Three Poets…

(David Roberts – The Ghawazee of Cairo)


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Three Poets…

(Charles Sprague Pearce – The Arab Jeweller)

A Monkey at the Window – Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi


The little boy, playing in bed

while his wounded mother cooks,

is throwing little words and circles

out of the window.

She smiles

(the whole world lights up)

he chatters excitedly – What can he see?

There’s a monkey at the window –

behind the door!

But he is falling

into darkness.

And though he never raises a cry

he holds up his claws – this dark




She never taught him how to cry, only how to sing.

Happy in herself – just as she wished to be –

she taught him endless space and vastness,

and she calls him: Open-hearted.

Behind him, a mountain of metaphors,

in front, a river, a mouthful of night,

and a train of caravans calling him away.

(Where is that thread

that fire

the skill?)


Running – down an alleyway

he splashes cooking oil all over his shorts, this boy!

He wets himself

with laughter

running through Eternity –

through this alleyway

this pack of dogs,

the conspiracies of fate!


The solid front door remembers the hand that made it –

You are the key –

and the creak of the universe — it’s your sole secret

You lean your dreams and future against it.

For its sake you endure the woodworms

gnawing through your heart,

the reek of damp,

the hammering of enemies and relatives.

(Long is the absence of light

that paints things awake –

Long is the presence of paint!)

You come home exhausted — from wherever you’ve been,

the wind at your side — just as you wished,

toyed with by traumas.

Once he made necklaces from seashells,

colouring them with his own fairytales,

once he made friends with strange frogs

– and all the while she’s watching him

from behind the door /from out the window

(when she runs to pick him up,

he will not raise

a cry!)


In the forest the lonely one knows all the voices

beckoned by the eyes of loved ones

their songs are luring her

with their tender fingers

and her own translucent solitude.

She sits in silence

close to every thing

brewing tea,

stirring the porridge.

In the garden

of a strange home, her home,

she welcomes the pots and pans

to the sounds of morning.

Scrubbing everything, in its proper place,

one eye on the radio

that calls her to those distant sands,

the desert.

But her colour flow like a river

so she can sing….

And that boy?

………. ………….

In a green forest

or a red forest

or a desert

now who calls her to Eternity?

Poet Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi is one of the leading poets writing in Arabic today. He has gained a wide audience in his native Sudan for his intensely imaginative appraoch to poetry and for the delicacy and emotional frankness of his lyrics. Saddiq was born in 1969 and grew up in Omdurman, Khartoum, where he still lives. His first poetry collection, Songs of Solitude, was published in 1996 (Second Edition 1999). He also published The Sultan’s Labyrinth( 1996) and The Far Reaches of the Screen… (1999 & 2000). One of the six poets taking part in the PTC’s World Poets’ Tour in October 2005, Saddiq received a rapturous response from audiences in the UK. In March 2006 returned to the UK and gave a moving reading at the Poetry Cafe, as part of their occasional series ‘In Town Tonight’ featuring important international poets visiting London. ‘Poem of the Nile’ was recently published in The London Review of Books, one of the rare occasions the LRB has published poetry translated from Arabic, and the first time they’ve featured the work of an African poet. This is a real indication of Saddiq’s growing status as an important international poet.


Our Old Bed – Abdullah al Ryami

I wait for you in a bright shadow

lit by matches struck from the tree

under whose branches we said goodbye

When you arrive

fluids purl along my veins

the way clouds arise from the sea

And I stumble between your thighs

towards the cure

for this unstaunchable wound

Our bed is of sand

formed from ancient sediments

soft as a rumour

Together on this silk

desire fills our voices like flocking birds

like a new friendship filling the night

You and I are a late-night conversation

in a tavern by the sea

at the fount of the horizon

Nurtured by longing

we come to this shore

to teach the dawn new tricks

And we go to the forest

to gather wood from new trees

Stone gives birth to stone

and I will wait for you forever

knowing that nothing can stop the earth

rolling down the mountain of life

“Born on July 11 1965 in Cairo, where his father had taken refuge from the British-backed suppression of the Omani uprising, Al Ryami has lived for many years as an outsider. His first collection of poems was published in 1992. He helped to found the avant-garde theatre group A’Shams, working as dramatist and artistic director, and Najma Publications, specialising in modern poetry, novels and works in translation, before moving to Oman in 2000. There he worked as a theatrical director, journalist and cultural commentator.

Mohamed Al Harthi, a fellow poet and friend of Al Ryami, suggests that Al Ryami’s time living outside Oman has had a clear influence on his poetry. “Abdullah al Ryami’s poetry is solitude poetry,” he says. “His economical sentences surprise you with their philosophical depth, building in simple, deceptively gentle phrases towards harsh images.”

Al Ryami’s background in experimental theatre has also played a major role in shaping his poetry, according to one of his translators, Hafiz Kheir. In the carefully composed work that Kheir has seen, “he often manages to create imaginary spaces of inner worlds, while retaining a restrained language that resists the temptation of ‘freewheeling lyricism’ that renders a lot of his contemporaries’ works either too vague or in some cases clearly ostentatious”.

Kheir places Al Ryami within contemporary Arabic Free Verse, a wide and diverse body of poetic endeavours which emerged in the early 1960s and helped to free modern Arab poets from the limitations of traditional forms.

“After the earlier pioneering poets, such as Nazik Al Malayka and Badr Shakir Al-Sayab, rebelled against the classic forms that dictated both ‘ideal’ subjects and ‘approved’ musical structures, Free Verse poets seemed to leap further into the unknown, with more radical ideas that employed prose, reflective thought, and narrative techniques, as well as invoking the rich heritage of Sufi mystic writing styles,” says Kheir.

Kheir is struck by Al Ryami’s avoidance of “perfect metaphors and high lyricism”, the pride of the classic Arab poet. “This feature is shared among most new Free Verse poets,” says Kheir, “but I find it very important in his case because it takes a very confrontational form. It is as if Al Ryami says ‘here is a potentially perfect metaphor that will impress you’ and then changes his mind and completes it very differently. So it is a bit absurd, somewhat surprising, and yet still has a poetic feel.”


Sorrows of the Black City – Muhammad al-Fayturi

When night casts its net of shadows over the streets of the city

shrouding it in grief,

you can still see them —

slumped in silence, staring at the cracks.

And you think they are calm,

but you’re wrong — they’re on fire!

When darkness raises its statues of marble

on the streets of the city

then smashes them in fury

then the city will lead all the people

down the spiral staircase of the night

into the deep distant past.

The past with its ambergris shores

is dreaming of memories

too deeply to be roused.

And inside everyone something begins to stir —

a fresh wall made of clay,

stuck with diamonds and desires.

When night sleeps and day wakes

raising its candles in the dark

peace ebbs back to its home in the grave.

At that, the heart of the city

turns futile and wretched —

it is an oven at noon, a lamp for the blind.

Like ancient Africa, the city is truly

an old woman veiled in frankincense,

a great pit of fire, the horn of a ram,

an amulet of old prayers, a night full of mirrors,

the dance of black women, naked,

shouting their black joy.

This coma of sins was kept alive by the master,

ships filled with slave girls,

with musk, ivory and saffron —

gifts, all without joy, despatched by the winds of all ages

to the white man of our time

to the master of all time.

A plantation stretches out in imagination

to clothe the naked, to loosen their clothes,

flowing like its ancestors through the veins of life,

dyeing the water, and dyeing God’s face,

its sorrows on every mouth

breeding tyrants and iron and slaves,

breeding chains, every day breeding some new horror….

And yet, on the streets of the city,

when night constructs

its barriers of black stone — they stretch out their hands,

in silence, to the balconies of the future.

They are locked-up cries

in a locked-up land.

Their memories are stab-wounds.

Their faces are sad, like the faces of the blind.

Look, there they are,

heads slumped in silence. And you think they are calm.

But you’re wrong. Truth is, they’re on fire….

Muhammad al-Fayturi was born in Sudan — he does not know the year of his birth — in Al-Janina, on the western border of Sudan. His father was a Sufi sheikh of Libyan Bedouin extraction, while his mother was from a Gulf tribe which traced its lineage back to the Prophet Muhammad.

Soon after his birth, his family moved to Alexandria, where he spent his childhood, except for a brief spell during the Second World War when the family fled to the Egyptian countryside to escape the German bombing. He attended Al-Azhar University in Cairo until 1953 where he studied the Islamic sciences, philosophy and history, then attended Cairo University where he studied literature for two years. In 1953 he published his first collection of poems, entitled ‘Songs of Africa.’

Since then Al-Fayturi has published a number of other collections, including ‘Sunrise and Moonset’ and ‘Lover from Africa’. He has also lived and worked as a journalist and writer in a variety of different countries, including Lebanon, Libya, and Sudan itself. His poetry particularly draws on his experience as an African living amongst Arabs, dealing as it does with issues of race, class and colonialism, and it is also influenced to some extent by Sufi philosophy.

(Frederick Arthur Bridgman – The Rug Merchants)

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