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image of Journal of Arabic Literature

Although verse forms in the colloquial dialects of Arabic have been attested at least since the twelfth century, it is still fair to say that the advent of shi'r al-'ammiyya in the late 1950s was an unprecedented movement in Arabic poetry. Until then, colloquial Arabic was the register of folkloric and 'low' arts produced by and for the uneducated masses. Even when educated literati chose to write in the colloquial, their choice was always motivated by such limited purposes as the wish to satirize the literary establishment and its 'elite' literature or to reach a mass audience. Didactic and politically charged poetry reached its height in the works of Bayram al-Tunisi, who denounced fusha as elitist and championed 'ammiyya for its accessibility to the Egyptian masses. In contrast, the poets of shi'r al-ammiyya believe that both the standard fush&a and the colloquial 'ammiyya are fit for poetic expression. Their poetry is the product of the cross-fertilization of the literary and the oral traditions. It is a poetry that can only be appreciated in the context of the goals and accomplishments of the modernist movement in Arabic poetry. This article provides a reading of a poem by each of the two early masters of shi'r al-'ammiyya, Fu'ad Haddad and Salah Jahin, with the purpose of illustrating the nature of the genre, its distinctiveness from previous forms of colloquial poetry, and the wide and diverse spectrum of modern poetic expression in Egyptian colloquial.


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