Poetry as Archive: Egypt’s Revolution and Archival Poetics


American University in Cairo

The paper considers the archive of poetry in Egypt’s revolutionary movement and the archival practices of poets and authors since the 25 January 2011 popular uprising.  The archive is both associated with documentation of historical events and the production of a literary canon.  It is a revolutionary archive composed of poetry that has articulated the relationship between the literary imagination and political developments. Poetry collections by two Egyptian poets, Helmy Salem’s Irfa‘ Ra’sak ‘Aleatan (Hold Your Head Up High) and Hassan Teleb’s Injil al-thawra wa Qur’anuha (The Bible of the Revolution and its Quran), will be read coevally to examine the role and concerns of poets following January 25, 2011, particularly how they articulated and legitimated revolutionary demands for freedom, social justice, and national unity.  Poets and authors produced a national and literary archive of the popular uprising in poems such as Salem’s “The Song of the Square,” among others.  Further, the literary production of poets and authors chronicled Egypt’s historical moment in poems such as Teleb’s “Tuesday 25 January” and “Overthrowing the Regime.”

However, poets also produce a revolutionary vocabulary in parallel with the turn of events, and on the first anniversary of the uprising in 2012, poetic utterances become a means of intervening in the revolutionary outcome.  Mourid Barghouti’s “You Were Made for Joy” and Tamim Barghouti’s “O Victorious Egypt” and “The State” move from celebration to develop themes of martyrdom and continued resistance to articulate changes in the revolutionary movement by January 2012.  Poetry, then, mediates Egypt’s transition period and bears witness to the ongoing revolution.