Afzal Ahmed Syed - افضال احمد سيد

Poet∣ Fabulist∣ Translator∣ Born 1948

NEWS: Wesleyan University Press Poetry Series to publish Afzal Ahmed Syed's selection Rococo and Other Worlds in Spring 2010

AFZAL AHMED SYED (افضال احمد سيد) born 1946 Ghazipur, India, holds a unique place among contemporary poets of the Urdu language. He is an acknowledged master of both classical and modern Urdu poetic expression, a leading proponent of linguistic experimentation, and someone whose body of work is comparable with the best of the modern European poets. Syed attained renown in the 1980s with his two critically acclaimed works: A collection of modern nazm genre titled چھينی ہوئ تاريخ (An Arrogated Past, 1984), and a second collection in the classical ghazal genre titled خيمہُ سياہ (The Dark Pavilion, 1988). Later Syed gravitated toward the nazm genre and became one of its leading masters. The publication of two nazm collections دو زبانوں ميں سزاۓ موت (Death Sentence in Two Languages, 1990), and روکوکو اور دوسری دنيائيں (Rococo and Other Worlds, 2000) established him as an important figure in Urdu poetry.

Syed’s nazm poetry is remarkable in its narrative power, its stark imagery, and its use of a majestic diction that recalls the finest works of the Urdu classical masters. However, Syed employs these devices in creating a sense of distance and alienation that objectifies everyday experiences and invests them with poetic power. Syed’s sensibilities were shaped by two traumatic events he witnessed in his early years: As a young observer of the violent separation of East Pakistan and its emergence as Bangladesh in 1971; and, later, during the Lebanese Civil War in 1976 while he was a student at the American University of Beirut. The attempts to divide Pakistani society along ethnic lines, brutality, state-sponsored terrorism and cultural erosion that has plagued his home city of Karachi since the 1990s, became the new subjects of Syed’s poetry, even as these events forced Syed into an inner emigration.

Syed is unique among Urdu poets also in his close study of the contemporary western poetic expression. He has translated a wide and important body of works by contemporary British, Colombian, Iraqi, Israeli, Macedonian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Turkish, and US poets, playwrights and novelists. Syed was the one of the first Urdu translators of Gabriel García Márquez. His translation of Chronicle of a Death Foretold (ايک پيش گفتہ موت) is considered a classic of the Urdu language. He was also one of the first translators of Jean Genet, whose play, The Maids, he translated from the French. Syed’s poetry was anthologized in An Evening of Caged Beasts: Seven Postmodernist Urdu Poets (New York: OUP, 1999). Urdu’s leading scholarly journal Annual of Urdu Studies published a special section on him (Vol 14, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1999). He work has been widely published in leading Urdu literary periodicals such as Shabkhoon, Aaj, and Dunyazad.

● چھينی ہوئ تاريخ: نظميں - An Arrogated Past (Karachi: Aaj Ki Kitaben, 1984)
Translated from the Urdu by Musharraf Ali Farooqi
● خيمہُ سياہ: غزليات - The Dark Pavilion (Karachi: Aaj Ki Kitaben, 1988)
● دو زبانوں ميں سزاۓ موت: نظميں - Death Sentence in Two Languages (Karachi: Aaj Ki Kitaben, 1990)
Translated from the Urdu by Musharraf Ali Farooqi
● روکوکو اور دوسری دنيائيں : نظميں - Rococo and Other Worlds (Karachi: Aaj Ki Kitaben, 2000)
Translated from the Urdu by Musharraf Ali Farooqi


Miroslav Holub (Czech), Yehuda Amichai (Hebrew), Dunya Mikhail (Arabic), Tadeusz Borowski (Polish), Zbigniew Herbert (Polish), Jan Prokop (Polish), Tadeusz Rozewicz (Polish), Wisława Szymborska (Polish), Aleksander Wat (Polish), Marin Sorescu (Romanian), Osip Mandelstam (Russian), Orhan Veli (Turkish)

Gabriel García Márquez (Chronicle of A Death Foretold),

Jean Genet (The Maids), Goran Stefanovski (Sarajevo--Tales from a City)

William Saroyan (The Man With the Heart in the Highlands), Jonathan Treitel (Stalin, Stalin & Stalin), Tomás Eloy Martínez (Santa Evita-An excerpt)

- An Evening of Caged Beasts: Seven Postmodernist Urdu Poets (New York: OUP, 1999)
- "Language as Philosopher's Stone: The Poetry of Afzal Ahmed Syed," Annual of Urdu Studies Volume 14 (University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1999).
- Afzal Ahmad Syed: Ahd-e-haazir ka Shaair [Afzal Ahmad Syed: A Poet of the Contemporary World] Critical essay by Dr Fauzia Farooqui, University of Michigan.

- “Rococo usually refers to baroque style, playful and elaborate rhythms and ornament, but other worlds also leap and scream from these poems—images of violent history as Tacitus, Goya, or Kafka saw it. A sense of danger pervades a desperate and eroticized human search for safety. It’s a dark vision, near surrealist, painfully unique.”—David Ray, author of Sam’s Book, After Tagore: Poems Inspired by Rabindranath Tagore, and The Endless Search: A Memoir.

- Afzal Ahmed Syed is among the finest contemporary Urdu poets whose works have created a new and powerful strain in modern Urdu poetry. Syed is remarkable among the modern Urdu poets for his surreal narratives and imagery. A global poetic vision, a modern sensibility, and a powerful diction fuse in his poetry to create a profoundly powerful narrative of solitude and alienation. He is one of the very few poets in our long and rich classical ghazal tradition who has underlined the combative element of love, and the only modern poet who has shaped it into a dialogue within the genre. Even as he continued to experiment with the structure of the ghazal, he expressed himself mainly in the nazm genre, which could accommodate the expansiveness of his unique vision. He subsequently published three collections that received high acclaim for their sophisticated expression and powerful imagery. Syed's successful experimentation with both these poetic genres has enriched the Urdu language and the unprecedented manner in which he exploits the linguistic resources of Urdu has not failed to impress a number of his contemporaries as well. The singular syntax used by Afzal Ahmed Syed presents formidable challenges to the translation of his works into English. Musharraf Ali Farooqi has worked closely with Afzal Ahmed Syed on these translations over the last fourteen years, and is quite familiar with Syed's poetic vision. His translations capture, with amazing success, the bewildering multiplicity of visions and narrative currents that collide in Syed's poetry. The publication of Afzal Ahmed Syed's poetry in English translation fills a serious gap in the scholarship of modern Urdu poetry. It creates a much-needed portal for western academics and scholars who would be able to access it through the works of its finest contemporary exponent. --Muhammad Umar Memon, Professor Islamic Studies, Urdu and Persian Literature; Editor, The Annual of Urdu Studies.

- Afzal Ahmad Syed is an important modern Urdu poet who has experimented successfully in both Ghazal and non-Ghazal poetry. He is already somewhat known in English speaking circles and deserves to be known still better.--Shamsur Rahman Faruqi

All translations, except the translation of Jean Genet's The Maids are made with the help of the English translations.