The Islamic Wine Poetry of Abu Nuwas
A rhyming English translation of the ninth-century khamriyyat (wine poems) of Abu Nuwas.
An Evening Standard Book of the Year 2018, chosen by Justin Marozzi
Abu Nuwas, the pre-eminent bacchic bard of the classical Arabic canon, was loved and reviled in equal measure for his lyrical celebration of Abbasid Baghdad’s dissolute nightlife, his cutting satires of religion and the clergy, and the extraordinary range and virtuosity of his literary talent.
Vintage Humour contains approximately 120 translations, each replicating the monorhyme scheme of the originals, with commentary where appropriate, a brief history of the poet’s life and times, and a glossary of the key themes, motifs, and running jokes of the poems themselves. Based on extensive research with both Arabic and English source materials, Vintage Humour is an illuminating collection, of interest to both general and informed readers with an interest in Islamic studies, Arabic literature, and the history of Iraq and the Middle East.
Alex Rowell is a writer and translator based in Beirut, Lebanon, where he has contributed to media including The Daily Beast, The Economist, the BBC, and NOW Lebanon. His classical Arabic poetry translations have previously been published in the literary journal of the American University of Beirut. He tweets as @alexjrowell.
‘A sparkling collection of 125 wine poems, brought to life again in Rowell’s elegant, effervescent translation.’ — The Spectator
‘Alex Rowell put the booze, debauchery, tolerance and pluralism back into the faith with Vintage Humour, his light-touch study of Baghdad’s eighth-century precursor to Lord Byron and one of Islam’s most dazzlingly talented, free-spirited, sexually omnivorous Bad Boys.’ — Justin Marozzi, Evening Standard Books of the Year 2018
‘Rowell’s translations are clearly done with a similar affection for the Arabic originals, retaining their spirit but also their rhyme’ — Times Literary Supplement
‘Of all translated anthologies of Abu Nuwas’s poetry, this is the one I like most. Its background research is excellent and makes for a clear, well-written and informative Introduction. The poems that follow, with their notes, constitute a well-judged selection of some of the great poet’s bacchic and erotic masterpieces, across a range of registers within the genre. The endeavour to render these in a contemporary English idiom is laudable, and often strikingly successful.’ — Philip Kennedy, Associate Professor at New York University Abu Dhabi and author of The Wine Song in Classical Arabic Poetry: Abu Nuwas and the Literary Tradition and Abu Nuwas: A Genius of Poetry
‘Is there a better time for rediscovering the Byron or Rochester of the Abbasid caliphate? Expertly introduced, translated and curated by Alex Rowell, this collection is a 100-proof testament that a region so badly misunderstood was also once so badly, gloriously misbehaved.’ — Michael Weiss, CNN National Security Analyst and co-author of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror
‘Rowell offers us a delightful and dazzling English-language revival of Abu Nuwas’s khamriyyat at an opportune moment, when the memory of the Islamic Golden Age is fading. This wonderful celebration of early Islam’s literary iconoclast and great imbiber is sure to awaken our curiosity for a lost era – and send you searching for wine.’ — Karl Sharro, architect, satirist and blogger, @KarlreMarks