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  • Welcome to ALT Magazine & Press: Hazawi Prize Announces 2023 Shortlist: (Sana'a, Yemen) - The shortlist for the 2023 Hazawi Prize for Yemeni Literature has been revealed, announcing the ten writers who have been selected as finalists for this prestigious award.
  • Now in its second yearly round, the Hazawi Prize recognizes exceptional contributions to fiction in Yemeni literature. Organized by the Hazawi Cultural Foundation, this annual prize aims to promote Yemeni literature and support creative writers.
  • This year's shortlist features both emerging and renowned Yemeni authors. The ten works advancing to the final round of judging are:
  • - Abdullah Faisal shortlisted for his novel, Spirits and Secrets.
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  • The winner will be revealed at an award ceremony in Sana'a later where they will receive $1,500 USD. Second and third prizes of $1,000 USD each will also be awarded. All shortlisted works are celebrated for chronicling Yemen's rich culture and wartime experiences. This prestigious prize continues highlighting the nation's thriving literary community.

Defying Oblivion: Exploration of Poetry, Legacy and Mortality in Al-Shahat’s “Place Poems Upon My Grave”


Hatem Al-ShameaThe Haze of Desire: Exploring Narration, Gender Politics, and Social Critique in Ahmed Abdo’s “The Enamoured Demon-Possessed”


Mohammed Mohammed Al-Shahat Al-Raghy is a renowned Egyptian poet and former journalist. He was born in 1954 in the village of El-Dehrya located in Sharbeen district, Dakahlia governorate. Al-Shahat went on to receive his higher education, graduating from Cairo University’s prestigious Faculty of Arts. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the Department of Arabic Language at this prestigious public institution. For much of his career, Al-Shahat worked as a senior editor for the leading Arabic language daily newspaper Akhbar Al-Youm, rising to the position of Deputy Editor-in-Chief. He has since retired from journalism but remains deeply involved in Egypt’s cultural scene through his acclaimed works of poetry. Hailing from a small village in the Nile Delta, Al-Shahat exemplifies how education and talent can allow one to rise to influential roles within their society and make lasting artistic contributions on a national level.

“Place Poems Upon My Grave” is a moving free verse poem written by Mohammed Al-Shahat. Before delving into an in-depth examination of Al-Shahat’s poem, I will attempt to provide a historical and literary context surrounding free verse as a form.

Emergence of Free Verse

Free verse emerged in the early 20th century as poets rebelled against rigid poetic structures like rhyme and meter. It aimed to replace expectation with spontaneity and more organic language. American poets like Walt Whitman and Gertrude Stein were pioneers, rejecting traditional rules in favor of intuitive expression. This shift reflected modernism’s break with convention across art forms.

However, free verse was controversial among traditionalists who saw it as destroying poetry’s essence. Defenders viewed it as liberation, letting the poem’s innate rhythm exist freely without artificial constraints. It took decades for free verse to gain widespread acceptance as a legitimate poetic medium. Early modernists like Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot used it to forge new styles addressing industrialization’s psychological impacts.

Free verse arrived later in the Arab world as part of literary modernism in the late 1950s-60s. Poets like Mohammad Al-Maghut confronted classicism with looser forms mirroring inner thought. However, conservatism remained strong; pioneer Badr Shakir Al-Sayyab faced censorship. Gradually free verse became a vehicle for radical political dissent against bourgeois complacency in the post-colonial Arab world.

Al-Shahat emerged among a generation redefining Egyptian poetry using free verse inspired by Western innovators as well as traditional Arabic styles like prose poetry. His verses uniquely blend colloquial Egyptian dialect with formal Arabic, reflecting his roots in popular culture. Through layered symbolism and emotive empathy, he explores personal and social themes challenging censorship and authority.

Al-Shahat’s masterful use of free verse in “Place Poems Upon My Grave” establishes an intimate relationship with the reader through raw honesty and fluidity of form mirroring thought. There are no rigid boundaries between lines as ideas flow organically, mirroring the poet’s state of reflection in his final moments. Repetition of key phrases like “it is a moment” anchors the narrative while allowing deeper layers of association.

Through free verse, Al-Shahat achieves profound meditations on poetry, mortality and cultural memory that move beyond what strict structures could contain. His realistic treatment of emotions like fear of oblivion breaks conventions to deliver universal human insights. Without predefined rules handling meaning, readers experience revelations through their own interpretations in cooperation with the poet’s vision.

Al-Shahat’s masterful employment of free verse places him among the form’s great innovators internationally and within the Arab tradition. His poem utilizes free verse’s flexibility to its fullest potential, crafting a deeply moving reflection on the human experiences of creation, transience and legacy. This introductory analysis has aimed to contextualize free verse historically and situate Al-Shahat as one pioneering its use for intense poetic revelations beyond limitations. Further, the study provides a close reading and analysis of the poem “Place Poems Upon My Grave” by the renowned Egyptian poet Mohammed Al-Shahat. Through examining themes, imagery, structure, and language, it explores how the poem reflects on poetry, death, memory and legacy.

Formal Structure and Rhetorical Devices

Al-Shahat utilizes a loose ABAB rhyme scheme to structure his free verse poem “Place Poems Upon My Grave.” A rhyme scheme provides an underlying melodic cadence even as line lengths vary, lending the work lyrical flow. Unlike strict meter, this loose framework allows flexibility for emotive expression while maintaining tonal cohesion through echoing end rhymes.

The alternating rhymes create a gentle ebb and flow akin to waves lapping at a shore. This motion enhances the piece’s melancholy yet resilient mood as grief and solace subtly shift back and forth. Line lengths also vary to mirror thought’s natural fluidity rather than enforced regularity. Together, these techniques give Al-Shahat’s reflections an organic intimacy like quietly spoken musings.

Within this supple structure, Al-Shahat employs vivid imagery and metaphor to represent his inner experience. In line 3, his portrayal of taking refuge “in all my verses” personifies poetry as a shelter for his overflowing creative spirit. This simile assigns poetry aura of sanctuary and protection, emphasizing its crucial role in containing his emotions and creative energies.

In lines 4 and 5, the next metaphor describing “hanging images” upon his “poems’ necks” evokes visual adornment and elevation. Poetry visually supplements and brings prestige to the poet, while he draws inspiration from its ornamentation. This bilateral metaphor underscores poetry’s enrichment of self and reciprocal relationship with its author, as neither is complete without the other.

Repetition is used to underline particular laments, such as the line emphasizing no one tends to the neglected poems. Its mirroring structure imprints the plaintive sentiment upon the listener’s heart. Alliteration of “f” sounds in words like “fleeing anxieties” and assonance between similar vowel patterns imbue the language with musical attributes that enhance its lyricism.

Al-Shahat also artfully fluctuates between philosophical statements and more colloquial interjections. Abstract ruminations on poetry’s sociocultural role are effectively leavened by the simplicity of “Where are … ?” This tonal diversity parallels thought’s unpredictable course and gives readers space for personal connection despite invocations of grand themes.

Through skilled manipulation of formal components, Al-Shahat crafts an evocative work that immerses the audience in his intricate experience. His poem is a model of how rhetorical techniques can synergize to transmit profound meditations on life, art and heritage through the visceral power of lyrical expression. Form serves to amplify rather than constrain profundity. The poem’s rhetorical design pulls the reader deeply into its exploration of art, transience and legacy.

The Poet and His Poetry

In the opening lines of the poem, Al-Shahat depicts an intense welling up of creative inspiration within himself: “It is a moment, and my spirit overflows.” This outpouring of inner emotion and poetic spirit prompts the poet to seek an outlet and means of channeling his overflowing feelings. He finds refuge and shelter for his surging creative energies “in all my verses.”

By personifying his poetry as a place of refuge and shelter, Al-Shahat establishes an intimate connection between himself and his creative works. His poems are not mere words on a page, but an extension of his inner self that can offer protection and containment for his inspirations. This locates poetry at the very core of his emotional and intellectual being.

However, the safe harbor represented by his own verses is immediately contrasted with their precarious state and threat of disappearance. The metaphor of “piles of dust accumulating” upon the poems implies they have been abandoned and left to collect the debris of neglect. The dust threatens to slowly erase and bury the written words until they fade entirely from memory.

This image conveys Al-Shahat’s deep distress and anxiety about his works becoming forgotten and consigned to oblivion. As integral parts of himself stored within his verses, their potential obscurity or erasure amounts to the death of parts of his own spirit, intellect and legacy. The accumulating dust symbolizes the poet’s distress over oblivion creeping gradually to swallow up all evidence his poetry ever existed.

Al-Shahat’s concerns resonate profoundly with Ahmed Fuad Negm’s perspectives on poetry’s social function and role in his landmark essay “On Poetry and the Poet.” Like Al-Shahat, Negm saw poetry not merely as an aesthetic craft, but as inextricably tied to expressing the human experience and shaping communal consciousness.

In the essay, Negm asserts “poetry is a vital component of our mentality and the development of our souls” (Negm, 1990, p. 35). For both poets, verses were not separate from humanity’s intellectual and emotional experience, but rather intrinsic to forming individual and collective understanding of the world. Therefore, the potential loss of poetry threatened the deprivation of means of expression and communal bonds.

Negm warns that “killing poetry is killing a part of people” as it annihilates modes of comprehending reality (Negm, 1990, p.45). Similarly, Al-Shahat’s anguish over the prospect of his poem “Dying” can be understood as mourning the threatened deaths of parts of himself and society’s consciousnesses intertwined with his verses. Both poets locate poetry at the nexus between individual psychology, social knowledge, and historical continuity.

This sense of poetry’s inherently social role is echoed in Al-Shahat’s lament that future generations will “kill poetry” by removing its rhythmic, emotive forms. Here he directly references Abdel Wahhab Al-Bayyati’s criticism that modern commercialized Arab poetry lost its heart, soul and cadence, depriving readers of spiritual substance (Al-Bayyati, 1980).

Al-Shahat’s metaphor of stripped-down, de-rhythmicized poetry becoming “homeless” expresses how its social functions are undermined when disconnected from craft and humanity. Both he and Al-Bayyati saw standard poetic rules not as constraints, but as vessels allowing verses to effectively communicate experiences. The form was intrinsic to effectively fulfilling poetry’s purpose of enriching communal awareness and preserving history.

 Al-Shahat’s depiction of taking refuge in his own verses while fearing their obscurity presents poetry as profoundly intertwined with his inner being and social role. His distress deeply echoes Negm and Al-Bayyati’s notions of poetry’s significance in nurturing human understanding and cultural memory. For all three poets, the potential future “death” of poetry represented not just aesthetic loss, but an attack on the expression of communal consciousness through time.

Departure and Legacy

In the final stanza of his poem, Al-Shahat directly addresses his impending mortality, stating “It is a moment.” He acknowledges the inevitability of death’s approach with melancholic resignation, lamenting that “sorrow consumes me.” In this vulnerable moment pondering his demise, the poet finds solace in the legacy his verses may leave behind.

Al-Shahat takes comfort in his request that after death, “they place the poems upon my grave.” Through the preservation of his written works, he seeks a form of literary immortality and continued connection to the living world even after his physical demise. His poems will serve as his enduring memorial, keeping some fragments of his spirit and ideas alive for future generations through the written word.

This desire calls to mind Mahmoud Darwish’s celebrated poem “Read My Lips,” which also meditates on a poet facing mortality. In it, Darwish writes “Place my epitaph in these words, my living friends”, finding reassurance that his verses will serve as his gravestone inscription (Darwish, 2005). Both Al-Shahat and Darwish take solace in their poetry living on symbolically as posthumous markers and mementos of their existence.

However, the motivation goes deeper than mere vanity or longing for fame. For these poets, the preservation of their verses represents an intrinsic need to defy absolute extinction and transcend the transience of physical life. As Darwish put it, poetry allows one “to stare at death and defy transience” (Darwish, 2005, p.45). It provides an avenue for perpetual existence, however, abstracted, through perpetuating ideas and expressions beyond bodily demise.

This desire for literary immortality also speaks to Al-Shahat and Darwish’s notions of poetry’s inherent social function. As established works that have entered communal consciousness, their verses take on lives detached from the authors as carriers of meaning for generations of readers. Therefore, preserving poetry after death maintains a poet’s contribution to shaping collective understanding and memory over time. It fulfills poetry’s purpose of enriching cultural knowledge and experience in perpetuity.

However, both poets also express anxiety that future neglect may cause even immortalizing works to fade from recollection, representing a “second death.” Al-Shahat worries over past poets whose “poems died as they died,” while Darwish asks that his verses not be left “fading away.” This reflects their shared belief that true transcendence requires active communal stewardship of poetic legacies. The mere survival of words on paper means nothing without continued readership and recollection keeping the memory alive.

 Al-Shahat’s request to have his poems laid upon his grave represents his profound belief in art’s ability to defy mortality’s ultimate ravages. For him and like-minded poets, committed versification offers solace and a means to guard against absolute erasure. Their craft allows perpetual cultural contribution so long as succeeding generations maintain their living voice through reconsideration and remembrance. In this way, poetry achieves longed-for victories over both physical and “second” deaths.


Through vivid imagery and adept rhetorical technique, Al-Shahat’s poem provides profound philosophical commentary on themes of art, mortality, and remembrance. Referencing thinkers like Negm, Al-Bayyati and Darwish, it echoes modernist anxieties about poetry’s social role being undermined in its time. Ultimately, the poem asserts poetry’s power to withstand ruin and obscurity, immortalizing one’s essence through verses securely placed “upon my grave.” It remains a moving testament to the poet’s abiding faith in art’s capacity to triumph over transience.

Works Cited

Al-Bayyati, Abd Al-Wahhab. “The Renewal of Values in Modern Arabic Poetry.” Arabic and Middle Eastern Literatures 3, no. 1 (1980): 51-58.

Al-Shahat, Mohammed. Place Poems Upon My Graves. Dar Al-Ayham. Cairo. 2023. (Arabic).

Darwish, Mahmoud. Memory for Forgetfulness: August, Beirut, 1982. Translated by Ibrahim Muhawi. University of California Press, 2005.

Negm, Ahmed Fouad. “On Poetry and the Poet.” Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, no. 10 (1990): 32-48.

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