Welcome to Moroccan poetry - January 2005

Homage to the prose poem


Jonathan Monroe, in his book A Poverty of Objects, defines the prose poem as “a genre that tests the limits of genre”. He adds that the prose poem “aspires to be poetic/literary language’s own coming to self-consciousness, the place where poet and reader alike become critically aware of the writer’s language”. These statements, although referring mainly to the modern American prose poem, are amazingly applicable to the modern Moroccan prose poem as well, in the tension it has kept generating until now. It suffices to note in this respect that the prose poem as a boiling critical issue in Morocco and the Arab world has not succeeded in being resolved since the late fifties.

Part of that tension in the Arab world is the fact that the form is hampered by a great misunderstanding on the level of definition. Most of the modern poetry received as ‘prose poem’ (qasidat annathr) is in fact ‘free verse’. This is so because the break with traditional metrical poetry in the 1940s in favor of ‘free verse’, was not as radical as it seemed to many at the time. What Arab poets conceived of as ‘free verse’ (shi’r hurr) was a form still governed by the metrical unit (taf’ilah). Thus, when they were first acquainted with the ‘prose poem’ as a form, the major feature that drew their attention was its radical break with that metrical unit (taf’ilah). Perhaps this can explain why nowadays most of the prose poetry in the Arab world looks to the western reader like free verse.

Indeed, as Monroe very insightfully noted in his statements above, the ‘prose poem’ in Morocco and the Arab world effected a noticeable shift in the reception of poetry. It heightened the readers’ and poets’ consciousness of the poeticity of Arabic, regardless of metrical, rhythmical or rhetorical devices. For the first time the poet had to face the challenging nakedness of language.

There aren’t many ‘prose poem’ writers in Morocco. Some of the major representatives of the form are Wassat Mubarak, Ahmed Barakat, Jalal El Hakmaoui, Abdel-ilah Salhi, Boujema El Aoufi, Mahmoud Abdelghani, Hassan El Ouazzani and Abdelaziz Azghay. In this issue I selected two such major representatives: Ahmed Barakat and Abdel-ilah Salhi. Both are considered by most fellow practitioners as skillful ‘craftsmen’ in the form. Abdel-ilah Salhi lives in Paris, while Ahmed Barakat died at the age of 34 in the prime of his creative career. Read on to know the rest of the story.

© Norddine Zouitni  
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