In Defense of Poetic Reputation: Jar?r and al-Farazdaq’s Self-Oriented Naqa’id

By Cory Jorgensen
Submitted to Session P5022 (Competition and Social Practice in Early and Medieval Islamic Poetry, 2017 Annual Meeting
7th-13th Centuries;
The role of naqa’id poetry (flytings) in pre-Islamic Arabia was to attack and dishonor the competing poet’s tribe and clan. These poetic contests consisted of one poet praising his tribe’s good qualities and lampooning those of his opponent’s, followed in turn by the latter, who praised his own tribe and lampooned his opponent’s. These poetic battles remained popular in the Islamic era, a time period marked by shifting customs, rituals, and aesthetic systems, including poetry. Given this new context, what were the new functions of naqa’id poetry? Did the focus remain on praising and blaming the contestants’ tribes, or did performance functions shift over time?
This paper will investigate a sampling of naqa’id poetry from the corpus of Umayyad-era poets Jarir (d. 728) and al-Farazdaq (d. 730), each from the same tribe but separate clans. It will highlight the poets’ tendency to reference themselves, and to display their poetic talent. The result was that in addition to the traditional naq??i? discourse of defending one’s tribe and lampooning one’s opponent’s tribe, Jar?r and al-Farazdaq engaged in a metadiscourse that focused on their poetic and performative talent.
I argue that Jarir and al-Farazdaq’s naqa’id performance centered on their individual reputation as performers, and that this was at least as important as a defense of their respective tribes. I will demonstrate how Jarir and al-Farazdaq deployed the genre of naqa’id as a defense of their own reputations, lampooning their opponent and his tribe, and showcasing their performance skills within the framework of tribal conflict.
This new interpretation will shed light on Jarir and al-Farazdaq’s naqa’id as an idiom rooted in the values of the pre-Islamic era, with a new orientation in the Islamic. Whereas pre-Islamic naqa’id poets focused on the message of the poems as it related to the defense of the tribe, Jar?r and al-Farazdaq drew attention to themselves and to their performance, emphasizing artistry over message. We may think of the former, the message-centric performance, as having an outward focus, and the latter as having an inward focus. This inward focus signaled a new orientation in naq??i? performance and paved the way for a self-oriented, metadiscoursal poetry.