The Moroccan poet Fatima Bouhraka has channeled her creative energies into documenting modern Arab poetry and poets for more than a dozen years now.
It is an exhaustive task that has had a negative effect on her own poetry, she told Al-Fanar Media, but she carries on, determined to keep the work of contemporary Arab poets, and especially women poets, from falling into obscurity.
Bouhraka has published a large encyclopedia of poets of the past half century from across the Arab world, as well as country-specific books and a trilogy of works on Arab women poets.
She is currently working on a book documenting Moroccan poetry from 1953 to 2023, under the title: “Encyclopedia of Eloquent Moroccan Arabic Poetry from the Times of Sultan Mohammed V to King Mohammed VI.”
‘The Great Encyclopedia of Arab Poets’
In her first book, “The Great Encyclopedia of Arab Poets,” covering the years 1956 to 2006, Bouhraka documented the works of 2,000 poets from different countries, races, and religions. Years of research went into the book, which was published in instalments between 2009 and 2015, then as one complete volume in 2016.
Bouhraka, who was born in Fez, said she wanted to document the poems because it was difficult finding information about Arab poets who had become marginalised in countries where they were previously renowned.
“I wanted to document women’s poetry because it has been marginalised throughout history. The time has come for their experiences to be highlighted in the way they deserve.”Fatima Bouhraka
She chose to focus on a recent era to enable readers to learn about the poems’ political, social and economic influences in the histories of the countries represented. She interviewed poets, critics and academics to access original information and verify its accuracy.
Bouhraka describes her encyclopedias as partly pan-Arabist and partly dedicated to particular countries. She concedes that in a broad sense her work is similar to the dictionaries of contemporary Arab poets published by the Kuwait-based Abdulaziz Saud Al-Babtain Cultural Foundation. What makes her work unique, she says, is its focus on specific countries.
Books on Women Poets
Women are strongly represented in Bouhraka’s books. She has published three books dedicated to female poets: “One Hundred Women Poets from the Arab World: Poems Spreading Love and Peace” (2017), “The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Arab Women’s Poetry, 1950–2020” (2021), and “Pioneers in the Printing of the First Eloquent Arabic Women’s Poetry Diwan” (2021).
Bouhraka said she wanted to document women’s poetry because it has been marginalised throughout history. “The time has come for their experiences to be highlighted in the way they deserve, especially with the leap this poetic movement has witnessed since the 1990s in quality and quantity of published work,” she said.
“Unlike poetry, documentation is cumbersome, requires great mental focus, and charges the researcher with negative energies. Poetry, in contrast, gives the poet great energy once the poem is born.”Fatima Bouhraka
What is remarkable about Bouhraka’s work is that she has published most of her vast body of documentation at her personal expense. Apart from “The Encyclopedia of Classical Sudanese Arabic Poetry,” which was printed by a Sudanese publisher, and “The Encyclopedia of Eloquent Iraqi Arabic Poetry,” by an Iraqi publisher. The other books are still waiting, she said.
Challenges and Hardships
Bouhraka had to overcome many challenges documenting the poetry of an era. Some were financial, like printing costs, and others were more mentally exhausting, like dealing with poets’ attitudes to appearing in documentary books and the difficulties of finding accurate information about poets who have died and of checking information provided by living poets, critics and academics. “All these are burdens on the researcher, and negatively affect their physical and psychological health,” she said.
“The Great Encyclopedia of Arab Poets” was her most difficult book, Bouhraka said. It took nine years of constant work to research and write it, but now she can use it as a database for her later works.
Her documentary mission, however, came at a cost to her own poetry. “Unfortunately, it had a negative impact,” she said. “During this period, my poetic pen dried up almost completely. I became less visible in poetry forums nationally and internationally because I was dedicating most of my time to research and documentation.”
She added: “Unlike poetry, documentation is cumbersome, requires great mental focus, and charges the researcher with negative energies. Poetry, in contrast, gives the poet great energy once the poem is born.”
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