Placing the Poet

Badr Shakir al-Sayyab and Postcolonial Iraq

By Terri DeYoung

Subjects: Arab Literature
Paperback : 9780791437322, 343 pages, April 1998
Hardcover : 9780791437315, 343 pages, April 1998

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Table of contents



1. Empty Spaces and Unveiled Placeholders
Locating Southern Iraq

2. This Other Eden

3. Jaykur Stretches Out to Meet Margate Sands
Reclaiming the Land Laid Waste

4. Odysseus Returns as Sindbad
The Quest for an Inner Landscape

5. This Boy's Life

6. Resisting Otherness
Colonialism and the Writing of Modern Arabic Literary History

7. 1948
Seeking Brave New Worlds

8. The Epic Turn

9. Conclusion




Makes available, for the first time in English, the work of a major modern Arab poet, providing a framework for understanding his experience not only as an Arab writer but as a postcolonial one.


CHOICE 1998 Outstanding Academic Books

This is a comprehensive study of the most widely celebrated of twentieth-century Iraqi writers, Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, whose premature death in 1964 from Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS) was lamented in cultural circles throughout the Arab world. This book makes available to English-speaking readers for the first time an unprecedented amount of information about a single Arab poet (including a large selection of previously untranslated poetry). In addition, it places the poet's work in the broader context of postcolonial resistance to Western hegemony, illuminating obscure aspects of his writing and relating it to other authors of his time.

Terri DeYoung is Assistant Professor, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, University of Washington. She is the coeditor of Tradition and Modernity in Arabic Literature.


"Sayyab is a leading figure in the innovative movement of contemporary Arabic poetry. He changed the poetic sensibility of the Arabs and opened new horizons for them which, at long last, brought them out of an age-old literary tradition. A good study of Sayyab is, therefore, central to the field of scholarship on modern Arabic poetry." — Issa J. Boullata, McGill University

"The book is not merely competently written; it has panache, and makes its arguments clearly and cogently. The scholarship is extremely sound, based on excellent close readings of specific poems and comparisons of them with exemplars from other literary traditions. The interpretations of these poems are linked to cultural and political trends with great success. This book is one of the most excellent that I have encountered on an individual modern Arab writer. The entire book is organized so as to provide not only a clear picture about this most important of modern Arab poets and the development of his poetic persona, but also a wonderfully broad sweep of two other significant areas: the poetic heritages, both Western and Arab, that it confronts, and the complex political circumstances within which it was produced." — Roger Allen, University of Pennsylvania

"Judged in terms of its original thesis, sound methodology, and critical perspectives on a topic that has never been so competently studied, the book provides illuminating insights into al-Sayyab's poetry and the significant role it played not only in resisting the hegemony of the British colonial rule and the subsequent oppressive regimes in Iraq, but also in seeking to rebuild what the author called 'Brave New Worlds': an idealized imaging of his 'lost homeland' and the free verse formal innovation which he primarily created as a successful response to the Western cultural challenge." — Mounah A. Khouri, University of California, Berkeley