Cover image for Without an alphabet, without a face : selected poems
Without an alphabet, without a face : selected poems
Yūsuf, Saʻdī.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Saint Paul, MN : Graywolf Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xxiv, 186 pages ; 23 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PJ7874.U84 W58 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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This Iraq will reach the ends of the graveyard.
It will bury its sons in open country
generation after generation,
and it will forgive its despot...
It will not be the Iraq that once held the name.--from "A Vision"

Living his life in exile--a series of forced departures from numerous countries--Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef also writes outside the long-standing forms of traditional Arabic poetry. In the words of Salma Khadra, a critic of Arabic poetry, "Youssef's poetry abounds with the sights, smells, colors, and movement of life around him, depicting scenes of great familiarity and intimacy. This is a great achievement in the face of the rage and fury and technical complexities of much of the other poetry written by his contemporaries." Beautifully translated by Khaled Mattawa, Graywolf is proud to present Without an Alphabet, Without a Face to the United States.

Author Notes

Saadi Youssef is one of the leading poets of the Arab world. Born in 1932 in Basra, Iraq, he has published thirty volumes of poetry and seven books of prose. He left Iraq in 1979, and after many detours, he has recently settled in London.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Born in 1934 in Basra, Iraq, Youssef has recently settled in London after a peripatetic adult existence. These poems drawn from his 30 books are organized by date and place of composition: Baghdad (1972-1979), Algeria (1980), Yemen (1981-1982), Beirut (1979- 1982), with later stops in Paris, Amman, Damascus, Berlin, Belgrade and Cairo. The poems work brilliantly through their differing times and places, pushing unflinching description through a steady determination to foment a more just world: "This watered wine/ awaits its moment,/ maybe in the lines of a song/ or in a narrow bed." Often, Youssef will address anonymous figures he comes across, creating a sense of fellowship and shared longings from the slightest of materials: "Think about it:/ Can we talk in a restaurant/ or find a river to dip our hands in?/ Or should we be content with breathing,/ or let ourselves be snuffed out with a question?" The Libyan-born Mattawa (Ismailia Eclipse) emigrated to the U.S. in 1979, and does an excellent job rendering the layered complexity of the poems. Mattawa's translations of Youssef's declarative iterations-"The room shivers/ from distant explosions./ The curtains shiver./ Then the heart shivers./ Why are you in the midst of all this shivering?"-create a center around which these poems move. (Dec.) Forecast: Visa issues may prevent Youssef from touring in support of this book, but Mattawa, who has been publishing these translations in literary journals and who is based at the University of Texas at Austin, is available; look for strong support from campus reading series and post-colonial literature courses. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved