Without an Alphabet, Without a Face Selected Poems

Saadi Youssef; Translated from the Arabic by Khaled Mattawa

Graywolf Press




216 Pages



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Winner of the 2003 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation
A Lannan Translation Series Selection
Named One of the Top 25 Books of 2002 by the New York Public Library

With this volume, the work of a major contemporary Arab poet is available in English-language book form for the first time in the United States. Living his life in exile—a series of forced departures from numerous countries that has become an ongoing theme in his varied and cosmopolitan work—the great Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef also writes outside the long-standing verse forms of traditional Arabic poetry. In the words of Salma Khadra, a critic of Arabic poetry, "Youssef's poetry abounds with the sights, smells, colors, and movement of life around him, depicting scenes of great familiarity and intimacy. This is a great achievement in the face of the rage and fury and technical complexities of much of the other poetry written by his contemporaries." Without an Alphabet, Without a Face, featuring Khaled Mattawa's award-winning translation from the original Arabic, is must-reading for poetry students and scholars of all backgrounds.


Praise for Without an Alphabet, Without a Face

"Without an Alphabet, Without a Face is a double blessing—the incandescent poetry of the master, Saadi Youssef, translated to perfection by another master poet, our own Khaled Mattawa."—Leslie Marmon Silko

"Handsomely edited and contextualized, as we say these days, here is a substantial representation of the works of one of the most powerful writers in the Arab world. There is everything to be learned and not a little to be enjoyed in these 'released' poems, in translation so liberal and so lively. It is a grand opportunity to let in another ray of light upon a darkness all too indeterminate."—Richard Howard

"[Youssef] has lived in and communicated with the cultures and literatures of Algeria, Lebanon, France, Greece, Cyprus, and Yugoslavia, and this dialogue engages and informs his poetry. These poems are urban and lyrical, engaged in the signal struggles of our era (including the long one of the Palestinian people for self-determination), but radiating at the same time a humanist universalism attained through intense attention to the particular."—Marilyn Hacker

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Saadi Youssef; Translated from the Arabic by Khaled Mattawa

  • Saadi Youssef is one of the leading poets of the Arab world. Born in 1934 in Basra, Iraq, he has published thirty volumes of poetry and seven books of prose. He left Iraq in 1979, and after many detours, he has recently settled in London.

    Khaled Mattawa is the author of Ismailia Eclipse, a collection of poetry, and the translator of two books of contemporary Arabic poetry, Hatif Janabi's Questions and Their Retinue and Fadhil al-Azzawi's In Every Well a Joseph Is Weeping.