Arabic Poetry Friday: Beirut39er Nazem Elsayed, Coptic Egyptian Poets, Translating Abboud al Jabiri, More

Youssef Rakha on Beirut39 Poet Nazem Elsayed

Over on The Arabophile, poet/novelist/critic Youssef Rakha makes his way through and around two books by the young Lebanese poet Nazem Elsayed, one of the poetic standouts of the Beirut39 group.

Rakha explores Elsayed’s personal and poetic histories, telling us, “I am thinking of two short books by a Lebanese poet called Nazem Elsayed, who happens to be the 10th of 11 siblings, born to illiterate parents the year the [Lebanese] civil war broke out, only months before I was born; and it is these two books that I am discussing and partially translating here….”

Never mind the illiteracy of his parents; Arabic linguistic tradition is an important part of Elsayed’s work:

He remembers picking up shrapnel and empty bullet shells to resell, he remembers showing talent as a footballer, but mostly he remembers his family’s orally transmitted verses and the long pre-Islamic classics known as al-mu’alaqat.

These traditions are not strictly followed or reanimated in Elsayed’s work, Rakha says, but instead, “Tradition lies low and by so doing it energises and animates what is being uttered….”

Rakha translates from “The Truth About My Knee“:

It occurs to me at the height of darkness
To jump out of bed and smoke
But instead I place my knee on your back which like you is asleep
And thinks my knee is a dream
Get up
The eyes are more beautiful than the night you lock up in your head
Darkness is one thing
Night is another thing
Get up so you can see my knee in reality
Bent in walking and in the fancy of walking

And the first of Elsayed’s 13 poems in the Beirut39 collection, translated by Sinan Antoon:

The Advice of Others

I do nothing except write the advice of others
I write it on small pieces of paper
and put them in the dark drawer
after a long or short time I go back to their advice
and am not surprised to find
that they don’t resemble what they gave me
so I write it down
and leave it there to change on its own

For more of Elsayed’s poetry (in English), visit The Arabophile here and here.

Coptic Egyptian Poets

Happy Christmas, and—on this occasion—enjoy the poetry of Girgis Shoukry (translated here by Somaya Ramadan) and Matthew Shenoda. Both are influenced by their Coptic Egyptian roots.

Also, from Al Masry Al Youm: Poet leads campaign against religious designations on national IDs and (yes, I know it’s not poetry) Cinema Coptic: Egypt censors religion in film.

Another Doodle for Khalil Gibran

I am not personally a fan of Gibran, but—according to The New Yorker–the Arab-American poet is the third-best-selling poet of “all time.” His birthday was yesterday.

If you’re a fan, certainly you should read The New Yorker article, and here are three poems translated from the Arabic, published in Grape Leaves: A Century of Arab American Poetry, edited by Gregory Orfalea and Sharif Elmusa, 2000.

Much more on the doodle (and Gibran’s career) from Meedan.

Poetry Translation Workshop (in London) to Focus on Poems from Abboud al Jabiri

The London-based Poetry Translation Centre has announced that their next poetry translation workshop will be held on Jan. 12. The session, led by translator Worod Musawi, will focus on the work of Iraqi poet Abboud al Jabiri. Places are free.

The group has previously translated three of al-Jabiri’s poems: “At the Door of a Lonely Heart,” “Fading,” and “Remission.”

The Zajal Making a Comeback in Lebanon?

This AFP article reports that the battle between the Arabic novel and the Arabic poem continues, this time with one point in the poetry column: “Zajal, an old form of improvised Arabic poetry that enjoyed its heyday in Lebanon before the 1975-1990 civil war, is making a tentative comeback with thousands of fans on Facebook and YouTube.”