Middle Eastern Protest Poetry

March 21: The Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani, one of the most well-known and influential 20th-century Arab writers, was born on this day in 1923. Though Qabbani's love poems have become popular songs, he is equally well-known as a voice of protest. He said that two tragic events helped to shape the protest poetry: the first was the suicide of his older sister over a forced marriage, the second was the bombing death of his second wife in 1982 during the Lebanese civil war. The sister's suicide inspired pro-feminist poems demanding social reform—though the demands in "A Letter From a Stupid Woman" are couched in mock-supplication:

Don't become annoyed, my dear Master,

If I revealed to you my feelings,

For the Eastern man

Is not concerned with poetry or feelings

The Eastern man—and forgive my insolence—does not understand women

but over the sheets.

A glance through the anthology Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East, a 2010 Words Without Borders publication, shows that Qabbani is far from alone as a voice of political change. And recent events in the region suggest that many must have been listening. The following is excerpted from "Bread, Hashish and Moonlight," one of Qabbani's most famous political poems, in which he tries to prod into action a nation addicted to "chewing on its history, / Its lethargic dreams, / Its empty legends":

Hoping to be granted some rice, some children,

They spread out their fine and elegant rugs,

And console themselves with an opium we call fate

And destiny.

In my land,

where the simple weep,

And live in the light they cannot perceive;

In my land,

Where people live without eyes,

And pray,

And fornicate,

And live in resignation,

As they always have,

Calling on the crescent moon:

"O Crescent Moon!

O suspended God of Marble!

O unbelievable object!

Always you have been for the east, for us,

A cluster of diamonds,

For the millions whose senses are numbed."

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.