Monday, June 25, 2007

The Queen of Contemporary Arab Poetry

She was a writer, an innovator, an activist, an artist, a musician, and the least to say about her that she was someone who could speak English, French, German and Latin fluently.

The 20th of June, 2007, marked another sad day in the modern history of Iraq when Nazik Al-Mala'ikah has died at the age of 84 years old in Cairo, Egypt. Mrs Al-Mala'ikah is known as the one who revolutionized Arab poetry in the late 1940s by introducing free verse (or taf'ila) or what formally known as the prose poet. She was born in Baghdad in 1922 from an educated family whom both parents used to write poets and they were distinguished writers at that time. This gave little Nazik the motivation to start writing on a very early age, and when she was in college, her poems and writings were already published in newspapers and magazines.

Nazik Al-Mala’ikah obtained the BA degree in Literature from University of Baghdad in 1944 and the MA degree in Literature in 1954 from the University of Wisconsin. In addition, she has been granted scholarship in 1959 to study at Princeton University, New Jersey, the United States where she studied Latin, French and English. During her years before traveling to the U.S, Mrs Al-Mala’ikah joined the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad where she learned to play the Oud (Arabic Lute) and took lessons in acting too.

Both her early works, the 1947 ‘A'shiqat Al-Layl’ (Lovers of the Nights) and the 1949: ‘Shazaya wa ramad’ (Shrapnel and Ashes) were considered the pillars for changing the 500 years classic form and structure of standard Arabic poetry, but the one and only work which marked the beginning of using the free verse poetry (or the prose poet) was in ‘Cholera’, which based on the tragedy that plagued Egypt (and Iraq afterwards) in the late forties of the twenty’s century. However, there is who dispute this claim and give the credit to another legend in contemporary Arab literature, the Iraqi writer Badr Shakir Al Sayyab.

In the years to follow, especially in the 1960s, Mrs Nazik Al-Mala’ka kept on calling for the modernization of the forms Arab poetry is written and to find new ground for more sophisticated methods. This was clearly illustrated in her work Qadaya 'l-shi'r al-mu'asir (Issues On Contemporary Poetry) in 1962.

In addition to being a poet and a writer, Mrs. Al-Mala’ika was regarded as a strong defender of Women rights and her various articles and lectures in the 1950s are a better witness of her strong stand regarding this issue.

Al-Mala'ika did not limit herself within the boundaries of Arab litreture and poetry, she also expanded her knowledge and her translations of western/ foreign writers such as Byron, Thomas Gray, and Rupert Brooke is another great achievement. I wonder if there is any achievement by writers and literates to translate this legend’s works into other languages!

In 1957, she became a lecturer at the University of Education until the late 1950s she left to live in Beirut, Lebanon, where most of her works have been published. She is also gave lectures at the University of Basra, a place which she with the help of her husband and former university colleague, Abdel-Hadi Mahbouba, both found in the mid 1960s. In addition, Mrs Nazik Al-Malayka taught at the University of Kuwait for many years until 1990 when she was forced to return to Iraq after the invasion of Saddam to that Gulf state, and after the end of the 1991 war, she moved with her family to Cairo where she went through a semi self-isolation till the last day. Despite that, Mrs Al-Mala’ika published in 1999 her last book, called Youghiyar Alouanah Al-Bahr, which in fact a collection of her writings dated back to 1974. Further more, the Egyptian Supreme Council for Culture has published big collection of Al-Mala'ika's work (if not all) in two big volumes. The first includes Qadaya Al-Shi'r Al-Mu'asir (Issues of Contemporary Poetry, 1962) and Sykolojia Al-Shi'r (The Psychology of Poetry, 1979), while the second includes Al-Sawma'a wal-Shurfa Al- Hamraa (The Hideaway and the Red Balcony, 1965), Al-Tajazu'iya fil- Mujtama' Al-Arabi (Disintegration in Arab Society, 1974) and Al-Shams Allati wara' Al-Qimma (The Sun behind the Summit), a collection of short stories written through the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Here is a page where it claims to contains all the work and writings of Nazik Al-Mala’ika (in Arabic)

My condolences to Mrs. Al-Mala’ika’s family and May God rest her soul in peace. The 20th of June 2007 is another sad day in the life of Iraqis because another candle that lit the literature domain in the history of modern Iraq is put down!

Al-Mala’ika’s is a pride for all the Iraqis due to her achievements. She became the symbol for many Iraqi women around the years to follow in her steps: full of motivation, carry many dreams, and high hopes for a better future for themselves as individuals as for their country they love. This is another Iraqi woman I am proud of.