Classical Poems by Arab Women: A Bilingual Anthology
By Abdullah al-Udhari, ed.
2017, Saqi Books, 978-0-86356-047-7, $19.95 pb.
Reviewed by Piney Kesting on May 15, 2018
“Now let us listen to the women telling their story-poems and discover a humanity blurred by a man-made veil,” writes al-Udhari in his introduction to this compilation of poems by 50 women that was first published in 1999. Their diwans (collected poems), presented in Arabic and English, span 5,000 years and five eras: the al-Jahiliya (4000 BCE–622 CE); early Islamic (622–661); Umayyad (661–750); Abbasid (750–1258); and Andalus (711–1492). This esoteric anthology tells the story of early Arab poetry through the perspective of women such as Mahd al-Aadiyya (ca. 4000 BCE), whose poem is one of the earliest examples of a muzdawaj (heroic couplet); Laila bint Lukaiz, a leading poet of the fifth century CE; and Khansa, whose seventh-century work was greatly admired by the Prophet Muhammad. Short biographical sketches of each poet make the reader want to learn more about these outspoken, spirited women who contributed so much to the ancient classical Arab literary traditions.