Arab literature is profoundly connected with the concept of exile as a result of a history of upheavals that has led to displacement and homelessness (Gohar, 2011, p. 231). In fact, just since the very first Islamic days, Arabic literature has been associated with the notions of Hijrah, or migration. Therefore, this has become a widespread theme after 1948 (Saad, 2014, p. 287). u1 Edward Said (2000) wrote in his Reflections on Exile that, “exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience” (p. 173). Said (2000) also added that, such an event will never be completely alleviated and would remain as a permanent schism between the person and his native land. The person would always be estranged and all his success and glory would be passing episodes that are meant only to console the exiled. (pp. 174-175)
The anxiety and isolation that Said (2000) described have shaped the central theme of the work of many Arab poets like Al-Jawahiri and Mattawa. In fact, both these poets have tried in their poetry to come to terms with the meaning of home. For these two migrant poets, the perception of home signifies a kind of interaction between the past and the present, intertwined with memory that plays an important role in this regard. The reason can be the numerous personal and national experiences, the context within which migration from the traditional home place has happened, and other ideological motives.
The writings of Arab literary men in exile are prolific like Wail Hassan’s Immigrant Narratives (2012) as one of the most recent books. Hassan (2012) has made the division between minority writing, immigrant writing, and Anglophone Arab writing clear, but he focuses more clearly on Arab American and Arab British narratives (p. xii).
Like Hassan’s Immigrant Narratives, Layla Al- Maleh’s Arab Voices in Diaspora: Critical Perspectives on Anglophone Literature (2009) is concerned with Arab literature that has been produced outside the Arab world. Among other works, regarding the works of Arab writers who live and write away from the Arab world is Yasir Suleiman’s Literature and Nation in the Middle East, which includes a series of essays with focus on the illustration of the nation in Arabic literature. Zahia Smail Salhi and Ian Richard Netton’s The Arab Diaspora: Voices of an Anguished Scream has also explored different works by Arab writers in the diaspora.
While all of these books inescapably intend to illuminate the Arab writers’ obsession with home, they do not propose an inclusive examination of what it means to experience home from exile. Postcolonial scholars like Edward Said have been intensely interested in migration because of its probability to raise connections among different cultures, as Smith (2004) appropriately summarizes in the following: “fundamental to postcolonial criticism has been the puzzle of how aspects of life and experience in one social context are impacting on worlds that are geographically and culturally distant” (p. 244). Postcolonial theory’s interest in this issue is owing to the fact that the migration of people from formerly colonized third world countries to the West may result in new cultural encounters (p. 243).
Layla Al-Maleh (2009) declared that “memory becomes a pretext that frames the content of the authors’ experiences, and a pretext to construct a dual or juxtaposed picture of their mental and emotional make up” (p. 37). Therefore, these works can provide a suitable ground for the analysis of the poets’ experiences and representations of the notion of home away from the home country. Regarding the issue of exile, Salhi (2006) has stated that all exiles “keep an idealized image of home as a paradise they were forced to flee, and never manage to entirely adopt their new dwellings. As such, they share feelings of solitude, estrangement, loss, and longing” (Salhi, 2006, p. 3).
The idealization of the home country is one common theme in the works of migrant poets. Still, it is more widespread in exilic literature than in diasporic literature. Exilic literature assumes that there is one fixed home to which the return will for sure relieve the pain of exile. Nostalgia is thus one central feature in exilic literature. The word nostalgia is derived from the Greek word nostos, which means to return home, and the word algia, which means longing (Boym, 2001, p. xiiii). Oxford English Dictionary defines nostalgia as; sentimental yearning for a period of the past; regretful or wistful memory of an earlier time; severe homesickness” (as cited in Legg, 2004, p. 100). A poem that displays this kind of nostalgia is categorized as being suspended between the past and the future; its obsession with the past prevents it from engaging with the future.
When Mahmoud Darwish (2002) was asked about the meaning of home, he talked about the relationship between memory and home. He believed that home is a place full of memories; nobody is able to return, because history does not stop. Thus, returning only signifies meeting a place of memory (Darwish, 2002, p. 77)u2 . This explanation of home shows that there is little hope for the nostalgic migrant to recall the reminisced home, because the idealized memory of home belongs to the past and beyond refurbishment. The home that is evoked nostalgically is not a reality but a construct of memory, for that memory of home “represents not a copy of an original but more precisely a version of it” (Whitehead, 2009, p. 51).
However, some critics have talked about the positive impact of nostalgia on migrantsu3 like in case of Mattawa. For example, Ghassan Hage (2010) has claimed that “far too often, the collapsing of all migrant yearning for home into a single ‘painful’ sentiment is guided by a ‘miserabilist’ tendency in the study of migration that wants to make migrants passive pained people at all costs” (p. 417). Thus, Hage (2010) thinks of nostalgia as an authorizing notion by arguing that moving memories from a migrant’s past could be changed into a process of homebuilding at the new destination (p. 417). Leo Spitzer (1998) has also claimed that nostalgia is capable of inspiring people to surpass the disturbances of their past and concentrate more on its optimistic memories (p. 384).
Mattawa is a poet whose poetry has been greatly under the influence of Arab world incidents. He moved from Libya to the USA in 1979, at the age of 15. However, he proved successful in balancing the two worlds, not allowing the one to conceal the other (Al-Maleh, 2009, p. 27). On the other hand, Al-Jawahiri was an Iraqi poet who lived from 1899 to 1997 and left some of the most revolutionary poems on the Arab fight to achieve independence (Meisami & Sparkey, 1998, p. 413). Regarded as a poet whose poetry has shown the sufferings of the Arab world in this century in the most realistic way, his poetry is the representative of the most decisive events, social confusions, wars of independence, and revolutions, which both Iraq and other Arab countries have experienced since the 1920s. Mattawa believes that being a Libyan person and influenced by what has happened in this country has caused him to feel that one should talk about these situations (LeGro, 2011,p.25); u4