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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.
  • - Aisha Saleh shortlisted for her novel, Under the Ashes
  • - Farouk Merish shortlisted for his novel, A Dignified Stranger
  • - Ahmed Ashraf shortlisted for his novel, A Painful Belt
  • - Ghassan Khalid shortlisted for his novel, A Sky that Rains Fear
  • - Hosam Adel shortlisted for his novel, The Lord of the Black Dog
  • - Asmaa Abdulrazak shortlisted for her novel, Shrapnels
  • - Abdullah Abdu Muhammad shortlisted for his novel, The Road to Sana'a
  • - Najah Bahkeim shortlisted for her novel, The Final Decision
  • - Samir AbdulFattah shortlisted for her novel, What We Cannot See
  • 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.

Reclaiming Language and Redefining Resistance: A Postcolonial Reading of Eman Assaedi’s ‘Excess of Joy’


Hatem Al-Shamea

Assistant Professor of English Literature

University of Reading, UK.


Eman Assaedi is a contemporary Yemeni poet. Her free verse poem “Excess of Joy” offers a multilayered reflection on the themes of disillusionment, conflict, mortality, and poetry’s redemptive power in the aftermath of trauma. Much like Charles Baudelaire’s pioneering work in the budding genre of prose poetry in the 19th century, Assaedi’s poem utilizes the prose-like form, eschewing structure and predictability, to evoke the fragmentation of the postmodern, postcolonial condition (Baudelaire, 1857/1995). Each line stands alone, creating a disjointed effect that echoes the sense of disorientation and rupture. Yet within the loose structure, images recur, providing cohesion, not unlike Baudelaire’s prose poems that blended lyricism and prose.

As Mikhail Bakhtin’s scholarship on genre elucidates, the prose poem incorporates heteroglossia, the hybridity of diverse discourses, as well as dialogism, an open-ended indeterminacy dependent on evolving realities (Bakhtin, 1981). Assaedi’s avant-garde form resists linguistic authority through the fusion of classical Arabic influences with contemporary free verse focused on immediacy and concrete images. This synthesis creates, in Bill Ashcroft’s terms, new postcolonial possibilities for expression amid the ruins (Ashcroft et al., 2002). The disjointed lines and prosaic metaphors deviate from conventional Arabic poetry, subverting expectations. Her surrealist imagery creates cultural authentication, transforming Arabic into a language bearing witness to contemporary postcolonial reality.

Assaedi’s poem can be seen as engaging in concentrated generic struggle in the compact space, as Bakhtin would frame it, challenging traditional Arabic poetic forms as Baudelaire challenged the verse lyric (Bakhtin, 1981). The prose poem form enacts broader aesthetic and social conflicts, encapsulating the paradoxes of the postcolonial condition (Bakhtin, 1984). Through pioneering Arabic poetic techniques, “Excess of Joy” constructs a unique postcolonial voice bearing witness to modern Yemen’s traumas while imagining possibilities of rebirth.

Postcolonial Context

As Edward Said established in Orientalism, Western colonial regimes like Britain constructed a fictional homogenous image of the “Orient” as primitive, backward and in need of civilization (Said, 1978). Yemen’s history as an important trading entrepôt was diminished. The Ottoman Empire controlled Yemen from the 16th century until 1918 and then handed it over to the Imamate (a radical Shiite group came from Iran), when the British occupied Aden and South Yemen until 1967 (Willis, 2012). After a civil war, Marxist South Yemen united with North Yemen in 1990. However, tensions remained, culminating in today’s ongoing civil war. This legacy of colonialism and conflict is key to interpreting Assaedi’s poem.

The Poem’s Structure

Assaedi eschews structure and predictability, reflecting the fragmentation of the postcolonial condition. Each line stands alone, creating a disjointed effect. The poem reveals a broken discourse of a broken nation. Yet within the loose structure, images like the watch, the bird, and the broken seed recur, providing cohesion. According to Anjali Nerlekar, postcolonial poets often employ a “fragmented nonlinear approach” in contrast to traditional forms they deem imported or colonial (Nerlekar, 2009, p.37). Assaedi’s avant-garde form resists linguistic authority.

Language and Form

By writing in Arabic, Assaedi reclaims the language from colonial roots by synthesizing classical Arabic with contemporary free verse focused on immediacy and concrete images. As Ashcroft argues, this fusion creates new possibilities for expression (Ashcroft, 1989, p.50). Assaedi’s disjointed lines and prosaic metaphors deviate from conventional Arabic poetry, subverting expectations. Her surrealist imagery creates what Nerlekar calls “cultural authentication,” transforming Arabic into a language bearing witness to contemporary postcolonial reality (Nerlekar, 2009, p.195). 

Visual Imagery

Assaedi utilizes striking visual metaphors that reflect the physical and psychological trauma of war. Images of ruptured buildings, bodies, and nature run throughout the poem, constructing what Fran Scotten calls “a geography of scars” (Scotten, 2001, p. 172). The “amputated watch” and “pierced helmet” portray time and security as fractured by conflict. As Helga Ramsey-Kurz notes, watches and timepieces recur in war poetry as symbols of distorted temporality and death (Ramsey-Kurz, 2011, p. 67). Assaedi’s “amputated watch” vividly captures temporality severed by violence.

The depictions of the damaged houses with their “worn-out windows” trimmed in bandages evokes war’s erosion of domesticity and refuge. Critic Samira Aghacy argues that Arab women poets intentionally depict quotidian spaces to portray war’s encroachment on daily life (Aghacy, 2009, p.126). The attempt to paper over the wounds highlights the futility of restoring normalcy. The window also implies the loss of outlook and light associated with conventional window imagery (Bachelard, 1994, p. 222). Similarly, scholar Farouk Y. Seif sees Assaedi’s depictions of damaged buildings and infrastructure as representing “collateral damage’s severe effects on collective identity” (Seif, 2015, p. 57). The poem navigates ruins both literal and metaphorical.

Even nature is infected by violence, as the once-nourishing “field” becomes “a damaged seed.” As ecocritic Serenella Iovino explains, environmental spaces often become what she terms “storied matters,” absorbing and reflecting trauma (Iovino, 2016, p. 2). Assaedi’s blighted agrarian imagery conveys nature’s wounds and the loss of harvests that sustain life. The land’s scars testify to what critic Babacar M’Baye calls “the unhealable wounds of history” (M’baye, 2007, p. 128).

Yet Assaedi balances this dystopian imagery with more positive symbols like the tenacious “flower,” the cleansing “river dance” and the sheltering “nest.”  As Michael Bishop notes, postcolonial poets frequently juxtapose images of ruin and rejuvenation (Bishop, 2006, p. 189). The flower connotes resilience amid violence, while the river’s dance implies cleansing, movement and continuity in contrast to stagnation. The nest represents a homeland in which to anchor oneself offering regeneration. Assaedi’s visual metaphors capture both trauma and transcendence.

The Human Cost of War

While employing avant-garde techniques, Assaedi remains focused on exposing the human cost of conflict. Her vivid depictions of suffering demand the reader’s empathy and conscience. She poses disquieting rhetorical questions on the poem’s ethical and spiritual impacts: “Why doesn’t death blow the long trumpet?/ And what will the angels inherit from the howl of the air?” As Omar Dewachi explains, trumpet blasts in Islamic eschatology signal the resurrection of the dead (Dewachi, 2017, p. 28). Assaedi implies this day of justice is long overdue. Her personification of the wailing air echoes Elaine Scarry’s descriptions of the “language of war’s violence” that demands humane response (Scarry, 1987, p. 12).

Assaedi also explores the moral cost of conflict, asking how in war’s aftermath “a child decided to lie down and put aside virtue.” As A. Gregor and J. Sharkey note, the loss of innocence is a common motif in poetry of the Middle East (Gregor and Sharkey, 2016, p. 97). Assaedi conveys how cycles of violence corrupt even the young through the chilling image of the reclining child. She refuses to aestheticize suffering, confronting its troubling ethical implications.

Furthermore, Assaedi probes the numbing of conscience and normalization of atrocities, asking why victims become “pores/ overflowing with joy” rather than outrage. Critic Abdul JanMohamed’s concept of “death-bound subjectivity” illuminates Assaedi’s focus on this paradoxical death-wish in populations traumatized by oppression (JanMohamed, 2005, p. 6). Her provocative imagery aims to awaken readers from apathy and revive human empathy.

Poetry as Resistance

For Assaedi, poetry provides a vital medium of expression, cultural reclamation and political resistance in the face of dehumanization and loss. She configures the poet as a visionary figure with shamanistic powers to transform through language, “Standing beside Zorba” to infuse despair with joy. Depictions of poets as singers, healers and prophets are common cross-culturally. Assaedi portrays poetry as magic ritual, turning “shivers” into creative life force. The poet as alchemist makes “from the wreckage of songs he makes a nest” where poetic lines become birds taking flight. This image of innovative creation from fragments enacts what Adalaide Morris calls “re-vision” of broken narratives into art (Morris, 1990, p. 15). The nest also connotes cultural roots and notions of home, identity and belonging.

Assaedi proposes that from this visionary poetry emerges “the voice of God,” at once disembodied and universal. As Ferial Ghazoul notes, the poetry of Arab women mystical poets like Rabia Al-Adawiyya is filled with images of the divine voice (Ghazoul, 2001, p.10). Poetry channels the sacred to counter political silencing. Assaedi’s prophetic tone asserts the primacy of poetic expression as moral authority and mode of resistance. This articulation of what postcolonial theorist Keya Ganguly terms “poethical vision” challenges structures of oppression (Ganguly, 2007, p. 57).

Ultimately, Assaedi’s poem enacts W.D. Armitage’s concept of “lyric resistance” which transforms pain into meaning (Armitage, 2017, p. 2). Assaedi’s poetry creates “a counter discourse, another perspective” to dominant narratives that erase marginalized voices (Monroe, 2019, p. 26). By foregrounding war’s human cost while affirming poetry’s redemptive cultural power, “Excess of Joy” joins centuries of Arab verse that defy and endure.


Through pioneering Arabic poetic techniques, Assaedi’s “Excess of Joy” constructs a unique postcolonial voice bearing witness to modern Yemen’s traumas while imagining the possibilities of rebirth. The poem’s fragmented form, visceral imagery, and adamant political conscience signal poetry’s role as an act of resistance and repair. Assaedi transforms the excess of anguish into redemption through reinvented poetic language, ultimately shaping a postcolonial aesthetic that reclaims agency and heritage. Her poem embodies Sufi scholar Ibn Arabi’s notion that with ruin comes renewal, encoded in the deeper meaning of the word “excess” (hala) (Arabi, 1980, p.56). Assaedi finds in poetry’s excess the joy of hard-won hope.

Works Cited

Aghacy, S. (2009). Writing the feminine in Arab women’s poetry today. Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, (29), 120-140.

Arabi, I. (1980). The Bezels of Wisdom. Paulist Press. 

Armitage, W.D. (2017). Contemporary British Poetry and the City. Edinburgh University Press.

Ashcroft, B., Griffiths, G., & Tiffin, H. (2002). The Empire Writes Back: Theory and practice in post-colonial literatures. Routledge.

Bachelard, G. (1994). The Poetics of Space. Beacon Press.

Bakhtin, M. (1981). The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M. Bakhtin (C. Emerson & M. Holquist, Trans.). University of Texas Press.

Bakhtin, M. (1984). Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics (C. Emerson, Ed. & Trans.). University of Minnesota Press.

Baudelaire, C. (1995). Paris Spleen (L. Varese, Trans.). New Directions. (Original work published 1869)

Bishop, M. (2006). The Contemporary Poetry of Angola. HISPANIA-A Journal Devoted to the Teaching of Spanish and Portuguese, 89(1), 189-196.

Dewachi, O. (2017). Ungovernable Life: Mandatory Medicine and Statecraft in Iraq. Stanford University Press.

Ganguly, K. (2007). Poethics: The Performance of Cultural Production and Human Rights in India. American Quarterly, 59(1), 57-83.

Ghazoul, F. J. (2001). Nocturnal Poetics: The Arabian Nights in Comparative Context. American University in Cairo Press.

Gregor, A. J., & Sharkey, H. J. (2016). Arabic Poetry: Trajectories of Modernity and Tradition. Routledge.

Iovino, S. (2016). Bodies of Naples: Stories, Matter, and the Landscapes of Porosity. In Porous Bodies (pp. 1-29). SUNY Press.

JanMohamed, A. R. (2005). The Death-Bound-Subject: Richard Wright’s Archaeology of Death. Duke University Press.

M’baye, B. (2007). Wound, Surface, Film: The Hiroshima Poetry of the French-Speaking World. Inquire: Journal of Comparative Literature, 2(1), 128-139.

Morris, A. M. (1990). Poet as Re-Visionary: Revisionary Techniques in the Poetry of Sylvia Plath, Margaret Atwood, and Adrienne Rich. (Doctoral dissertation, Miami University).

Ramsey-Kurz, H. (2011). The Long and Short of It: Poetic Negotiations with Temporality and the Cronotope of War. Journal of War and Culture Studies, 4(1), 57-72.

Scarry, E. (1987). The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. Oxford University Press.

Scotten, R. D. (2001). Strategies of Power in the Poetry of Izet Sarajlić. Mediterranean Studies, 10, 172–192.

4 thoughts on “Reclaiming Language and Redefining Resistance: A Postcolonial Reading of Eman Assaedi’s ‘Excess of Joy’”

  1. Very nice clarification and explication . This artical approaches the literary work to the core and makeing it very accessable.
    Best wished!

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