Poetry and Politics in the Modern Arab World

April 2016 9781849043199 240pp


The representation in poetic form of political events and ideas in the Arab world since the nineteenth century is this book’s principal theme. Atef Alshaer demonstrates an integral connection between poetry and politics, reflecting the holistic character of Arab culture as well as the longstanding embodiment of poetry in the socio-political life of the Arabs. The shared Arabic language and common cultural heritage that Arabs have encompass and mirror widespread Arab concerns about their societies and their cultural and political development. Poetry as the essence of language served as an illuminating, and often mobilising, medium of expression which brought the tensions and aspirations of each age to the fore. Beginning with the colonial empires and their colonisation of the Arab world, Alshaer illuminates the perennial concerns of major Arab poets with their societies. He discusses the poetic representation of the end of the Ottoman Empire, the onset of Arab nationalism, French and British colonialism, Palestine and the struggle against Zionism, as well as Arab inter-relationships, the emergence of Islamism and Islamist movements, and finally the Arab Spring. Each chapter highlights the mainstream historical, political and intellectual currents of the time and interprets them alongside poems and poets that evoked and consecrated them.


‘Alshaer traces the world of both wings of political poetry from late Ottoman times … There is much food for reflection in this book, and the reader is introduced to fresh perspectives.’ — Times Literary Supplement

‘By reading Alshaer’s analysis of poetry under the Ottoman Empire and colonialism the reader can draw many parallels between the Arab World then and today … [the book] offers not only a detailed insight into the poets of the time, but the politics of the time.’ — Middle East Monitor

‘[Alshaer] succeeds brilliantly in producing a book that provides a deep understanding of politics in the region and of poetry that is inseparable from it. … For its conciseness, precision, and overview, this book is strongly recommended to all readers who need to know about most recent developments in modern Arabic poetry, particularly those interested in its relation to Middle Eastern politics and culture.’ — Issa J. Boullata, Middle East Media and Book Reviews

‘Poetry has always been a privileged means of expression in Arabic. Alshaer’s remarkable study shows that politics is no exception to this rule and that poetry accurately mirrors the state of politics. His book is hence a useful contribution to the study of both Arabic literature and Arab politics.’ — Gilbert Achcar, Professor at SOAS, University of London

‘Atef Alshaer takes us on a thought-provoking and thoughtful journey into aspects of poetic production in the contemporary Arab world. His acute attention to language and to the changing contexts in which poetry becomes a language in action underlines the relevance of poetry, as an aesthetic and performative discourse, in understanding the transformations in Arab nationalisms and politics in the 20th and 21st centuries. This book is a unique and timely contribution to emerging scholarship on cultural politics and political cultures in the Arab World that positions culture as interweaving with the political in diverse aspects of everyday lives.’ — Dina Matar, author of What it Means to be Palestinian, co-author of The Hizbullah Phenomenon: Politics and Communication, and co-editor of Gaza as Metaphor

‘Alshaer’s skill as a scholar, translator, and essayist lies not only in providing readers with a deep understanding of modern politics in the region, but also in advancing a brilliant case for the inseparability of politics in the Arab world from its poetry. Enjoyable for non-specialists, his book is an essential primer for college and post-graduate students interested in Arab poetry as well as in Middle Eastern politics and culture generally … Much appreciated are two chapters on poetry by members of Hamas and Hizbollah, little of which has received serious attention by Western scholars to date.’ — Flagg Miller, Professor of Religious Studies at University of California, Davis, and author of The Audacious Ascetic. What the Bin Laden Tapes Reveal About Al-Qa’ida

Poetry and Politics in the Modern Arab World wonderfully illuminates the centrality of poetry to Arab cultural consciousness in the articulation of individual and collective engagements with the political. In tracing a trajectory from the end of Ottoman rule to the Arab Spring, Atef Alshaer identifies striking resonances across a considerable body of work, particularly with respect to calls for resistance, resilience and renewal. Written with a finely attuned poetic sensibility and a profound knowledge of its subject, this book is a truly major achievement.’ — Caroline Rooney, Professor of African and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Kent


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