A Map of Signs and Scents

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ISBN 978-0-8101-3366-2

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ISBN 978-0-8101-3365-5
Publication Date
September 2016
Page Count
184 pages
Trim Size
6.125 x 8.5

A Map of Signs and Scents

New and Selected Poems, 1979–2014
Amjad Nasser / Translated from the Arabic by Fady Joudah and Khaled Mattawa

A Map of Signs and Scents is a collection of sixty poems by an acclaimed poet whose life and work span Middle Eastern and Western worlds, centuries past and the vivid present, the sweep of history and the intimacy of love. Born in Jordan in 1955, Amjad Nasser has lived and worked in Beirut, Cyprus, and London. His work reflects a nuanced view of the currents of history along which individual lives play out, putting him in conversation with such poets as C. P. Cavafy, Octavio Paz, and Derek Walcott. And yet, within his peripatetic life, Nasser has produced a corpus of work that, far from evoking the alienation possible in a life of motion, puts him in deep camaraderie with the world.

Through fresh translations by the award-winning poets Fady Joudah and Khaled Mattawa, readers will experience the fascinating evolution of Nasser’s style through his prolific, highly praised career, starting with samples of the rich textures and fertile symbolism of his 1979 debut Praise for Another Café. In selections from subsequent works such as Climbing the Mountain since Gilead, The Strangers Arrive, and Life like a Broken Tale, readers will trace Nasser’s work as it develops into a mature style that, while more precise and direct, confidently encompasses broad horizons.

About the Author

AMJAD NASSER was a leading Jordanian poet, essayist, and travel memoirist. One of the pioneers of the Arabic prose poem, he cofounded a number of Arabic publications. He died in 2019. 

FADY JOUDAH is a poet, translator, and practicing physician of internal medicine. His first poetry collection, The Earth in the Attic, won the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition in 2007.

KHALED MATTAWA is an associate professor of English and creative writing at the University of Michigan. He has authored four books of poetry.


"A Map of Signs and Scents offers a compelling understanding of the inertia that propels the machinery of history—something few American poets attend to. This puts Nasser in conversation with internationally prominent poets such as Czeslaw Milosz, Octavio Paz, and Derek Walcott." —Wayne Miller, author of Post- and The City, Our City 

"This collection of new translations of Jordanian Amjad Nasser’s poetry serves not only as a survey of his impressive body of work, but draws together poems that demonstrate Nasser’s invaluable contribution to the global poetic aesthetic of the late twentieth century and beyond. Rich in images and ideas that emerge from the specific but speak to the universal, A Map of Signs and Scents is the perfect volume to experience Nasser’s poetry for the first time." —World Literature Today 

"Amjad Nasser’s poems create new structures of the mind and heart. You find yourself not so much reading these pages as walking through them: line by line, poem after poem turns its phrase-corners to offer some new revelation, some reordered arrangement of the real. A Map of Signs and Scents extends the geography of the human in every dimension." —Jane Hirshfield, author of The Beauty and Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World

"The sensibility of the Near East is in every line, the flavor and longing, the memories are like no other; yet he’s compared favorably to Celan, Cavafy, Borges, Neruda, in classic structure and sensuality. Nasser’s best gift is the ability to fold the ancient within the troubled 'present' with philosophical discourse and pungent imagery. Personal love, and love for this world, with all its sorrows, in lyric and poetic prose, show this man as a Master of the word in any language.—Grace Cavalieri, Washington Independent Review of Books 

“The work of Amjad Nasser forms passages in and out of time, qualities of light and darkness, images that are never only images but sentences built on and out of the density and delicacy of his beloved and mysterious red stone city of Petra, place of living memory whose deepest origins remain secret. His poems are dramatic but the drama is built into the phrasing, the turning of the verses, the relentless nature of what comes at you from within and without, the primordial and newly minted, all at once. Stopped by Homeland Security before even reaching the border on his only attempted visit to the United States, Nasser’s work truly comes from another world, one whose rhythms and texture we have long suppressed or destroyed.” —Ammiel Alcalay, author of a little history and from the warring factions