At the end of the Al Masry Al Youm wrap-up of Richard Jacquemond’s AUC talk (yes, I’m still kicking myself for missing it; I’d even made sure it wouldn’t be in French), I found this:
The next lecture in the … In Translation series will be given by His Excellency Peter Zsoldos, Ambassador of the Slovak Republic to Egypt, who will speak on Translation, Poetry and Diplomacy: New Horizons for Intercultural Dialogue, on Monday, November 29th.
Perhaps it’s my experiences with some rather un-poetic U.S. ambassadors, or because of my fear of the prefatory “His Excellency,” but it seemed to me strange that Ambassador Zsoldos would be talking about…literature.
But as I dug around, I found that Zsoldos (His Excellency), is a lover of the form and has translated some himself. The ambassador helped assemble the recent collection Contemporary Poems from the Arabian Peninsula, which includes the work of thirty-two peninsular poets, including one of my favorites: Nujoom Al Ghanem of the UAE.
According to Gulf News, Zsoldos wrote in his introduction to the book:
In a world falling apart, it is in poetry one finds some remaining sense of integrity… It is evident that we drink from different cups but we have the same water.
East and West can meet, enrich each other, whether it’s a silver coin or car, golden poetry, prose or philosophy and can take advantage of each other’s culture and civilization.
The book, according to Gulf News, contains the poems in three languages: English to the left of the book, Slovak in the centre and Arabic on the right. Earlier, Zsoldos helped assemble an anthology of Emirati poets, titled Pearls and Dates. English translations were done by the poet Shihab Al Ghanem and the Slovak was rendered by the ambassador.
That book won the first prize for translation at the Sharjah Book Fair.
In a 2008 interview with the Khaleej Times, Zsoldos said: “Politics may be seen to demonise, but culture will always humanise.”
He pointed to the September 2001 attacks on the U.S. as the spark for the Gulf region’s interest in becoming a world cultural center:
I was an ambassador here when 9/11 happened and I remember that the Emiratis immediately wanted to do something and they realised that culture was the best way to open a dialogue.
He went on to say:
A painting of a mother and child or a field of flowers will always prove people that they share the same feelings, no matter what their background of beliefs are.
Um, there’s no chance it’ll be in Slovak, right?