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AIYS at MESA 2022

Updated: Nov 26, 2022

AIYS will sponsor a panel at MESA entitled Yemeni Poetry in Perspective. Session II-08, Thursday, December 1 at 5:30 pm.

محمد محمود الزبيري

Panel Description: Yemen is renowned for its poetry, both classical and vernacular, over the centuries. Poetry in Yemen remains a vibrant form of communication on a wide variety of issues in addition to its literary qualities. It was very much alive during Yemen's Arab Spring and resonates today in all parts of the country. The papers in this panel explore different kinds of Yemeni poetic genre from the 12th century to the present. One examines an urjūza as an almanac poem on the months by Nashwān b. Sa‘īd al-Ḥimyarī (d. 1178 CE) with seasonal details on the weather, health and diet. Although not specifically relevant to the context of Yemen, it draws on the wider distribution of medical advice at the time. Another paper analyzes three 20th century poets from the southern highland region of Ibb, including the role of qāt in composition of the meter, rhyme, and images of the poem. Poets from Ibb reflect the importance of agriculture in one of the most fertile parts of Yemen. The presenter is personally familiar with two of the poets. A third paper looks at the famous revolutionary poet al-Zubayrī (d. 1965), whose socially committed odes are well respected across the political spectrum. This paper places two of al-Zubayrī’s published poetic collections within the context of Yemeni folk poetry and reflects it against the longstanding tradition of composition and performance of oral and written qaṣīdas. It is argued that popular Yemeni practices should be studied as a continuation of the long tradition of Yemeni poetry and not simply as an imported concept of modernity shared by Arab poets across the region. A final paper examines contemporary Yemeni zāmil during the Houthi period and throughout the ongoing war in Yemen. These short poetic forms have a political edge, to recruit fighters and frame public response to wartime events. This paper addresses the Houthi use of zāmil as a religious ideology that is spread over diverse media and has widespread reach. The paper is based on conversations with Yemenis living in Sanaa, Cairo and Aden, as well as analysis of zāmil on YouTube, Telegram, and Twitter.” Chair: W. Flagg Miller --


Daniel Martin Varisco The Late 12th Century CE Almanac Poem of Nashwān b. Sa‘īd al-Ḥimyarī The Yemeni scholar and poet Nashwān b. Sa‘īd al-Ḥimyarī (d. 573/1117), most known for his Arabic dictionary Shams al-‘ulūm, was also a poet. One of his surviving poems is an urjūza on the solar calendar known as the Syrian or Rūmī months, starting with Tishrīn al-Awwal (October). This paper will edit and translate the poem, analyzing its relation to similar Yemeni almanac poems, especially that of ‘Abd Allāh b. As‘ad al-Yāfi‘ī (d. 768/1367). The poem relates the months to the stellar calendar of 28 asterisms known as the anwā' or manāzil al-qamar. Although brief, there is mention of the changes in weather affecting health, diet, clothing, sex and other activities. Such information related to a scholarly astronomical and medical tradition that did not necessarily reflect usage in Yemen, except as a guide. In his study of the poetry of Nashwān, Qāḍī Ismā‘īl al-Akwa‘ notes that he often enraged his contemporaries, especially the Zaydī elite at the time. Unlike the formal view of the first Zaydī imam, al-Hādī ilā al-Ḥaqq, Nashwān believed that any reputable person could become imam, not necessarily from the Prophet's descendants. It is reported that he attempted to become imam himself. Not surprisingly, he praised the Southern Arabs of Yemen over the incoming Zaydīs, resulting in much condemnation by them. His response to the abuse was defiant, as expressed in one of his poems: "The lions tried to seize me, but in vain, How then can ants succeed, or bedbugs!".

Sam Liebhaber Muḥammad al-Zubayrī: Between literary neo-classicism and oral folk poetry During the 2011 Yemeni uprising, demonstrators in Sana’a hoisted placards featuring the image of Muḥammad Maḥmūd al-Zubayrī (d. 1965), a pre-eminent figure of the republican revolution against the Zaydī Imāmate of North Yemen in 1962 whose ardent, socially committed odes (Ar. qaṣīda) called for the establishment of a modern and progressive state (Bonnefoy,“The Structuration of the Yemeni Revolution”, 2012). While non-Yemeni scholars generally relegate al-Zubayrī’s poetic craft to the margins of his national service, Yemenis view his poetic works as central to it; indeed, his adoption of a modern poetic mode is inextricably linked to his actions and advocacy on behalf of a modern Yemeni republic (al-Maqāliḥ, al-Zubayrī: Ḍamīr al-yaman al-thaqāfī wa-l-waṭanī, 1986). This paper places al-Zubayrī’s published poetic collections, Revolution of Poetry (1962) and A Prayer in Hell (1964), within the broader context of Yemeni folk poetry and reflects it against the longstanding tradition of composition and performance of oral and written qaṣīdas (Caton, Peaks of Yemen I Summon, 1990). My purpose is to interrogate the notion of “modernity” that is so thoroughly linked to the poetic oeuvre of al-Zubayrī, and by extension, his prescription for a modern Yemeni republic. In linking al-Zubayrī historically and aesthetically to nationalist poets from elsewhere in the Arab world such as Aḥmad Shawqī, Ḥāfiẓ Ibrāhīm, and Ma’rūf al-Ruṣāfī, (al-Qirshī, Shiʿr al-Zubayrī: Bayn al-naqd al-ʾadabī wa-ʾawhām al-takrīm, 1990), al-Zubayrī is acknowledged as a poet in the “neo-classical” vein, that is to say, a modern poet seeking inspiration in classical Arabic poetic antecedents (Haydar, “What is Modern About Modern Arabic Poetry”, 1981). Such a view overlooks the fact that the Yemeni popular poetic tradition does not acknowledge any discontinuity between a “now” and “then”; as a result, Yemen’s poetic culture obviates the need for a neo-classical stage in its evolution towards a modernist practice and aesthetic. By treating al-Zubayrī as a participant in an ongoing Yemeni folk poetic tradition – not as a “neo-classical” pre-modernist poet – we can recognize the popular, indigenous roots of the Yemeni nationalist qaṣīda and thus, the rhetorical underpinnings of the Yemeni republic itself. In short, my paper urges a look towards popular Yemeni practices rather than imported concepts of foreign modernity as the seedbed of Yemen’s mid-20th century revolution.

Emily Sumner A Dialogic Approach to Chanted Poetry in Yemen's Civil War The Houthi zāmil-- chanted dialect poetry-- constitutes the backbone to the Yemeni armed group’s local conscription and international media campaigns. These recorded poems are accompanied by a montage of battle scenes and hundreds of comments on social media platforms such as YouTube and Telegram, where they enjoy millions of views in Yemen and transregionally. In areas under Houthi control, poems play in public and private spaces: the marketplace, homes, and at special occasions. The Houthis intend for these poems to recruit fighters and tune the public’s response to current events, such as a recent air raid or ongoing battle. Yet they enjoy popularity among diverse audiences, including those who resist the Houthis. While there is a general consensus among political analysts that the zāmil is an essential weapon for the Houthis, this paper resists the tendency to reduce them to propaganda. Instead, it takes a dialogic approach to build a theory of the Houthi zāmil in conversation with the literary form and Yemeni interlocutors. Part one of this paper is a close, comparative reading of a Houthi zāmil from January 2022 and 1960s folk zāmil. Reflecting the paper’s method, the folk zāmil genre is distinctly dialogic. It features poetic exchanges for specific occasions, historically performed among Yemeni tribes to exchange views during a dispute, welcome guests, and motivate fighters for battle (al-Ḥārithī 2004). Anthropologists characterize it as persuasive rhetoric and a form of moral discourse in the public sphere (Caton 1990; Miller 2004), while Yemeni literary scholars typify it as an artistic expression of communal, tribal feeling and ideology (al-Baraddūnī 1998; al-Shāmī 2007). This paper argues that the Houthi zāmil shifts the discursive emphasis of the genre from tribal to religious, a marked departure from the folk zāmil. Part two argues that the Houthi poems’ power can only be partially attributed to this discursive shift. Instead, the poetry’s other formal features, such as rhythm and melody, interact with individual agency, gender and sociopolitical position to locate them in an economy of affect (Ahmed 2004). Research is based on structured conversations with Yemenis living in Sanaa, Cairo, and Aden and an analysis of social media interactions with the poetry. It prioritizes bringing dialogue with those experiencing the poetry into conversation with literary analysis. Results shed light on poetry’s role in broader sociopolitical movements, especially poetry similar to the Houthi zāmil, such as the Gulf shayla and poetry of Hezbollah and al-Qaeda.

Muhammad Aziz Three Poets from Yemen All over the Arab world, poetry is recited and sung, and especially so in Yemen. Although the function of Yemeni poetry is mainly dedicated for special occasions such as weddings, birthdays, historical events and political views, its significance for everyday life is undisputable. Notwithstanding trauma of the current civil war among the Yemenis, the Yemeni poetry is thriving and enjoying the profuse production of poetical collections. In this presentation, I will be talking about three poets who come from the region of Ibb in the middle of Yemen. This geographical area is famous for inspiring poets due to its uncontaminated environment. This can be attested by a variety of factors such as its green agriculture, its fresh air, and beautiful sceneries that can be appreciated by travelers. One of these poets is Muḥammad Aḥmad ‘Abūd Bā Salāmah who was born in Ibb in 1934 and died in 1993. The second poet is ‘Abdulkarim al-Shuwaiṭer, who was born in Ibb in 1950, and who is still alive, and who experienced the uprising of the Arab spring, including the one erupted in Sanaa (the capital of Yemen). I have known him personally very well more than the other two. The third poet is Muḥammad Aḥmad Manṣūr who was born in 1930 in in the village of al-Ja’āshin in region of al-‘Udayn, which is one hour drive from the town of Ibb, and who died in 2021. My personal acquaintance with the two poets who were born in Ibb was due to their fame on the one hand, and their approachability on the other. I only know about the third poet from secondary sources and through his diwān (a collection of poems). In this presentation, I will be addressing some of the major themes of their poetry as can be documented in their diwāns. One aspect that needs some attention here is the fact that all three poets were regular chewers of qāt (a Yemeni plant that has a similar effect of a coffee). Many Yemeni poets believe that qāt is a helping factor in making their concentration focus on the meter, rhyme, and images of the poem. The idea of inspiration will be tackled when I examine some extracts of their poetry.

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