Voices of the Arab Streets is a collection of ‘popular’ Arab saws and epithets, with an introduction dealing with the relationship between the classical and the demotic forms of Arabic, and the social, cultural and political consequences of that relationship – as well as the attempt to combine them as illustrated by a review of the colloquial poetical Diwan of ‘Abbud al-Karkhi.
Mulla ‘Abbud al-Karkhi was born in Baghdad in 1861. Known as a poet of the common man he produced a large volume of poetry, which was published in four volumes between 1933 and 1938 and is a historical record in colloquial verse of the political, social and cultural conditions of Iraqi society during the early days of the country’s emergence as a state after the First World War – first under British mandate, then as a modern constitutional monarchy which, while it had gained its independence, remained under the tutelage of Britain. The Diwan is also a treasure house of the Baghdadi language of the street, and of the saws, epithets, proverbs and epigrams used by the common man to express hopes and desires, wants and hardships, criticisms and discontents, the whole distinguishable by being both colloquial and in verse.
F. Matthew Caswell’s work explores ‘Abbud al-Karkhi’s work and is of academic and general interest. It should be essential reading for students of Arabic as well as those engaged in Arabic and Middle Eastern studies. It is also readable, entertaining and would engage the interest of the general reader.