Without an Alphabet, without a Face: Selected Poems

Overview

This Iraq will reach the ends of the graveyard.

It will bury its sons in open country

generation after generation,

and it will forgive its despot...

It will not be the Iraq that once held the name.

—from "A Vision"

Living his life in exile—a series of forced departures from numerous countries—Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef also writes outside the ...

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Overview

This Iraq will reach the ends of the graveyard.

It will bury its sons in open country

generation after generation,

and it will forgive its despot...

It will not be the Iraq that once held the name.

—from "A Vision"

Living his life in exile—a series of forced departures from numerous countries—Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef also writes outside the long-standing forms of traditional Arabic poetry. In the words of Salma Khadra, a critic of Arabic poetry, "Youssef's poetry abounds with the sights, smells, colors, and movement of life around him, depicting scenes of great familiarity and intimacy. This is a great achievement in the face of the rage and fury and technical complexities of much of the other poetry written by his contemporaries." Beautifully translated by Khaled Mattawa, Graywolf is proud to present Without an Alphabet, Without a Face to the United States.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Born in 1934 in Basra, Iraq, Youssef has recently settled in London after a peripatetic adult existence. These poems drawn from his 30 books are organized by date and place of composition: Baghdad (1972-1979), Algeria (1980), Yemen (1981-1982), Beirut (1979- 1982), with later stops in Paris, Amman, Damascus, Berlin, Belgrade and Cairo. The poems work brilliantly through their differing times and places, pushing unflinching description through a steady determination to foment a more just world: "This watered wine/ awaits its moment,/ maybe in the lines of a song/ or in a narrow bed." Often, Youssef will address anonymous figures he comes across, creating a sense of fellowship and shared longings from the slightest of materials: "Think about it:/ Can we talk in a restaurant/ or find a river to dip our hands in?/ Or should we be content with breathing,/ or let ourselves be snuffed out with a question?" The Libyan-born Mattawa (Ismailia Eclipse) emigrated to the U.S. in 1979, and does an excellent job rendering the layered complexity of the poems. Mattawa's translations of Youssef's declarative iterations-"The room shivers/ from distant explosions./ The curtains shiver./ Then the heart shivers./ Why are you in the midst of all this shivering?"-create a center around which these poems move. (Dec.) Forecast: Visa issues may prevent Youssef from touring in support of this book, but Mattawa, who has been publishing these translations in literary journals and who is based at the University of Texas at Austin, is available; look for strong support from campus reading series and post-colonial literature courses.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555973711
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/2002
  • Pages: 216
  • Product dimensions: 6.02 (w) x 9.06 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

Saadi Youssef is one of the leading poets of the Arab world. Born in 1932 in Basra, Iraq, he has published thirty volumes of poetry and seven books of prose. He left Iraq in 1979, and after many detours, he has recently settled in London.

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Table of Contents

Introduction
Reception 3
Night in Hamdan 7
Insistence 8
Night Fugitive 9
In Their Hands 10
A Native Song to a Wounded Smuggler 11
Martyrdom 13
The Mouse 14
To Socialism 15
A Secret 16
The Murdered Come Out at Night 17
Whims 18
Three Stories from Kuwait 20
The River 22
Old Pictures from Kout al-Zain 23
Drowsiness 25
Algerian Glances 29
The Other Person 31
Spanish Plaza 33
Three Bridges 35
Solos on the Oud 38
Oleander Tree 40
Shatt al Arab 41
The Ends of the African North 43
L'Akhdar Ben Youssef and His Concerns 49
In Those Days 52
On L'Akhdar Again 54
The Collapse of the Two-Rivers Hotel 57
Noontime 58
House of Mirth 59
Solitude 61
The New Baghdad 62
The Forests 64
The Gardener 65
How L'Akhdar Ben Youssef Wrote His Last Poem 66
Nocturnal 70
Enemies 71
The Porcupine 77
First Snow 81
The Flags 82
The Village 83
Poetry 85
The Visit 86
April Stork 87
Scene 91
Summer 92
Sparrows 93
A Moment 94
The Spring 95
Immersion 103
A Friendship 105
Days of June 107
Maryam Comes 110
From "Daily Chores" 114
Inheritance 119
The Orchard 120
About That Lizard, About This Night 121
A Fever 124
A Hot Night 125
A Woman 126
Lines 127
The Chalets Bar 128
Scene 129
A Cloud 130
Crawling Plant 131
Thank You Imru ul-Qais 132
Autumn 136
Tower 137
Chemical Weapon 139
The Trees of Ithaca 143
Cavafy's House 151
1989 153
The Cold 154
Abduction 155
The Lost Letter 156
Endings 159
The Light 160
Snow May Fall 162
The Moment 163
On the Red Sea 165
Attention 166
For Jamal Jumaa 167
The Kurdish Quarter 168
The Hermit 169
America, America 172
The Attempt 177
Trying to Flee 178
A Vision 179
Happiness 180
Notes 183
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