Because this is the last installment in this commentary series, I allowed myself to exceed the word limit to which I held myself in earlier posts. I have shed light on stations in the Arabic prose poem project. Although the imagined thread I’ve been tracing doesn’t end here, this is where I will stop tracing it for now. Poets of earlier phases were more aware of themselves as writing against the grain of Arabic poetry in general and the earlier Arabic modernists in particular. The poets of the later phases do not have to make the same effort to breaking away.
“Poets of the Nineties” is a phrase used to refer to a generation of Egyptian poets who came to prominence in the mid-1990s. A group of them called themselves al-Jarad (Locust). The nexus of the group was an underground magazine by the same name, founded in 1994 by a few members, most active among them are Ahmad Taha (b. 1950) and Muhammad Mitwalli (b. 1970). These writers intentionally disengaged from the motivations of their modernist predecessors.
The Lebanese Bassam Hajjar (1955–2009) is a poet and a translator of silence. His poetry reminds us of George Steiner’s famous statement, “when the poet’s word ceases, a great light begins.” Perhaps because he was a dedicated translator, he hesitated and listened well for the charged silence in what he wrote and what he translated.
Salim Barakat is a Kurdish-Syrian poet and novelist, born in 1951 in Qamishli, an ethnically, religiously, and linguistically diverse city in northern Syria. He lived in exile for years before settling in Sweden where he has resided since 1999. He has thus far published over forty-six works of poetry and prose, including three autobiographies, a memoir of wartime, and several children’s books. He enjoys a peculiar celebrity and following in the Arab world, among critics, scholars, and other poets.