Yesterday, Libyan poet and translator Khaled Mattawa, recipient of one of this year’s Genius Grants, was onNPR’s Here & Now, talking about poetry and translation, and most of all how translation has informed his own work:
“So translation really taught me how to write poetry when I was starting out.”
Certainly, translation is a way of learning literature in which many poets and writers participate, although less so in the U.S. But Mattawa pointed to many in the history of English poetry who had.
“When you think of the history of English poetry, the great English poets all translated from Latin and from other languages. Milton…really got his sense of what the English language ought to be from translating from other languages to it.
“So translation is a teacher of poetry.”
He named a number of women poets writing about personal space that he particularly admires: Joumana Haddad, Iman Mersal, Maram al-Masri.
He added that, “The political poetry has never left the scene. It is there to excite people and tell them what they already know.”
He was further asked, a little strangely, about whether poetry is being translated into Arabic, at which point Mattawa spoke a bit about his translations of Ezra Pound, Emily Dickinson, and Robert Frost. “I felt that translating poetry into Arabic would be a good extension of, maybe, my talents.”
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