to where it was first published and is still available, but not to include in this volume one item that does not conform with the system of transcription used everywhere else. The inconvenience to the reader is not great, for my main purpose had been to illustrate the folk artist’s narrative skills, and these can be detected in the translation, whereas the text would demonstrate verbal and rhetorical tastes amply illustrated elsewhere in the book. If I have erred in my judgement, I hope that Ali will forgive.
Since the material that was to be made into a book had already been through editorial and critical processes akin to a ruminant’s digestion, the only foreseeable problem was that there was as yet no widely accepted system for the transcription into Latin characters of oral Arabic texts. Over the years, I had experimented