This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
The summer issue of Modern Poetry in Translation includes work by ten poets from the Maghreb, with poems translated from the standard Arabic, darija, and Tamazight:
The issue is the result of the British Council’s “Majaaz” project, which focused on 10 emerging poets from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, and Libya, as well as five emerging UK poets and several translators. According to MPT editor Clare Pollard:
The poets met in Tunisia in September, along with five emerging UK poets and various translators and facilitators including myself, for a chance to make connections and collaborate. Every day we were driven to the whitewashed Villa Ma’amoura, a working organic farm, decorated with rugs and cacti. Over the week there were workshops where each word’s poetic nuance was fiercely debated, and also times when the poets would pair off to translate each other’s work on cushions under the tree, in cool side rooms or on the hammock.
These poems are haunted by things unsaid – forbidden speech, black boxes in the dust, that sense, in Mohammed Rafik Taibi’s ‘The Lover’ that: ‘My heart is burning | but no one can smell the smoke.’ They also brim with the belief that poetry matters enough to wound, transform, memorialise, seduce, and even heal. In Zouleikha Elhamed’s gorgeous lines, translated by Martha Sprackland: ‘I melted like snow inside its song | and the glory of it rose up in my life | with its honey-scent.’
Sprackland, who wrote an earlier mini-essay about the experience, described the process:
We worked first as a large collective of twenty or so, under the expert tutelage of workshop leaders Clare Pollard and Tony Calderbank, to pull one of my own poems into Arabic, and one by Nassima Raoui into English, as a collaborative effort, which is an experience I won’t soon forget. After a short break we split into our smaller groups. In threes (British poet, Maghreb poet, and translator) we installed ourselves in the many corners of the house – on the hot terraces facing the sea, in the cool, dark rooms, in the hammock in the garden – and began work on the translations of each other’s poems, from and into English, Arabic, Arabic dialect, and Tamazight, that we will finesse over the coming months.
The ten poets were: Zouleikha Elhamed, Fatma Krouma, Nassima Raoui, Cheikh Nouh, Faraj Mohamed Ali Aghnayah, Fadhila Bechar, Mohammed Rafik Taibi, Adil Latefi, Ashref Kerkeni, and Fatima Miftah Hasan Balkhayrat.
One poem is available online, Fatma Krouma‘s “Other Banks,” tr. Victoria Adukwei Bulley. It opens: “I love you more in temperate climates / away from the killing sun / and the long and boring Sundays.”
More about the issue, and how to get one, on the MPT website.
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