Ashton Nichols Syllabus

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Archive for March, 2019

Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East


MEST 200 / English 321

 Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East:

Art, Politics, and Battlegrounds


Not until the twentieth century, did the Arab world begin to emerge to join the modern nations of the world. Many centuries of rule by Ottoman sultans had oppressed (suppressed? repressed?) these cultures—men as well as women—and prevented Middle Eastern culture from expressing the full energy, freedom, and artistic riches that have originated in ancient times and now come to us in our modern and contemporary societies.

From Morocco and North Africa to the Arabian Gulf and Israel, the nations of Middle East have had, and continue to have, a powerful influence, artistic as well as political, over Europe and North America. Our class will explore poetry that has emerged from the Mideast in recent decades, lyrics that express the complex emotions and human realities that have created these cultures that increasingly effect, and are affected by, the Western world.

Arab (and especially Islamic) cultures continue to reflect not only the realities, but also the biases, of the Europeans who did the historical describing of this world: religious, political, social, and aesthetic. The poems of Rumi (one of the best-selling poets in all of America today), Adonis, Khalil Gibran, and Iqbal al-Qazwini come to use from an Arab context, while Yehuda Amichai, Tamir Greenberg, and Hedva Harechavi come to us from an Israeli world that is—and is not—like the Jewish world we know in America. These poets, Arab and Israeli, among others, have contributed to a contemporary American version of love, of hatred, of war, and of reconciliation in what may be the most contested acreage, the most fought-over geography, on the small planet we all share.

Required Texts:

Chang, Tina, Nathalie Handal, and Ravi Shankar, eds. Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond. New York and London: Norton, 2008.

Keller, Tsipi, sel. & trans. Poets on the Edge: An Anthology of Contemporary Hebrew Poetry. Albany, NY: State U of New York P, 2008.

Schwedler, Jillian, ed. Understanding the Contemporary Middle East. Boulder, CO & London: Lynne Rienner, 2013

(–class handouts and numerous assigned web readings)

Course Aims and Learning Goals:

Our goal in all of our work will be to see the contemporary Middle East reflected, refracted, and reimagined by these poets in the minds of mostly Western and Eastern readers. We will work to understand how literary texts can help us to understand the complexities of cultures and cultural interactions. The course will focus attention on critical approaches to literary genres and literary methods of interpretation that will help students develop more sophisticated reading skills, and interpretive abilities, as they move toward the senior seminar year.

Course Requirements

Students will be evaluated on the basis of class participation, two essays (6-8 pp. [close reading], 12-15 pp. [more than one author]), and a take-home final exam. The first essay will allow you to offer a close reading of one specific texts. The second essay will require that you provide a specific critical approach for research into works by more than one author. Assignment sheets for both essays will be distributed well before essay due dates. The comprehensive final exam will be composed of essay questions. Class participation will include written exercises and student-led discussion introductions. More than two (2) unexcused absences will be grounds for lowering your grade in this course. If you need to miss class, and you do not want your grade to suffer, make sure you bring me a valid College excuse or discuss your situation with me.


Grading will be based on the following scale:

Class participation (including discussion intros.) Essay 1—Essay 2—Final Exam

                                                          20             20         30          30 =100%

Please do not hesitate to contact me at any time during the semester to discuss the course, our readings, your writing, or your grade:

Academic Honesty

The Dickinson plagiarism policy will be strictly enforced. This class adheres to the college’s Community Standards, which clearly state: “Students are expected to do their own work. Work submitted in fulfillment of academic assignments and provided on examinations is expected to be original by the student submitting it.” Please review the Community Standards document for more information. See me is you have questions.

Statement on Disability Services

In compliance with the Dickinson College policy and equal access laws, I am available to discuss requests made by students with disabilities for academic accommodations. Such requests must be verified in advance by the Coordinator of Disability Services who will provide a signed copy of an accommodation letter, which must be presented to me prior to any accommodations being offered. Requests for academic accommodations should be made during the first three weeks of the semester (except for unusual circumstances) so that timely and appropriate arrangements can be made. Students requesting accommodations are required to register with Disability Services, located in Academic Advising, first floor of Biddle House. Please contact Marni Jones, Coordinator of Disability Services (at ext. 1080 or ) to verify their eligibility for reasonable and appropriate accommodations.


Professor Ashton Nichols: K 192 Class meetings: M TH 1:30-2:45 p.m.

Office Hours: M, W, TH 12-1:30 p.m. and by appt.  Classroom: K 178 ________________________________________________________________

Reading Schedule and Class Meetings


January 21 M Contemporary Poetry of the Middle East—syllabus as a text (Edward Said on YouTube)

24 Th Edward Said On Orientalism (online) & UCME: 1

28 M YouTube Usman Hameedi: “Poem Postmarked for the Middle East”

31 Th LNC (Two poems by Middle Eastern Poets) & UCME 2

February 4 M Norton “Romantic Orientalism” (online) + images & texts & Assign Essay #1 (compare and contrast)

7 Th LNC (Two poems by Middle Eastern Poets) & UCME 3

11 M LNC (Two poems by Middle Eastern Poets)

14 Th LNC (Two Poems by Middle Eastern Poets) & UCME 4

18 M Essay #1 due: formalist reading + in-class essay workshop

21 Th LNC (Two poems by Middle Eastern Poets) & UCME 5

25 M LNC (Two Poems by Middle Eastern Poets)

28 Th Rumi: “Poems by Rumi” (See:  UCME 6

March 4 M Rumi (find two poems) & Assign Essay #2

7 Th Rumi (find two poems) & UCME 7



18 M POE Hebrew Poetry 1-55

21 Th POE Hebrew Poetry 55-108 & UCME 8

25 M POE Hebrew Poetry 108-185

28 Th POE Hebrew Poetry 185-236 & UCME 9 (Essay prospectus due)

April 1 M POE Hebrew Poetry 236-277

4 Th POE Hebrew Poetry 277-327 & UCME 10

8 M Mahmoud Darwish:

11 Th Mahmoud Darwish: & UCME 11

15 M Palestinian Poems:

18 Th Palestinian Poems: (find one) & UCME 12 (Annotated essay bibliography due)

22 M Palestinian Poets (Fadwa Tuqan) & Female writers:

25 Th Palestinian Poets: (find one) & UCME 13

29 M Course Review and Create Take-Home Final Exam

May 2 Th Take-Home Final Exam distributed & Essay #2 due in class & UCME 14

May 7 5:00 p.m. Take-home FINAL EXAM DUE (K 192: paper or email)

Calm Lab (only if this is your first 300-level class in the English Department)

If this is your first 300-level class in the English Department, you need to make sure that you registered for English 300, the “Critical Approaches and Literary Methods Laboratory,” colloquially known as CALM Lab. Please make sure you have registered for this lab (in the way that you regularly register for a class), enrolling in English 300.

The syllabus for that lab includes two class meetings (in the evening) and written assignments connected to these meetings. If you have questions about the CALM Lab, please contact Chris Bombaro [] in the Waidner-Spahr Library. She is the instructor for the CALM Lab and can answer any questions you may have. I will work closely with her on your CALM lab sessions and will attend at least one of the evening classes.


What Others have said about Contemporary Poetry of the Middle East

The European Romantic imagination was saturated with Orientalism, but it reflected persistent ambivalence concerning the East, complicated in Britain by colonial anxiety and imperial guilt. The craze for sensual and sensational escapism ushered in by the Arabian Nights entertainment had involved a voyeuristic invasion of the seraglio. Romantic writers were also absorbed by that fragrant and forbidden space, but was such Oriental escapism at odds with their social and political concerns?

Exactly how did their words reflect contemporary cultural and imperial encounters with Asia and blur the margins of imaginative and actual power? Key issues . . . include cultural stereotypes such as the contemptuous misogyny and capricious cruelty of the Oriental despot; liberty and libertinism; the earthly paradise; and the longing for the feminized dream of the East.                                                                                                           —Michael J. Franklin

In numerous Romantic literary works, the exotic East is represented in complex, multivalent terms. Asia in these texts is described as inviting yet mysterious, beautiful yet fearful, alternately beguiling and terrifying in the diversity of it natural and human riches. The very concept of such natural riches became a crucial part of the discourse of empire. Ever since Edward Said’s Orientalism appeared in 1978, scholars have debated the extent to which Western culture misrepresented Asia in the production of these varying discourses of domination.

Critiques of Orientalism have focused primarily on human culture, yet it is clear that representations of the natural world were another important site for Western appropriation and construction of the “East.” Just as European writers sought to provide a history for those part of the world that seemed to lack a history, natural historians from the mid-eighteenth century onward offered textual accounts of previously undescribed versions of “Nature.”

Like so many versions of Asia seen through the eyes of Occidentals, nonhuman nature produced a Western narrative (where had these alien parts of nature originated? how had they done so); Western categories (kingdoms, classes, and species); and textual and visual records (here is what I saw in Syria; here is what a tiger or panda bear looks like) of a world beyond European society. Visions of the Eastern world took shape in the West, first merely to be described, later in order to be classified, and finally to be appropriated or conquered.                                                                                                                                                                                                                       –Ashton Nichols

“Other Arab-American, Arab, and Islamic poets are of course presenting work concerned with the crucial intersections of faith, politics, culture and war, but what makes Nye very special and worthwhile in this book is her constant focus on her own experience and the personal journey she’s undertaken. Beyond the emphasis on the Middle East, she has a more personal focus on her own father and his journey to America.” — Coal Hill Review

Adonis (Ali Ahmen Said), a two-time Nobel finalist and the author of more than 20 books of poetry, prose and literary criticism, is arguably the leading Arabic poet in the world. As he states in his preface, “Poetry is . . . a perpetual beginning,” and many of the poems in this collection, whether lyrical, fantastical or revelatory, are imbued with a mystical timelessness; a style that echoes the pre-Islamic poetry of Sufism; and a linguistic sensibility that prefers the simple, more accessible image over the intellectualized imagery of Western poetry.

The long poem “Transformations of the Lover” celebrates sexual union with such energy that the poem is elevated to an intensely spiritual level: “My body started to prepare itself for something / like the fall of planets. . . Your body is April itself, and every part / of you becomes a dove that speaks my name.” But the most engaging portion of the collection comes in the form of a brief concluding essay in which Adonis addresses the difficulties faced by a poet writing in Arabic–a language that was, at least for him, nullified with the advent of Islam. This is an immensely satisfying new collection of poems–continuing the poet’s restless, metaphysical exploration into “everything strange.”                                                                                                                                              —Publisher’s Weekly

Three wars. 13 years of fighting. 1.9 trillion dollars. Over 10,000 American lives lost in terrorist attacks and conflicts in the Middle East, more than any other part of the world. America’s relationship with the Middle East directly impacts its security. Confronting extremism begins with empowering moderates. Learn about the visionaries in the Middle East actively working to transform their societies. And explore what it takes to be a peace-builder in your community.                                                                                                                                         —

Class meetings: 1:30 p.m. M & TH, Office Hours: M & TH 12-1:30 p.m. and by appt., Classroom: K






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