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from the October 2019 issue

Important Announcement

This witty, irreverent poem by Ahmed Fouad Negm takes aim at the corruption and hypocrisy of people in power.

Upsidedownistan here. 
Your oldies but goodies station.
Coming to you from Cairo and Kordofan
From every Arab country and Japan
From Venezuela and even Iran
And any country open to the rule
Of tourism à l’américaine.

 

Tumblestan here. 
Your good ole radio station.
We present to you, in every language
Plays and movies and all the arts
And press and speeches and televisionings
And mosque sermons, cheese and olives.
We show up in your home uninvited, riding on
       every airwave
Studying and grasping all issues
No matter the occasion, we’re bright and loud 
No one listens, and no one cares
Listen or not, it doesn’t matter to us
You see, we’re the types who get paid either way.
Keep to yourself and don’t make us give you a pen 
       and tongue lashing.

 

Somersaultistan here. 
The oldies but goodies station.
It pleases us (even if it doesn’t please you)
On this occasion (to which you haven’t been invited)
To bring to you—and don’t be disgusted—
Sheḥḥāta al-Me‘assal, totally unvarnished.
The Chief Broker of the Developeding World
Educator of Croupiers
Destroyer of Farms, Pawner of Crops
And—may your wishes come true—Commander of 
       Armies
You can’t deny it, can’t say you don’t know him.
Can’t say you’ve never heard of him. 
Sheḥḥāta al-Me‘assal, beloved by all hearts
He gets out the stains, the worries and fears,
He tokes, he snorts, he pops pills
You won’t understand him as he blathers on
Understand, or not—we don’t care. 
Because you understand, even if you pretend you don’t.
You can deny it and swear it, but I tell you: 
Don’t bother. You’ll give us both a headache.

 

Upsidedownistan here. 
Your place for oldies but goodies.
Because what was hidden has been revealed, clear as 
       day
The issues are out for all to see
Stories have been told, even in print
About the smuggling and shirking and about this and
       that
About the influence peddling and deceit
That have appeared in the city like a flood
Sinking boats and inundating fields. 
More boats are yet to sink. 
And the crisis in housing, and the crisis in public safety. 
While some eat well off a hungry world
The place is filled with a stench of conspiracy 
And planning treason with the Americans 
To slaughter the people and burn down the neighbors
People are chattering about it, so an announcement is in
       order
As the ears have reported to us
For this reason and that, and the other one, too
We present to you a sugar moulid doll and horse
Sheḥḥāta al-Me‘assal, and this announcement.

 

Upsidedownistan here. 
Your good ole radio station.
In the name of God. 
A peace upon you, and salmon and bananas.
As far as everything’s going, it’s all hunky dory. 
O Brethren, O Brothe . . .
Here is my announcement, as what follows: 
Everything is A-okay. 
And all that talk that’s going around is just talk. 
Verily, Don’t be impatiently! And don’t worry—
It’s the stuff of small-minded people, and I won’t
       accept it!
Nothing is wrong. 
I swear most solemnly, most solemnly thrice, 
There is nothing wrong, nothing at all. 
And know this: even if there was something
There’s nothing. 
There’s no reason to talk about it or nag me.
And shame on kids 
Who go on with their churlishness
Making me pay them attention, forcing me to
       debate them. 
By my very nature, I am against big dealers
For the sake of free competition and neighborliness.
But, it is not in my character
To expose the scandal
Of an associate of mine who’s pocketed a few bills. 
Everybody puts things away for themselves
The new ones do it, just like the old ones did before.

 

O People: Zionize yourselves and go with the flow!
Have a good toke and a good evening. 
My good Iranian buddy, the Prince Bazramīṭ
Wrote me this year to invite me to a big party,
I accepted, of course, and we went to the bash, 
It was the kind of banquet that would never happen twice.
My God—what fried foods, and the puddings!
       What stews and platters!
To be frank, my head began spinning 
From all the luxury and Persianate trimming.
There, for instance, when you drink second-hand
       dregs
They serve it with sweetmeats and veal pastrami as
       appetizers.
Over there, I never saw anyone envying anyone
Or people insulting anyone
Who happened to purchase two farms on the cheap 
Because he was such a smart entrepreneur and 
       developed them into housing.
After the feast we collected our presents
Silver plated and gold plated, and faience, too. 
And of course, my good buddy the Prince Bazramīṭ
       told me something
Which I’ll tell you about at some appropriate time.
Some punks will come after me without cause.
Getting up in my face, sitting to judge me.
That is socialist resentment, and I will not tolerate
       it.
If they were my sons, I’d ground them at home. 
Talk about wheeler-dealers, talk about whoring— 
Fake news and tired old slogans! 
They want to turn the whole country into chaos!
They have long wanted me to leave the country
But I will not give it up, or let security slip
Not by the police, nor by the public prosecutor. 

 

O People, do me a solid and hang tightly
       tight! 
Stay the course and the money will come.
Eat and drink according to what comes to
       you, 
Let yourself drown in a sea of slaves and
       slave-girls, 
Paint your life as you like
As brothels and palaces fill the streets.
Say your prayers and thank God 
For the blessings of garbage and sewer
       overspills.


In closing, peacely,
And finally, in terms of words, 
Necessitarily, calm and harmony must
       prevail
Or else, and if not, I will smash it to bits, or
       else…
I will take all my money and leave this
       country at oncely!
A peace upon you, and salmon and
       bananas, 
By my authority as president, and father and
       husband.
 

Translator's Note: This translation is based on a recording of the November 14, 1977, performance of “Bayān Hāmm” at ‘Ayn Shams University. Negm composed and performed versions of the poem in the first months of 1976. These, along with others, exist in multiple guises across different print and electronic media. The print version closest to this transcription can be found in Aḥmad Fu’ād Najm, al-A‘māl al-kāmila (Damascus: Dar Tlas, 1986), v. 1, 133-58. An earlier print version of the text can be found in Aḥmad Fu’ād Najm, Bayān hāmm: ghanā’ Shaykh Imām; dirāsat al-Ṭāhir Aḥmad Mikkī (Beirut: Dār al-Fārābī, 1976). For more information on Negm’s legal troubles with this poem, see: Ṣalāḥ ‘Īsa, Shā‘ir takdīr al-amn al-‘āmm: al-milaffāt al-qaḍā’īya li-l-shā‘ir Aḥmad Fu’ād Najm (Cairo: Dar al-Shorouk, 2007), 205-42.


Translation © 2019 by Elliott Colla. All rights reserved.

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