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Peaks of Yemen I Summon: Poetry as Cultural Practice in a North Yemeni Tribe

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In this first full-scale ethnographic study of Yemeni tribal poetry, Steven Caton reveals an astonishingly rich folkloric system where poetry is both a creation of art and a political and social act. Almost always spoken or chanted, Yemeni tribal poetry is cast in an idiom considered colloquial and "ungrammatical," yet admired for its wit and spontaneity. In Yemeni society In this first full-scale ethnographic study of Yemeni tribal poetry, Steven Caton reveals an astonishingly rich folkloric system where poetry is both a creation of art and a political and social act. Almost always spoken or chanted, Yemeni tribal poetry is cast in an idiom considered colloquial and "ungrammatical," yet admired for its wit and spontaneity. In Yemeni society, the poet has power over people. By eloquence the poet can stir or, if his poetic talents are truly outstanding, motivate an audience to do his bidding. Yemeni tribesmen think, in fact, that poetry's transformative effect is too essential not to use for pressing public issues. Drawing on his three years of field research in North Yemen, Caton illustrates the significance of poetry in Yemeni society by analyzing three verse genres and their use in weddings, war mediations, and political discourse on the state. Moreover, Caton provides the first anthropology of poetics. Challenging Western cultural assumptions that political poetry can rarely rise above doggerel, Caton develops a model of poetry as cultural practice. To compose a poem is to construct oneself as a peacemaker, as a warrior, as a Muslim. Thus the poet engages in constitutive social practice. Because of its highly interdisciplinary approach, this book will interest a wide range of readers including anthropologists, linguists, folklorists, literary critics, and scholars of Middle Eastern society, language, and culture.


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In this first full-scale ethnographic study of Yemeni tribal poetry, Steven Caton reveals an astonishingly rich folkloric system where poetry is both a creation of art and a political and social act. Almost always spoken or chanted, Yemeni tribal poetry is cast in an idiom considered colloquial and "ungrammatical," yet admired for its wit and spontaneity. In Yemeni society In this first full-scale ethnographic study of Yemeni tribal poetry, Steven Caton reveals an astonishingly rich folkloric system where poetry is both a creation of art and a political and social act. Almost always spoken or chanted, Yemeni tribal poetry is cast in an idiom considered colloquial and "ungrammatical," yet admired for its wit and spontaneity. In Yemeni society, the poet has power over people. By eloquence the poet can stir or, if his poetic talents are truly outstanding, motivate an audience to do his bidding. Yemeni tribesmen think, in fact, that poetry's transformative effect is too essential not to use for pressing public issues. Drawing on his three years of field research in North Yemen, Caton illustrates the significance of poetry in Yemeni society by analyzing three verse genres and their use in weddings, war mediations, and political discourse on the state. Moreover, Caton provides the first anthropology of poetics. Challenging Western cultural assumptions that political poetry can rarely rise above doggerel, Caton develops a model of poetry as cultural practice. To compose a poem is to construct oneself as a peacemaker, as a warrior, as a Muslim. Thus the poet engages in constitutive social practice. Because of its highly interdisciplinary approach, this book will interest a wide range of readers including anthropologists, linguists, folklorists, literary critics, and scholars of Middle Eastern society, language, and culture.

30 review for Peaks of Yemen I Summon: Poetry as Cultural Practice in a North Yemeni Tribe

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bob Newman

    Poetry Made Me The number of books written on Napoleon or the American Civil War exceeds the imagination. Diets, dogs, and data processing are often found on the shelves too. But then there are topics nobody ever thinks of taking up until one brave soul decides to give it a try. Over time, anthropology has moved closer to literature, using literary analysis and discourse. Steven Caton has combined research and thought on disparate, sometimes esoteric topics into a complex and fascinating book on Poetry Made Me The number of books written on Napoleon or the American Civil War exceeds the imagination. Diets, dogs, and data processing are often found on the shelves too. But then there are topics nobody ever thinks of taking up until one brave soul decides to give it a try. Over time, anthropology has moved closer to literature, using literary analysis and discourse. Steven Caton has combined research and thought on disparate, sometimes esoteric topics into a complex and fascinating book on the place of poetry in tribal Yemeni culture. I would be lying if I said it were easy to read. I imagine that the number of people who NEED to read or who WANT to read Caton's book is exceedingly small. Yemen is not even central to the thoughts of most anthropologists in the world. Thus, not only do you need to care about Yemen, but you should also have some expertise in poetry, in aesthetics, in ideas about social construction of self, and in such intellectual exercises as cultural theory and the poetic process. Though I am an anthropologist with an amateur interest in Yemen, I still came to this book lacking most of these things. I found it mighty rough going. Some academics and a few graduate students are probably the majority of Caton's readership. Too bad. PEAKS OF YEMEN I SUMMON is an extraordinarily interesting work. It's not simply an ethnography of poetry in Yemeni society, though it could be called that; it's an attempt to tackle larger issues about ways of becoming a Yemeni man, about poetry and identity, about poetry and cultural change. Yemeni tribespeople, at least 20 years ago, used poetry as a vital weapon in life's battles---for honor, prestige, and persuasion. At weddings, they used a form called balah to fight word battles, both humorous and real, over issues of prestige, and used the same poems to indicate proper Islamic and Yemeni tribal values to the young man being married. (women live in another sphere of poetry, not accessible to male researchers) Music accompanied balah, the verses were always impromptu and orality supreme, i.e. the poems were never, ever written down. Zamil, a second type of poem, was also chanted on politically-charged occasions, typically when two quarreling groups tried to iron things out. Qasidah, a third kind of poetry, was produced by individual poets alone and could be listened to on tape (in the 1980s), much more like poetry in our own society, but it also often concerned itself with politics. Poets lived precarious lives in a politically unstable society. The central government in San'a strives for control, the tribes struggle to maintain autonomy. Caton spends a lot of time explaining how poetry is intrinsic to political maneuvering and power politics in Yemeni society. "The composition of poetry", he says, "is embedded in an extremely important political process---the dispute mediation---in which power, such as it exists in this system, must be achieved through persuasion." Caton states that he wishes to demonstrate poetry's centrality to the entire sociopolitical and cultural system. He wants to show how poetry in Yemen connects intimately to cultural belief and social practice, unlike in the West. I believe he succeeds brilliantly. You need patience to wade through the detail and the intricate loops of reasoning. If you persevere you will be rewarded with a lot of interesting insights and thought-provoking views. It's a high risk/high gain book. I wonder if anyone in Washington has even heard of it ? "Arbitration of disputes among Arabs" and "values in Islamic societies" are hardly useless topics these days !

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kate

  3. 5 out of 5

    Paul Corbul

  4. 5 out of 5

    Farzana Marie

  5. 4 out of 5

    Marielle Risse

  6. 5 out of 5

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  9. 4 out of 5

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    Benjamin Walker

  12. 4 out of 5

    حواء

  13. 5 out of 5

    Monica Faridi

  14. 5 out of 5

    Charles Hoots

  15. 4 out of 5

    Aykan

  16. 5 out of 5

    Alan

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    Karen Theresa

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    Steven Kensinger

  19. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Pyjov

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    Chris Miller

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kristen

  22. 4 out of 5

    David

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    Atiaf Alwazir

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    Jessica

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    Michael

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    Hannah

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    m i

  28. 5 out of 5

    Fri Lavey

  29. 5 out of 5

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  30. 5 out of 5

    Jesse

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