PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
News and Notes
PN Review Prize winners announced
Carcanet Press and PN Review are delighted to announce the winners of the first ever PN Review Prize. read more
Most Read... Drew MilneTom Raworth’s Writing
‘present past improved’: Tom Raworth’s Writing

(PN Review 236)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Alejandro Fernandez-OsorioPomace (trans. James Womack)
(PN Review 236)
Kei MillerIn the Shadow of Derek Walcott
1930–2017

(PN Review 235)
Kate BinghamPuddle
(PN Review 236)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
Gratis Ad 1
Gratis Ad 2
Next Issue CELEBRATING JOHN ASHBERY Contributors include Mark Ford, Marina Warner, Jeremy Over, Theophilus Kwek, Sam Riviere, Luke Kennard, Philip Terry,Agnes Lehoczky, Emily Critchley, Oli Hazard and others Miles Champion The Gold Standard Rebecca Watts The Cult of the Noble Amateur Marina Tsvetaeva ‘My desire has the features of a woman’: Two Letters translated by Christopher Whyte Iain Bamforth Black and White

This review is taken from PN Review 164, Volume 31 Number 6, July - August 2005.

BITTER CHERRIES
MARAM AL-MASSRI, A Red Cherry on a White-tiled Floor: Selected Poems. Translated by Khaled Mattawa. Bilingual Arabic-English edition (Bloodaxe) £8.95

For all its jostling exuberance and full-throated polyphony, a conspicuous silence reigns over the vast domain of poetry in Classical Arabic. With few exceptions, women poets seem absent. We know from passing references that they existed; the great anthologies occasionally mention a slave-girl clever at improvisation or commend a skilled singer of popular lyrics, but the names that we are given are often only pet-names, the sobriquets of courtesans. Those whose names survive, such as the pre-Islamic poet al-Khansa', do so almost by accident. Women were restricted to the genre of elegy, usually for a fallen brother. Here, for example, is how al-Khansa' opens her lament for her brother Sakhr:

Remembrance makes me sleepless at evening
But by dawn I am worn raw by my brimming disaster
Because of Sakhr - O what young man is like Sakhr
On a day of war when the fighting turns to the cunning spears?

After a millennium and a half of silence, Arab women have again begun to write and publish poetry and their accents are often sly and subversive, especially about love. Su'ad al-Sabah, a contemporary poet from Kuwait, writes mockingly (in Roger Allen's translation):

I am tired of traditional words
 About love,
I'm fed up with the ghazal of the dead,
Flowers ...


Searching, please wait... animated waiting image