I have been waiting for this book and was thrilled to see its release this year. Adonis is one of the all-time greats, and finally, we have a comprehensive volume of his work in English. Adonis worked with Khaled Mattawa for a long time (I heard eleven years) in bringing this volume together. The layout is beautiful, the poems are captivating, and we can finally read Adonis as he matures over the years.
Although not complete, this selection of poems is vast. Most major texts are represented, many very generously. I have only come across three poetry books by Adonis published in English, so for English readers, it doesn't get any better than this. Also, the translations are superb. I compared some lines of translation in this text with a previous publication that I have of Songs of Mihyar of Damascus. This one reads better. I don't read Arabic, and the Arabic version of the poems are not are provided (an asset as the book is a nice size to hold), so I can't pretend to compare it to the original.
One surprise is that "A Grave For New York" is not included. I'm not sure why. This is my favorite of all of Adonis' poems. It could be because it has been translated in several other collections. Or it could be because of personal preference. "A Grave For New York" can be found in A Time Between Ashes and Roses, The Pages of Day and Night, and Modern Arabic Poetry (Salma Khadra Jayyusi); all are excellent volumes. On the flip side, there are plenty of new gems that can't be found elsewhere spanning 1957-2008. And unlike many poets, his early poems do not disappoint.
If you haven't read Adonis, you are missing out, and this would be a wonderful place to start. His poems are surreal, powerful, lyrical, natural, mythic, experimental and a mixture of long and short. (Bob Kaufman, Kenneth Rexroth and Czeslaw Milosz come to mind.) Adonis has won a lot of international poetry awards and was a finalist for the Nobel Prize several times. He changed his name to Adonis when he was in his late teens because editors kept rejecting his works. He was also imprisoned in his early days because of membership with the Syrian National Socialist Party. In addition to poetry, he wrote many books of criticism and translations over the years including the first complete volume of Ovid's Metamorphoses to be translated into Arabic.
"It's necessary that something else comes alive. This is why I open caves under my skin for lightning to charge, and I build nests for it to reside. It's necessary that I cross like thunder through sad lips parched like straw, through autumn and stone, between skin and pores, between thigh and thigh."
-excerpt from "Psalm" from Songs of Mihyar of Damascus.