Rococo and Other Worlds

2010, Wesleyan University Press Poetry Series (World)

2015, Yoda Press (South Asia)


This selection from Afzal Ahmed Syed's poetry has been made from his three nazm collections: An Arrogated Past, 1984, Death Sentence in Two Languages, 1990, and Rococo and Other Worlds, 2000.

Afzal Ahmed Syed is among the finest contemporary Urdu poets whose works have created a new and powerful strain in modern Urdu poetry. Syed is remarkable among the modern Urdu poets for his surreal narratives and imagery. A global poetic vision, a modern sensibility, and a powerful diction fuse in his poetry to create a profoundly powerful narrative of solitude and alienation. He is one of the very few poets in our long and rich classical ghazal tradition who has underlined the combative element of love, and the only modern poet who has shaped it into a dialogue within the genre. Even as he continued to experiment with the structure of the ghazal, he expressed himself mainly in the nazm genre, which could accommodate the expansiveness of his unique vision. He subsequently published three collections that received high acclaim for their sophisticated expression and powerful imagery. Syed's successful experimentation with both these poetic genres has enriched the Urdu language and the unprecedented manner in which he exploits the linguistic resources of Urdu has not failed to impress a number of his contemporaries as well.


Arvind Krishna Mehrotra

  • "One reads Afzal Ahmed Syed’s poems first with disbelief, and then with more disbelief. He lives in Karachi, but he could as well have been living in Cracow. He is very much of his time and place, but the poetic traditions he taps into could come from anywhere, which is perhaps why he is not better known in the Subcontinent. He constantly reminds us of the things that we have forgotten or would like to forget, and he makes certain that we do not forget them again: as when he writes about the acacia, ‘Our National Tree’, that is not classified as a tree because, among other reasons, there are no corpses hanging from it. In our countries where history, and sometimes the evidence of our very eyes, is being constantly faked or overwritten, we have to turn to the poets, who are our true chroniclers and classifiers. Afzal Ahmed Syed, who is an entomologist by training, is one of the truest. "

Molly Jean Bennett in The Hollins Critic

  • “Widely known as a powerful contemporary voice in both classical and modern Urdu poetic expression, Syed has not previously had a full collection translated into English. …Syed leaps across continents and takes on the classics, modern warfare, great love, the pleasure of eating ice cream for the first time, and much, much more. …I feel no hesitation in saying he creates something marvelous, something breathtaking and wholly unfamiliar in its scope in Rococo and Other Worlds.”

Muhammad Umar Memon, Professor of Urdu and Persian literature and Islamic studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison

  • "A powerful narrative of human solitude and alienation, the gentle and at times explosive rhythms of Rococo and Other Worlds linger in the mind long after the poems are read and contemplated. A modern sensibility profoundly informed by the finest liberal traditions of classical Urdu poetry at its best."

David Ray, author of Sam's Book and After Tagore

  • "Rococo usually refers to baroque style, playful and elaborate rhythms and ornament, but other worlds also leap and scream from these poems―images of violent history as Tacitus, Goya, or Kafka saw it. A sense of danger pervades a desperate and eroticized human search for safety. It's a dark vision, near surrealist, painfully unique."