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This review is taken from PN Review 78, Volume 17 Number 4, March - April 1991.

THE WILD LIFE The Seven Arab Odes, translated by Desmond O'Grady (Agenda Editions) £6.60 pb
The Heinemann Book of African Poetry in English, edited by Adewale Maja-Pearce (Heinemann) £5.95 pb
Syl Cheney-Coker, The Blood in the Desert's Eyes (Heinemann) £4.95 pb

Imru'u 'l-Qays, hearing that his father had been killed, finished his drinking and gambling and whoring for the day before setting out on the sober morrow to avenge the murder. Tarafa, rashly recording in a poem the king's sister's desire for him, was sent to the governor of Bahrain with a letter containing the order to 'cut off his hands and feet and bury him alive', an order which the governor complied with. Antara won over his beloved's mother by reciting verses, her father by his exploits in battle. From such men, and from their horrific and seductive semi-mythical world of archaic violence and beauty, the seven Arab odes have come down to us, in various translations. Desmond O'Grady's new versions read like this:


          Look!
  Crowning that stormcloud,
        Lightning!
It flashes like a bowman's hand
  flicks arrows from his quiver.
    A brilliant blaze of light
like that of the lone hermit when he
        splashes oil
on the twisted wicks of his nightlamps.


Or like this:


Are those black boughed orchards still back
                   there
in that stray ground of our old place?
           Mute witness to where
           my lovely lady lived?


O'Grady deploys alliteration, varying line lengths, a robust repertoire of speech registers, and numerous syntactical and juxtapositional hints out of the Modernist box of tricks, to bring alive a world in which women 'slender fleshed at ...


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