A post about the famous 14th century Mamluk text of al-Nuwayri, with a new English translation of excerpts from this classic compendium now available.


This is to note that I have received a research grant from the Qatar Foundation for a study of indigenous knowledge of the seasons and time-telling in the Gulf. I have created a separate webpage to indicate progress through updates on the progress. This page is at http://tabsir.net/?page_id=2903

Weep no more Land of Sheba

By Samira Ali BinDaair

Land of frankincense….
your blood’s resin is clotting;
forgotten episodes clinging to the dark edges of memory.
Dusty pages on neglected shelves …..
in extinct libraries.
Your soldiers? Scattered leaves lying….
in the midst of nonsense and commotion
Blown hither and thither ….
by the winds of circumstance…..
and greed
Who shall fight your battles? Who shall feed your young?
What surgeon mend the tear
In our hemorrhaging hearts?
What seamstress patch the broken lines of history?

What shall we offer you, children of Sheba? Your future on a silver plate…..
served from a broken cauldron? Geography without a road map?
Shall we just stand here and weep for the might have been?
Sit idle in smoked filled rooms building
yet more empty dreams in the Qat frenzy while the blood keeps flowing? (more…)

[For Jonathan Swift, whose wit is sorely needed today.]

Imagine the camel deceased
its rotting carcass dry boned
the trek of this ship of the desert now ceased
just a sad-sanded dromedary in the dust.

And Antar’s steed now solid steel
broken down stirrup and token spirit
surrendered to the surreal
covered with dust.

The Bani Toyota now raid us
driven by backward asses
not trying to evade us
but going for bust.

That Dodge Ram runs over the ewe
that Lamborghini in Abraham’s shaking hand
has no clue
but his son must
die too.

Can you cry
for all those driven to despair.

Do you care
for all those who cry.

The last sacrifice is nothing
but roadkill
for the thrill
and that is no accident.

Image by Naji al-Ali. Painted on the Palestinian side of the separation barrier close to Bethlehem.

by Ammiel Alcalay, Warscapes,
August 11, 2014,

You know as well as I do that a people under occupation will

be unhappy, that parents will fear for the lives of their precious children,

especially when there is NOWHERE TO HIDE.

You know as well as I do that a husband’s memory of his wife forced to

deliver their child at a checkpoint will not be a happy one. You know as

well as I do that the form of her unborn child beaten to death in the womb

will never leave a mother’s mind. And you know as well as I do that a girl will

have cause to wonder at the loss of her grandfather, made to wait on his

way to the hospital, and she’ll have cause to cry at the bullet lodged

in her brother’s head — You know as well as I do that watching

someone who stole the land you used to till water their garden

while you hope some rain might collect to parch your weary throat


Looking for Arabic poetry online. There are many, many sites, but one useful resource is adab.com, which is also available in English. The site boasts 19027 verses “bayt” in 451 poems for 46 poets. Check it out.

Cairo Review, May 14, 2014

A half century ago, the poet Ali Ahmad Said Esber, better known by his pen name Adonis, left Syria for exile, first to Lebanon and then France. He lives on an upper floor of a new apartment tower in the Paris suburb of Courbevoie, steps from La Grande Arche in the modern business district of La Défense. Embroidered cushions from his homeland are on the sofa, abstract paintings on the walls; Arabic and French newspapers are piled around, next to music CDs of Bach and Mahler; Lebanese sweets are served on a platter along with cups of Nescafé. He never stays in one place for long; at the end of April, he was off to New York to open the PEN World Voices Festival with Salman Rushdie and Noam Chomsky.

Adonis, 84, is widely recognized as the greatest living Arab poet. He began writing verse as a teenager in Qassabin, a village in Syria’s Latakia province. In Beirut in the 1950s, he started a modernist revolution that the Guardian has called “a seismic influence on Arabic poetry comparable to T.S. Eliot’s in the Anglophone world.” He has published twenty volumes of poetry and thirteen books of literary criticism, reflecting on everything from love and Arab nationalism to American power; in 2011, he became the first Arab writer to win the prestigious Goethe Prize for literature. Adonis, meanwhile, has long been a leading public intellectual in the Arab world. His most recent writings are collected in Printemps Arabes: Religion et Révolution, published in France earlier this year by Éditions de La Différence. According to his English translator, Khaled Mattawa, Adonis believes that Arabic poetry has the responsibility of igniting a “mental overhaul of Arab culture.” Cairo Review Managing Editor Scott MacLeod and journalist Jonathan Randal interviewed Adonis in Courbevoie on April 11, 2014.

CAIRO REVIEW: Critics say your poems carry a lot of anger, but you have written some sweet poems. “The rose leaves its flowerbed/To meet her/The sun is naked/In autumn, nothing except a thread of cloud around her waist/This is how love arrives/In the village where I was born.”
ADONIS: Yes, romantic.

CAIRO REVIEW: How old were you when you wrote that?
ADONIS: I forget.

CAIRO REVIEW: Has Syria plunged into a dark age?
ADONIS: Well, the Arab world is living, and for a long time has been living, in a kind of age of darkness. Syria is part of that. But we can’t judge the future. I think that there are always some strengths in the people, to find solutions, escapes/exits, new horizons. I believe in that. The human being is a decent creature, who is manipulated by everything.

CAIRO REVIEW: When you were sixteen, was it a better moment?
ADONIS: Beginning when I was fifteen, we had plans. We could feel it, personally, lots of people of my generation. We had a kind of hope and vitality, a hope to change things, do something better. But from that moment of my adolescence, we also felt that there was nothing we could do in our society if the revolution was going to remain politically institutionalized. Without the separation of religion from the state, there was nothing we could do. I felt that for a long time.

CAIRO REVIEW: Was religious fundamentalism a danger at that time?
ADONIS: No. There wasn’t the ideological aspect of religion in my youth. It was almost invisible. Religion was never a problem. With my friends at school, I never asked, “What’s your religion?” Never. It didn’t exist. (more…)

Activists paint graffiti on a wall ahead of an anti-government rally in Sanaa on Feb. 10, 2012. The writing reads “Yemen” and “My heartbeats remain Yemeni.”

By Samira Ali BinDaair

Youth is like a flying visit to the land of dreams….where the stars always seem brighter to pauper and prince alike; Youth is the proverbial black and white and tears when they come are like torrential rain and joy is like the summer sun after the winter of the north pole.

There are only beginnings…. events like a beautiful arabesque and a never ending story. Youth is hope that defies destiny…. mountains seem like ant hills….for it is a tempestuous and impatient passage into timeless realms … the journey exciting dreams of greatness….destinations vague.

Youth is also a time when there is no time to listen to the songs of birds or the quiet voices from within. Death is shrugged off as an old wives tale like a genetic engineer trying to find a cure for loved ones….alas, no vaccine to arrest the passage of Time and dying cells. (more…)

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