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This report is taken from PN Review 170, Volume 32 Number 6, July - August 2006.

Muhammad al-Maghut Marius Kociejowski

The Syrian poet Muhammad al-Maghut died in Damascus on 3 April 2006. He was 72, which, although not a great age, was ripe enough given his predilection for alcohol and cigarettes. Shortly before he died, stung by the public betrayal of a friend, also a poet, al-Maghut downed his pen forever. Syrians saw in this a tragedy spelling the loss of two poets - the other was so reviled as to be metaphorically buried alive. Maybe, though, al-Maghut had already spoken his last; prior to this, and despite several bouts of illness, he produced a sizeable collection of poems in which he raged not only against his own mortality but also against the many social and political vicissitudes which his country had to endure. Al-Maghut wrote with all the passion of one who has nothing left to lose. Many people consider this his finest work.

Of the several modern Arabic poets who have a claim to our attention, al-Maghut was the wild card, the man who at a critical juncture in the country's history and literature set loose the greatest number of demons. The poems he produced gave voice to the despair of his generation and stylistically they were explosive, both raw and colloquial in tone. A whole school of poetry developed in his wake, although typically al-Maghut abhorred coteries. Doubtless he would have relished the irony that on his death he was saluted by the very régime that had been the target of his many satires ...


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