Category Archives: Uncategorized

Blurring the Lines between the Human and Non-Human: Pre-Islamic Hunting Poetry with James Montgomery, Part II

Monday, July 31st, 2023 8:15 am

This second portion of AJ Naddaff’s conversation with James Montgomery about Fate the Hunter further delves into the anthology and its portrayal of time and the lines between human and non-human. Montgomery also shares his thoughts on ecocriticism and using contemporary theories in reading poetry of the past.

James Montgomery speaking in an event at the NYUAD Institute.

AJN: Carrying on from our prior discussion of fate, can you talk about the phenomenon of time in this collection?

JM: In Fate the Hunter, when the poet or the human animal does the hunting, they become the machine of fate. They inflict death on non-humans so as to reach a moment in which time stands still. The hunter enjoys a moment of near immortality that takes them out of the normal frame of existence.I think that in the hunting poem, generally when it emerges as a fully fledged genre, you get the sense of the poem trying to recreate the moment of the hunt and also trying to convey some of this notion that time is almost imploded.

AJN: As if trying to conquer time in some way. (more…)

A Cathedral of Sound: Pre-Islamic Hunting Poetry with James Montgomery

Friday, July 7th, 2023 8:00 am

In this latest addition to the LAL blog, AJ Naddaff sits down with James Montgomery to discuss his latest book Fate the Hunter. For the first portion of this two-part interview, Montgomery talks over what intrigues him about the work of Imruʾ al-Qays, al-Shanfarā, and jāhilī poetry in general. He discusses the rich sounds of the poetry as well as the origin of the book’s title.

AJ Naddaff: Thanks so much for joining us today. Oh, hi there.

James Montgomery: This is my Jack Russell terrier—he will be with us for part of the conversation too.

AJN: Beautiful. In anticipation of today’s conversation, are terriers hunting dogs?

JM: They were used on farms for killing rats, so they have very developed paws with sharp nails and quite slender back legs because all their energy is front-loaded.

AJN: Interesting. Moving on to the topic at hand, I want to follow up on a point from the last time we spoke. You said that you were studying Ancient Greek, Latin, and Arabic at the University of Glasgow when you discovered the pre-Islamic poet Imru’ al-Qays, describing it as “unlike any universe that [you had] entered before.” You have a special relationship to Shanfarā, too, and the pre-Islamic jāhilī corpus in general, as evidenced by this new book. Can you talk about what it is about this poetry that speaks to you? (more…)

Muslim-Christian Relations in Medieval Middle East Monasteries: An Interview with Hilary Kilpatrick

Tuesday, June 20th, 2023 11:03 am

In this second portion of a two-part interview about The Book of Monasteries, AJ Naddaff speaks with Hilary Kilpatrick about her approach to translation, the text’s importance, the present day state of some of the monasteries highlighted, and Ghassan Kanafani’s “Men in the Sun”. This is a repost of this interview.

AJN: What was your translation process for this text?

HK: I was really very nervous about translating the poetry. But going through the editing process of LAL, in the end, I suppose it turned out to be all right. It was really problematic: How do you translate Arabic poetry? I didn’t really think of trying to do anything in English meter, but I would have perhaps liked to be a bit more experimental in the way I translated. There’s been a lot of work on translation theory, and I don’t really find that I use that very much. It’s more trying to visualize what the person is saying or imagine what the person is saying and putting it across in English, which sounds very impressionistic. (more…)

Fine Poetry, Fun Anecdotes, & Life Lessons in Medieval Middle East Monasteries: An Interview with Hilary Kilpatrick

Friday, May 5th, 2023 8:00 am

The Book of Monasteries transports readers to a world of Christian monasteries rarely seen by outsiders. Written in the late tenth century and set across the Arab world—from modern day Iraq through southern Anatolia to Egypt—the book is not of the typical themes of prayer, asceticism, and withdrawal from the world. Instead, you find a rich tapestry of poetry, political intrigue, and even murder. In this two-part series, translator Hilary Kilpatrick sits down with A.J. Naddaff to discuss the content, medieval authors, topography, wine drinking, and pluralism.

AJN: Your expertise and publications range from al-Raghib al-Isfahani in the 10th century to Ghassan Kanafani in the 20th. You have also been one of the first in the Western academy to research Ottoman Arabic literature in the 17th and 18th centuries. What sparked your interest in a book on medieval Arabic monasteries?

HK: I bought a copy years ago. I was a student at Oxford, and there was a wonderful bookshop called Thornton’s, which doesn’t exist anymore. It was on four stories, and they had bookshelves on the top floor  with Arabic books, including The Book of Monasteries, which was a 1962 edition. It sat on my shelf for years. And it was only really when my husband asked me if I could write a paper for a book he was editing on Muslim views of non-Muslims in adab literature [(belles lettres] that I pulled it out. That was around the time when I was working on the Aghani [Book of Songs], and it goes from there.

AJN: I’m curious as well if you can speak to why this text is important to you on an individual level.

HK: One of the key motives for a lot of my work has been to try and correct misconceptions. That’s the reason why I translated Kanafani’s work. And on a more academic level, it was why I got interested in al-Aghani, because when I started working on it, people just thought of it as a useful source for all kinds of information, and they didn’t ask why it was written the way it was. And the same thing, I think, with the monasteries book, because at least since 2000, the situation of minorities in the Middle East has deteriorated so much. (more…)

Between a rock and a high place: Picturing Bedouin geographies in Ibn Sbayyil’s Arabian Romantic

Friday, April 7th, 2023 8:00 am

In this blog, PhD student Maggie Freeman discusses and illustrates through a series of photographs the landscapes and geographies in Ibn Sbayyil’s Arabian Romantic: Poems on Bedouin Life and Love. The Arabian desert provided rich imagery for Najdi poets such as Ibn Sbayyil. 19th and 20th century photographs help bring to life the places described by Ibn Sbayyil and the people who occupied them.   

The poetic corpus of Arabian Romantic: Poems on Bedouin Life and Love, composed by ʿAbdallāh ibn Sbayyil during the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Saudi Arabia’s Najd province, represents a classic example of what translator Marcel Kurpershoek calls the “romantic school” of Najdi poetry. These romantic poets exhibited what anthropologist Saad Sowayan in turn has called “desert nostalgia…a yearning for Bedouin life.” Poet Ibn Sbayyil was not a nomadic Bedouin himself, but rather the headman of the town of Nifī in central Arabia, where Bedouin tribes would camp during the summer months. Like many sedentary Arabs during this period, Ibn Sbayyil idealized Bedouin lifestyles, his poems expressing both an awareness of his differences from the Bedouin as well as a longing for the mobility and freedom that nomadism seemed to him to entail.

Although he himself is thought to have traveled little, Ibn Sbayyil’s poetry alludes to a vast and varied world beyond his doorstep in the small town of Nifī; a landscape populated by Bedouin tribes whose lives are organized around access to key ecological features such as water and pastureland. (more…)

The Mundane and the Magical: The Book of Travels and Early Science Fiction and Fantasy

Friday, March 24th, 2023 8:00 am

In this blog post, writer and editor J.D. Harlock reflects on the influence of Hannā Diyāb on Western literature, especially the genres of science fiction and fantasy.

Even though few of us have heard of him, Hannā Diyāb is, without a doubt, one of the most influential storytellers to have ever graced our pages. Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp, Alī Bābā and the Forty Thieves, The Story of Prince Ahmed and the Fairy Perī-Bānū, and The Ebony Horse are but four of the fourteen fantastical tales that Diyāb offered up for inclusion in Les mille et une nuits — the French translation of One Thousand and One Nights — and their impact on world culture is inescapable.

Though he went uncredited for the tales of his that were included in the French translation, scholars of the Nights were aware of the existence of the Syrian Maronite storyteller and his defining role in the creation of the most famous stories in the collection. However, it was not until Diyāb’s Book of Travels was identified in the Vatican’s archives centuries later that tangible evidence of his unique contributions to the Nights was uncovered, and, in turn, his advancements in the field of speculative fiction were finally made clear.


A Journey to Seventeenth-Century Rural Egypt

Friday, March 10th, 2023 8:00 am

In this blog post, Tom Abi Samra writes about his journey to becoming a scholar of Arabic literature and his insights from reading a seventeenth-century work.

Once upon a time, not a long time ago, as an undergraduate at NYU Abu Dhabi, I was studying to become a physicist or a chemist. But the uncertainty of lab work and the constant possibility of failure scared me. So, I thought, I’d become a computer scientist; the apparent certainty of computer code was comforting. As I navigated my transition into computer science, I enrolled in a course on modern Arabic literature. “I miss writing essays,” I told myself. In high school, I had read Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North and Naguib Mahfouz’s Midaq Alley, and I had enjoyed textual analysis and essay writing. After reading Elias Khoury’s Little Mountain and discussing the Lebanese Civil War in my college class—after having heard stories of the war from my family—I began thinking that modern Arabic literature is my calling. I wanted to become a Marxist critic of modern Arabic literature. But this urge was suppressed as I fumbled through the writing of my computer code. It was only as I was racing against the deadline to complete my final paper for the literature class, on Emile Habiby’s The Pessoptimist (perhaps Khoury was too close to home), that I finally decided to study Arabic literature. I remember a distinct feeling of pleasure while writing that essay. Despite the pressure of the deadline, I was enjoying myself; the “assignment” didn’t feel like a task to be completed.


Manchester City and al-Mayidi ibn Zahir: The power and prestige of Emirati poetry and sport

Friday, March 3rd, 2023 8:00 am

Soccer ball by jarmoluk. CC0 via Pixabay.

In this blog post, PhD student Rhiannon Garth Jones explores the construction of a national identity and projection of power in the United Arab Emirates by comparing Emirati poetry traditions with the UAE’s involvement in elite international sport. She uses the poem “Intelligent Speech and Borders of the Land” by al-Mayidi ibn Zahir and the Manchester City soccer team to argue that both poetry and sport are languages to project identity and power that are grounded in millennia-long traditions.

Imagine a rich person, eager for prestige. They spend their money to attract the best talent to their city. They flaunt their facilities, brandish their wealth, and make grand claims about the future of their project. A contest is declared; fans and commentators flock to see for themselves. The buzz of excitement builds up, a hush of anticipation signals the start, well-rehearsed jibes fly against the opposition, roars greet a successful shot, the crowd basks in the satisfaction of a victory well-fought and bragging rights secured. Legends are created, embellished, and handed down by word of mouth. Time passes and fortunes change, but the locals remember the glory days.


What Culinary History Can Teach Us: Tracing Dishes Through the Library of Arabic Literature

Friday, February 24th, 2023 8:00 am

In this blog post, Leonie Rau writes about what premodern Arab recipes reveal about the cultures and societies they originate from.

The study of premodern Arabic cookbooks has, happily, received a fair share of attention this past decade, with more and more texts made accessible to scholars and the interested public through new editions and translations, such as that of the 13th-century Syrian cookbook Scents and Flavors. Evolved from “the personal recipe collections that had been fashionable for gentlemen of the pre-Islamic Persian court to keep,” such cookbooks reflect the culinary tastes and trends of their times and predate the first extant European recipe collections by several centuries, as translator Charles Perry explains in his introduction.

These cookbooks lend themselves brilliantly to teaching the premodern Arab world, as they offer multiple angles of engagement. (more…)

An Act of Shared Solitude: Reading The Book of Travels Together on #BookTwitter

Monday, February 13th, 2023 7:00 am

In this post, Reem Adnan Khayyal introduces us to the #BookTwitter community and describes her experience leading an online group read of Hanna Diyab’s The Book of Travels.

On December 1st, we started #Diyab22, in which readers from all around the world were invited to read Hanna Diyab’s The Book of Travels as our #booktwitter read for the month of December, with readers sharing their favorite quotes, thoughts, comments, questions and trivia using the hashtag #Diyab22.

Taking part in online group reads, we have learned to read differently. In an attempt to alternate between the Western canon and Eastern corpus of literature, the translations of the Library of Arabic Literature have played an integral part. If East and West are to complement each other, the East is best experienced by reading the LAL blue books, which make Arabic literature available to the English-language audience.

Each month, we read one, sometimes two books, while sharing quotes and trivia and generally bonding over the books we read together. Very often, it is a transformative reading experience. (more…)