The Magazine Shi‛r and the Poetics of Modern Arabic Poetry

by Basilius Bawardi (Author)
©2019 Monographs 320 Pages


The book comprehensively examines the Sh‘ir magazine published in Beirut (1957-1964; 1967-1969). The magazine’s editors sought to generate a profound change in the role and form of Arabic poetry as a tool to support a significant leap forward in the Arab thinking and writing. The book traces the mechanism of development of the magazine’s content and the thinking of its main editors, through in-depth textual analysis of the three main branches of the magazine’s content: translated poetry, original Arabic poetry, and articles of literary criticism. Each of these branches is accompanied by a complete appendix of relevant items. The analysis revals the significant role that Sh‘ir played in enabling a new kind of secular and personal poetics, including that of prose-poetry and vision poems.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Dedication Page
  • Note on Transliteration
  • Acknowledgments
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Preface
  • Book Structure
  • Additional Sources
  • 1 Majallat Shi‘r: The Dynamics of Development
  • Introduction
  • The Dynamics of Development
  • The Editorial Board
  • The Index and the Columns
  • Definition of the Majalla
  • Indexing the Contents of the Magazine
  • Closure of the Magazine
  • Summary
  • 2 Translation as a Medium for Cultural Change: Seeking Internationality
  • Introduction
  • The Role of Translation
  • Translation and Rewriting between the Maneuvering Text and the Textual Grids
  • Majallat Shi‘r and the Translation Project: Rewriting as a Tool of Cultural Interaction
  • Summary
  • 3 Majallat Shi‘r and Arab Poetics: Towards a Poem of Revelation (Kashf) and Vision (Ru’yā)
  • Introduction
  • The First Statement
  • Majallat Shi‘r and the Poetic Process: Primary Definitions
  • The Free Text Project: Prose-Poetry and the Prose-Poem
  • The Visual Poem289
  • Summary
  • 4 Shi‘r and the Critical Pursuit: Revealing the Poem of Revelation
  • Introduction
  • Shi‘r and the Critical Track: The Foundational Pillars
  • Other Critical Corners
  • Summary
  • Epilogue: Shi‘r Soars to the Sīmūrg
  • Appendixes
  • Bibliography
  • Index



Modernism1 evolved as an attempt to explore the compound interactions of the universe in order to reach a continuous life entity that moves in a futuristic direction that knows neither calmness nor static criteria.2 In its constant dynamism, it clashes with the stability that emanates from symbols of the past that try to maintain the position of tribal postulates. Culture is considered the most important contributive stream in modernism because it is the only one that combines imagined and desired life with the actual lived reality of people, who are constantly searching for a better life. Therefore, the individual first delves into the depths of humanity in order to explore and clarify its dynamics, and second, explores the individualism that distinguishes him from the community and brings the definitions of his belonging and identity back to himself. In the context of modernism, the individual belongs to the community through his creative individualism, and he voluntarily harmonizes with it without dissipating within it in such a way that makes him lose his personal identity.

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In general, modernism starts as a penetration of the prevailing situation. Through its movement into its new worlds, it follows two parallel and antithetical tracks. However, as it builds itself up, it destroys many of the traditional existing elements, while at the same time trying to cling to its past in an attempt to enrich itself with the most flourishing and thriving moments of that past. Thus, modernism includes a time-motion that moves towards the future through the present while often using the past as a stepping stone towards the future. However, this time-motion is likely to change according to the modernist doctrine. Moreover, some scholars refuse to have any connection with the past and cut their ties with it as a representative of imitation and absolutely deny interest in anything that comes from traditions and heritage.

As a phenomenon of civilization, Arab modernism does not differ from other similar cultural phenomena in other civilizations.3 However, the Arab cultural project has constantly been led by the religious branch of its culture, and therefore, the creative and linguistic processes have always moved within this frame. Consequently, for the most part this is mostly a stream that follows the religious heritage4.

If the central meaning of the term ‘modernism’ is based on the “concept of difference and contrast of all the modernist versions with everything that is traditional, stereotypical, and unilateral; and [if] this pluralism, which is one of the features of modernism, is nothing but a consequence of the inability of the old structures to solve the problems that raise consciousness, whose signs appeared clearly at the beginning of the age of enlightenment, and which expressed its desire to break the previous eras as a result of the cognitive boycott to which the ←14 | 15→philosophical thinking or modern metaphysics called for, and which subjugated the cognitive values to the data of the mind, evidence and experimentation”5, the experience of this ‘meaning’ appeared clearly in all its dimensions in the effectiveness of Beirut-based Majallat Shi‘r (Poetry Magazine), which appeared in two phases: the first from 1957 to 1964 and the second from 1967 to 1969.

This book explores the effectiveness of Majallat Shi‘r and its role in driving poetic and cultural Arab modernism towards a daring, clashing, and rebellious practice. The magazine was established in the 1950s, a period of emancipation and formation.6 This was a time of broad literary and cultural confusion as part of the search for a national, political and social identity.

The questions that arise here are: What kind of an Arab person will be born out of this conflict? What model should he follow in order to assert and fulfill his individual and collective self? How can he accept scientific and cultural developments knowing that the dominant model is Western colonial? These are the questions that inspired the Lebanese poet and critic, Yūsuf al-Khāl (1917–1987), to establish a literary magazine focused on poetry and steer it towards international paths of open horizons by adopting the Western cultural type as a basic role model through which the Arab individual could achieve the desired cultural and intellectual internationality, as well as his desired cultural and intellectual openness.

With its comprehensive overview of the Arabic poetry, translated poetry, and critical articles published in Majallat Shi‘r, this book defines the dimensions of the literary direction the magazine adopted and the identity of the sources from which it drew the foundations of its modernism and creative facets. In addition, the book analyzes the extent of the magazine’s effect on poetic Arab modernism and its significance in view of the development of Arabic literature, which is imbued with a ‘modernism’ that was either its contemporary or has been developing from its vision till the present day.

Moreover, the book traces the discussion and debate surrounding the role of the magazine by investigating the content of the accusations against it implying that the magazine sought to undermine the foundations of Arab heritage represented in standard Arabic (fuṣḥā) and traditional Arabic poetry. It also explores the essence of the glorification of its role in such a way that renders it a turning point regarding anything pertaining to the development of modern Arabic poetics.

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This research is based on an exhaustive survey of the dynamics of the development of Majallat Shi‘r as a laboratory for creativity and modern Arabic poetics. Similarly, it deals with the vision of the cultural interaction that this magazine brought at the macro level. Such an analysis enables a view of the development of modern Arabic literature, especially the various aspects of poetry through its clashes with the prevailing fundamentalist trend. This allows us to understand the literary relations that led to the development of the Arab cultural movement over a long period of time – from the period of the \magazine’s publication and its subsequent influence. However, this comprehensive perspective does not come not at the expense of the micro literary level as represented in the mention of specific poems of a certain poet and the degree of influence of that poet on the literary movement, poetically, theoretically and critically.

Methodologically, the research underpinning this book explored the treatment of the literary material as a product created by the effect of elements outside the literary framework, in this case, the effect of national political ideology on producing literature that bears the features of ideological commitment, and the theory of modern literature that sees it as a network independent of external influences, emphasizing the analysis of the selected literary texts. For this research I analyzed several literary texts, most of which belong to recognized official literature dealing with commonly accepted social and political subjects, but also non-official texts, written in colloquial spoken Arabic due to their significance with regard to the attitude of the magazine members, specifically Yūsuf al-Khāl, towards both fuṣḥā and spoken Arabic.

Two levels interact here in terms of the dynamics of literature. The first is synchronic, dealing with literature within a definite time period to reveals specific interactions during that time. The second is diachronic, covering the literary developments that took place during different periods.7 The magazine’s interactions apply to both levels as I relate to both its historical impact on Arabic literature during its publication and following its closure, and with the degree of its effectiveness in outlining the characteristics of modern Arabic poetics following its popularity in the Arabic literary arena.

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Book Structure

This book explores what Majallat Shi‘r introduced as an alternative to the existing literary situation in the 1960s. In other words, it attempts to evaluate this alternative and examine its sources and its effects on the Arab literary arena by investigating all aspects of how Majallat Shi‘r undertook to promote and promulgate its project of linguistic and cultural modernism.

The key points and the main issues dealt with in each chapter are presented below.

Introduction: This chapter introduces key theoretical issues and the research methodology underlying the book, detailing the key sources relied upon, as well as a brief overview of chapter contents.

Chapter One: Majallat Shi‘r: The Dynamics of Development. This chapter explains the historical development of Majallat Shi‘r by exploring its issues and the key people involved in influencing its literary direction, especially its two pillars: founder, Yūsuf al-Khāl (1917–1987), and poet ’Adūnīs (‘Alī ’Aḥmad Sa‘īd) (b. 1930) who played a major role in its development. This chapter also looks at the literary path the magazine took and how this led to fierce debates with Majallat al-Ādāb (Magazine of Literatures) and other literary and journalistic bodies. Amidst a stormy national and literary atmosphere that was confused regarding future paths, the magazine initially tried to establish a different kind of poetic and literary activity that stressed the individual during the period of Arab nationalism, as it sought collective and common harmonizing elements among the people. The chapter also relates to the magazine’s treatment of Arab heritage and how it changed direction from being very reserved, or even anti-heritage, to being sympathetic towards certain selected spiritual insights. Its early ‘anti-heritage’ approach led to a severe conflict with Lebanese and other Arab literary sectors, which accused its members of attempting to destroy Arab heritage. This debate led to internal conflict among its members, which, in turn, led some of them to leave the magazine, including ’Adūnīs, whose reasons for leaving his editorial position will also be discussed later. The chapter also deals with the general reasons behind the closure of both phases of the magazine and suggests the real causes that twice forced al-Khāl to give up his dream. This chapter also discusses editing issues by examining the various columns in the magazine, how they were indexed, and how they defined themselves. It also looks at the people involved in the editing and at how the editorial board affected the magazine’s general literary and cultural orientation.

Chapter Two: Translation as a Medium for Cultural Change: Seeking Internationality. This chapter deals with the project of translating foreign texts and publishing ←17 | 18→them regularly in Majallat Shi‘r. Each issue of the magazine included translated texts. These texts were usually followed by a short biography of the poet and his works. These texts constituted half of the magazine’s content, a clear indication of their centrality in the magazine. This chapter also touches upon the form and quality of translation and their effect on the Arab reader, as well as their role as a serious and significant rival to Arab texts, enabling comparisons that allowed the Arab reader and poet alike to break out of the local creative circle and connect to different international cultures.

This chapter also discusses the language of translation and the preferred translator, since the language used in these translations played a significant role in understanding the cultural message the magazine was trying to disseminate. Moreover, we shall see that the majority of these texts were translated into prose, which enabled an intensification of the poetic Arabic sentence and consequently, to advance Arabic free verse and prose-poems. Since the literary text is the critic’s material and the touchstone of his theories, I deemed it appropriate to analyze some selected samples to help crystallize the general outline of the method of translation in Majallat Shi‘r. Finally, this chapter traces the French and English source texts and investigates their influence on the poetic and literary works in the magazine, which indicates, as we shall see, the dominance of the cultural atmosphere of these texts over the literary and cultural direction of the magazine.

Chapter Three: Majallat Shi‘r and Arab Poetics: Towards the Poem of Revelation (Kashf) and Vision (Ru‘yā). This chapter examines the original Arabic poems chosen and shows how Majallat Shi‘r was a laboratory for modernism and how it took the modern Arabic poem into new and different dimensions, thus making it the more mature founder of the concept of Arabic poetic modernism, as it tried to penetrate the traditional foundations.

I begin the chapter by analyzing the first issue of the magazine as it represents the literary and cultural direction the magazine intended to take. I analyze the general poetic terms that stem from the first issue of the magazine based on my textual analysis of its poems and articles. I note that Majallat Shi‘r announces the birth of a new concept of poetry that indicates penetration of the common prevailing tribal concept and depends on continuous discovery through poetry about the truth of the human condition. I point out the efforts to change the poetic concept from its superficial descriptive horizontality into a deep verticality concerned with the spiritual dimensions of Man. I show that the magazine dealt with the poetic process by broadening the space of the sources that inspired it with their poetics. In other words, it departed from the limitations of Arabic expression confined to the traditional religious frame, and moved into a broader horizon of expression that sought to replace this with internationalization and ←18 | 19→cultural pollination. The chapter also deals with the magazine’s basic definitions of modern Arabic poetics trying to outline these definitions and trace the developments the magazine underwent on this issue: the shift of the Arabic poem/qaṣīda from one governed by the rules of rhyme and meter into something completely free of any textual or para-textual rules. This development is in line with the atmosphere of freedom of speech that the magazine called for and with its absorption with the role of the individual; its support of the active, rebellious individual who refuses to coexist with his era and with the Voltaire’s ‘ego’, and instead pushes towards the modern surpassing and transcending ego that rejects what he sees around him.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (November)
personal poetry prose poetry literary criticism translated poetry Arabic culture vision poem
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019., 320 pp., 2 tables

Biographical notes

Basilius Bawardi (Author)

Basilius Bawardi‘s (Senior Lecturer at the Dept. of Arabic, Bar-Ilan University, Israel) interdisciplinary reasearch focuses on modern Arabic literature from the 19th century on, especially the link between ideology and literature, and the emergence of new genres, and Arabic detective writing.


Title: The Magazine Shi‛r and the Poetics of Modern Arabic Poetry
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322 pages