In the shadow-imagination: a brief literary history of Syrian poetry of witness

Daniel Behar*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article argues that when poetic practice in Syria turned to a register of modernity, many of its idioms darkened to a poetics of trauma and catastrophe. By highlighting a Syrian manifesto for the poetics of catastrophe and taking two poets who stylistically stand at polar opposites, I aim to show the diversity of forms in which Syrian witness poetry came into being and set it in a larger framework of efforts to anthologise and globalise twentieth century poetry from sites of violent political conflict. In doing so, I also trace the literary historical trajectories that informed its making in Syria and continued to steer its course well after 2011. Aside from original poetry, the ecosystem of the culture of catastrophe includes critical discourse, novels, cinema, media products, and literary translation. I will address some, not all, of the elements in this repertoire as they relate to poetic production.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)22-38
Number of pages17
JournalContemporary Levant
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Council for British Research in the Levant.


  • Syrian poetry
  • catastrophe
  • modernity
  • trauma
  • witness poetry


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