|English 240: Literature of North Africa and the Middle East|
Goals: The main aims of this assignment are 1) to compensate for the absence from our syllabus of the voices of fiction writers from a country which, in the name of "liberation," our government has bombed, occupied, and immiserated but never bothered to understand, and 2) to account in some small way for a centrally important aspect of Arabic literature which, for various reasons, this course is otherwise ignoring: poetry. Poetry is the most ancient of Arabic literary genres, and in many ways it is still the most popular and democratic: even ordinary (sometimes illiterate) people-in-the-street throughout the Arab world can recite works by their favorite poets. In keeping with the time-frame of the rest of our class, we're concerning ourselves only with "modern" Arabic poetry, which according to some accounts dates back to the second half of the 19th century, but which for our purposes begins with the end of World War II and the widespread adoption of free-verse styles. (If you'd like to read up on ancient Arabic poetry, our library has several useful books on the subject, and you can see me for pointers. Similarly, if you'd like to acquaint yourself with the "neo-classical," "romantic" and "symbolist" poetry of the early to mid-20th century--genres against which the modernists that you'll be researching were most immediately reacting--you can glance at Arthur J. Arberry's Modern Arabic Poetry: An Anthology with English Verse Translations (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1967 ).)
A third, but equally important, objective is for you to develop your literary research skills by helping to build an ongoing, reliable reference source for successive generations of students and the general public. To both these ends, you'll work in teams to produce an introductory web site devoted to one of the following poets:
Though Saadi Simawe provides a nutshell account of modern Arabic poetic history on p. 7 of Iraqi Poetry Today, a careful reading of Salma Jayyusi's "Preface" and "Introduction" to Modern Arabic Poetry (excerpted online) will also be critically important in helping you to situate your poet within the grand scheme of modern Arabic literary history. Those wanting still more information on this topic might consult the Introductions of the other four anthologies listed in the Bibliography instructions, as well as Chapter 4 ("Poetics and Modernity") of Adonis's Introduction to Arab Poetics (PJ7541 .A2913 1990), Khalid Sulaiman's Palestine and Modern Arab Poetry (PJ7542.P35 S85 1984); and/or Roger Allen's The Arabic Literary Heritage: The Development of its Genres and Criticism (PJ7510 .A44 1998).
Since many of the poems you'll be reading may allude directly or cryptically to unfamiliar events, your ability to do an informed reading may also require boning up on Iraqi history of the past sixty years: the British occupation, the 1958 revolution and the rise of the Baath party, the Hussein dictatorship, the wars with Iran, the invasion of Kuwait and the first Gulf War, and the U.S.-backed, U.N.-imposed sanctions of the 1990s.
General Overview: You might model your work, in part, on the "authors" pages of the Postcolonial Studies site at Emory University, the "poet" pages of the Academy of American Poets or the "Authors" pages of the Postcolonial and Postimperial Literature in English site based at the National University of Singapore. For consistency’s sake, here is the bare minimum of what your site should include:
Additional (optional) sections might include one or more of the following:
If you can spruce up your web page with photos, graphics or sound, that's fine, but not required. (As always, it's your job to acquire any necessary permissions.) Your first priority should be to provide useful, meaningful content that will provide an interested but unfamiliar reader with a brief but pithy introduction to your poet.
How to proceed: This is a group project, but deciding how to break down the work within your group is up to you. You might simply decide to distribute responsibility for each of the above tasks to a different member of the group, then get together later to edit and combine the results collectively. You may also choose to assign one particularly capable person the job of "editor-in-chief": that person would be responsible not just for proofreading, but for establishing consistency of overall quality, style and tone. You'd all agree in advance that s/he would have the power to tell you when your work isn't up to snuff, and to assign you to go back to the drawing board. (As a last resort, s/he would have final editorial control, including the power to reshape or rewrite your work.)
Be flexible. If, once you begin working, it emerges that your original division of labor isn't equitable—that (for instance) there just isn't enough material out there to keep a webliographer busy for very long—then the webliographer may have to double up with, say, the person writing the Critical Introduction, who (it may turn out) has a ton of stuff to sift through and synthesize. In rare instances, you may need to merge two jobs into one, and reshuffle all the other jobs accordingly.
We all know the logistical hassles and other potential liabilities of group work. To mitigate some of those hassles, I've set up "Group Pages" in Blackboard where you can communicate and share work electronically when it's not possible to meet face-to-face, in "real time." Just the same, you'll want to schedule an initial get-together as soon as possible, so that you can agree upon a timetable and a division of labor. Set one to three interim meetings and deadlines along the way where you can periodically present your individual work to the rest of the group for friendly, collective review, feedback and critique. Take it for granted that not all group members will be able to attend every meeting. And finally (this is hugely important): since you're all sharing a grade, you'll want to work cooperatively to set and maintain standards of quality control, and you'll want to agree in advance on how to deal with someone who doesn't pull their own weight!
Deadlines and details. A first draft of your page should be on-line (for feedback and commentary by the rest of the class) no later than Friday, April 29--but sooner would be better. Feel free to compare notes and exchange ideas with other groups before then.
To make the project more manageable, and to spare you the anxiety of learning unfamiliar technology under pressure, I'll be the web designer, and you'll be the content providers. That is, I'll insert your data into templates on my web space. You should submit your work in a well-organized, edited and proofread form--preferable as HTML documents. (RTF format would be my second choice.) Upload all files to your group's Blackboard site, or give them to me on a disk or by e-mail.
You should be ready to unveil the final version no later than Wednesday, May 4). Everyone in the group should have some role to play in the presentation.
I'll ask for a short self-assessment from each member of the group when you're done.
Grading: I'll grade primarily according to three criteria:
1. Coverage: have you done all you can to find good, reliable information?
2. Coherence: this is a group project but the end result should be a unified effort. Superior projects will present a final product that is seamless, features a consistent level of writing, and reflects the sum of everyone’s work.
3. Quality: These pages will be the foundation of an ongoing public resource. They therefore need to demonstrate the excellence of Humboldt student writing. Your writing should be clear, direct, intelligent, and coherent; it should be free of grammatical and other mechanical errors, and it should demonstrate both your creative and critical thinking skills.