Marilyn Hacker: ‘I might wish, like any citizen to celebrate my country’

Yesterday, Anis Shivani had a long interview in The Huffington Post with poet and translator Marilyn Hacker. For those unfamiliar with Hacker’s work, she has won both the United States’ National Book Award (for her Presentation Piece) and the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation (for her translation of Marie Etienne’s King of a Hundred Horsemen).

I cannot think of a modern American poet who embraces world poetry, in its myriad forms, more than Hacker. Shivani notes that in Hacker’s most recent collection, Names, she has a large proportion of ghazals. (The ghazal is an ancient form, originating in pre-Islamic Arabic verse.)

Hacker responds:

Some of these ghazals came about in a kind of dialogue with a friend, the poet Suzanne Gardinier, who wrote a book entirely in ghazals, entitled Today (Sheep Meadow Press, 2008). There is also an ongoing dialogue with the Kashmiri-American ghazal champion, Aga Shâhid Ali, who died in 2001 at only 52 (his given name “Shâhid” with the accent on the “a” means “witness” in Arabic, as I remark in one of the ghazals). Another good friend , the British-Iranian poet Mimi Khalvati, also an interlocutor, writes ghazals. So this seems to be as much about conversation as about themes…

In an interview of Hacker by Wanling Su at Virginia Quarterly Review, Su also notes: “Its poems [those in Names] are often directed outward, focusing on the names of other people and addressing current events such as the Israeli invasion of Gaza.”

Hacker acknowledges this, but says that this was “not a focus absent from previous books.”

Hacker also discusses her relationship to Algerian writer Kateb Yacine and her collaboration (via the “renga” form of Japanese collaborative poetry) with Palestinian-American poet Deema Shehabi.

About Hacker and Shehabi’s collaborative renga:

In fact, the very first renga of the series was composed as part of an American nation-wide renga project, itself part of a larger arts project called ArtTrain. Mine was written during the Israeli invasion of Gaza in January of 2009–but the project involved receiving a renga from the preceding participant and sending one on to the next one. Deema and I took this idea and turned it into a conversation of our own: we’ve got about fifty of them between us so far, and their “locations” vary from California to Beirut to Paris to the Occupied Territories, and many other places too.

I have not been able to find any of the renga free online. However, you can read Hacker’s elegy to Mahmoud Darwish: “A Braid of Garlic.

Oh, and the titular quote (“I might wish, like any citizen…”)  is from Hacker’s “Ghazal: dar al-harb,” or “Ghazal: house of war.” (Although of course that’s an inadequate translation.) Hacker has been studying Arabic now for two years. As she tells Su in the VQR interview: “who knows where that will lead!”