Poetry has been used as a means of expression ever since dinosaurs roamed the earth – ok, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, however people have certainly been using beautiful language and style as a means of self-expression for many centuries now. As a matter of fact, Arabic poetry happens to be the earliest form of Arabic literature.
In light of Britain’s recent National Poetry Day (October 8), we were inspired to shed some light on some of Egypt’s best contemporary poets – highlighting the importance of their work in our lives.
Ahmed Fouad Negm
This famous Egyptian poet was dubbed ‘Egypt’s folk hero’ for his prominent and patriotic words regarding his beloved home country. A great number of admirers worldwide mourned the loss of this ingenious mind after passing away in December 2013 at the age of 84. Negm had been imprisoned on several occasions as a result of his opinions on Egypt’s government and authoritative figures, which were fearlessly the topics of a number of his works.
His poems sympathized with the poor and expressed his contempt for the powerful elites who controlled Egypt. As a result, Negm’s poems are not often found in local bookstores and libraries, as they were banned due to their outspoken honesty towards the government.
Presidents and corrupt authority figures are treated with irony, sarcasm, irreverent rhetorical questions, and wit in Negm’s works. It was said that the poet had an uncanny gift of seeing through the nonchalant manner put out by government officials that encouraged the common man to accept his fate of living in Egypt.
Considered to be one of greatest poets of all time, Al-Abnoudy was known for writing his poems in the Egyptian colloquial dialect rather than the literal Arabic often found in Egyptian poems.
Abnoudy was associated with the militia political engagement school which contributed to the development and movement towards democracy in Egypt. Most often, his works dealt with life, death, and war. His book ‘Death on the Asphalt’ — one of his most recognised works — has been listed as one of ‘Africa’s Great Books of the 20th Century’ at the Zimbabwe Book Fair. His work is often considered to be difficult to translate as it is very difficult to translate colloquial Arabic.
Salah Jaheen was known to have been a playwright and cartoonist as well as a poet. His poems almost always had patriotic motive behind them. Jaheen mastered colloquial writing with ease, producing poetry of a simple nature with a profound effect. His themes constantly revolve around the idea of a society struggling to free itself from the bonds of the past. He also stays faithful to the poor man’s status within the bounds of society.
Jaheen’s poetry is often viewed to be simple and complex at the same time. He resorted to the importance of sound in his work as he believed in the plentiful use of rhythm and rhyme. Jaheen is also known for ending his poems with a sarcastic remark – he usually ended his Rubayiat (Quatrains) with an ironic expression such as Agabi (How strange), for example. His work successfully manifests his philosophical viewpoint on life, death, existence, and the eternal struggle between good and evil.
Amal Dunqul is considered to be one of the most innovative poets of the 20th century. His poems are considered to be quite distinctive as his style is well structured, symbolic, and musical. His poetry often gave voice to the angry revolutionists across the Arab world due to their nationalistic approach. His work employs Arab heritage to depict the bitterness and agony felt by Arabs after defeat.
One of his best works, Al-Buka Bayna Yaday Zarqa al-Yamama (Weeping before Zarqa’ al-Yamama), depicted the sorrow and the defeat of the Arab countries (Egypt, Jordan, and Syria) in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. Another celebrated work of his was La Testlem (Do Not Make Peace) and was regarded to be a message to President Anwar El-Sadat not to surrender and sign the Camp David peace treaty with Israel in 1976.
These poets are considered to be among the best nationalistic voices of Egypt, and they have undoubtedly managed to revive the nation through the art of the written word.