Sure, you've heard of Mahmoud Darwish and Nizar Qabbani, but when was the last time you've read the works of a female Arab poet?
It's not for the lack of them for sure, for there are hundreds of women in poetry who have prevailed over the years. But maybe it's due to the lack of recognition and attention they receive for their work.
Looking to brush up on your Arabic reading? Here are five female Arab poets who should be on your reading list:
1. May Ziadeh
May Ziadeh was a feminist before feminism was widely discussed matter. A poet, translator, essayist, and critic, she was a woman for all seasons. Born in Nazareth, Palestine in 1886, she was one of the most important literary figures in the Arab region.
Most of her writing was done in Arabic and reinforced and introduced the feminist agenda through advocating for women's education, voting rights, and the end of patriarchy.
In the words of scholar Antje Ziegler, Ziadeh "courageously took a stand against European colonial politics and defended the freedom of the press and other basic democratic rights."
After battling with crippling depression in 1928 due to the loss of her lover Khalil Gibran and her parents, she traveled from Egypt to Lebanon only to be forced into a psychiatric ward by members of her extended family.
Eventually, she was proven sane and returned to Cairo, Egypt in 1941, and died later that year at the age of 55.
2. Nazik Al-Malaika
Born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1923, Nazik Al-Malaika was the daughter of a well-off and educated family who sent her to study comparative literature at the University of Wisconsin after graduating from the Iraqi Teachers' Training College in 1944.
She is easily one of the leaders of Iraq's cultural renaissance and modernist Arabic poetry. She combined influences from Shakespeare all the way to classical Arabic poetry, which enabled her to express her political ideologies more easily.
Immersed in the writing scene since the age of 10, her writing subjects include but aren't limited to female liberation, honor killings, and depression.
One of the best "form-and-shape-shifting poets of her generation", her poem Revolt Against the Sun "mocks the common perception of women as weak and easily disposed to crying."
3. Iman Mersal
An Egyptian poet and currently a professor of Arabic Literature at the University of Alberta in Canada, Iman Mersal's poems delve deep into what makes us human: our insecurities, resentments, and tiny victories and suffering.
She writes about life, love, motherhood, and memories in "free prose," a poetic style not metered by the Arabic rhythm.
In her book How to Mend: On Motherhood and its Ghosts, Mersal "navigates a long and winding road, from the only surviving picture of the author has with her mother, to a deep search through what memory, photography, dreams and writing, a search of what is lost between the mainstream and more personal representations of motherhood and its struggles. How to mend the gap between the representation and the real, the photograph and its subject, the self and the other, the mother and her child."
4. Ahlam Mosteghanemi
Mosteghanemi is the first female Algerian author with Arabic-language works to be translated into English, and its a title she surely deserves.
Mosteghanemi became one of the first female Algerian Arabic writers in the late 60s and early 70s as she used to go on national radio to broadcast her poetry in an effort to provide for her family.
Her first poetry collection, Ala Marfa Al Ayam (The Harbor of Days), was published soon after she earned a B.A. in Arabic Literature from the University of Algiers in 1973. She later received a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Sorbonne in Paris in 1982.
In Paris, she met and married a Lebanese journalist in 1976; she later moved to Lebanon in 1993 to publish her first critically acclaimed novel Memory in the Flesh (Zakirat al Jassad), which sold over a million copies in the Arab world. It was later translated into English by the American University in Cairo Press in 2000, after winning the 1998 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature.
The highly successful book "tells a moving love story imbued with political reflections on women's rights and the struggles of a post-colonial generation."
5. Maram al-Massri
The poems of the Syrian poet reflect on love, exile, nostalgia for her homeland, and the war in Syria.
Referring to herself as "this mix between the submissive and rebellious woman," Syrian poet Maram Al-Massri writes about love, relationships, and her longing for her homeland caught in the midst of war.
She's been in Paris since 1984 and is fluent in French, English, and Arabic, with the latter being the main language of her poetry work.
Her poetry collection Red-Cherry on a White-tiled Floor is translated to English and reprinted with her permission. She writes "short, seductive lyrics of astonishing clarity and piercing candor, stringing them together like pearls in a story chain."