New and Forthcoming Arabic Poetry (in Translation)

Soon, no doubt, Google will come out with its first book-length edition of translated poetry.

Dmitriy Genzel, a research scientist at Google, says they’re still having a spot of trouble with rhyme (and, oh, something Genzel refers to as “feeling”), but they’ve got the whole rhythm and meter thing under control. Genzel told NPR:

“[T]here’s quite a big aspect of [poetry translation] that machines can do pretty well,” he says. “It’s not such a human endeavor as people might think.”

I would think it’s just a Google publicity stunt, but Genzel seems to be taking the whole venture quite seriously. A public version of this poetry-translation software hasn’t been released, but here is the current software’s version of al-Shabbi’s “It must respond if people just wanted to day life.”  (“If the people wanted life one day).

It must respond if people just wanted to day life
It is imperative that under that must be broken for the night that settles
Evaporation in the atmosphere and ceased to exist and has not embraced life longing

فلا بــدّ أن يستجيب القــــدر             إذا الشعب يوماً أراد الحيـــــــاة
ولا بـــدّ للقيـــد أن ينكســــر                ولا بدّ للــــيل أن ينجلــــــــــي
تبـــخّر في جــوّهـا واندثــــر                 ومن لم يُعانــقه شوق الحيــاة

I am not being entirely Luddite about the possibilities of translation software, but perhaps they’d be better off starting with limericks.

Indeed, Arabic poetry presents all sorts of particular challenges. A.Z. Foreman, who blogs at Poems in Translation, had earlier commented on this site:

Anyone who says this [that “so much survives the process of translation”] has never tried to read a translation of an Arabic poem written before the 20th century. When I see a truly enjoyable translation of Al-Mutanabbi’s satires, or a version of Imru’l-Qays’ mu’allaqa that conveys how dung is scattered beautiful as pepper seeds, then we can talk..

Indeed, the best works of Arabic poetry released in fall 2010 were from contemporary authors: Adonis: Selected Works, edited and translated by Khaled Mattawa; Mahmoud Darwish’s Journal of an Ordinary Grief , translated by Ibrahim Muhawi, and the first of two versions of Darwish’s Absent Presence, translated by Mohammed Shaheen and published by Hesperus Press.

The second version of Darwish’s book, titled In the Presence of Absence and translated by Sinan Antoon, is due out late this spring from the non-reclusive Archipelago.

In the “pre-20th century” category, a paperback edition of The Poems of al-Mutanabbi is forthcoming in March 2011. This is one of Elias Muhanna’s suggested “five books to read before you die.”  If you don’t mind a more literal English, this Princeton site, featuring work by al-Mutanabbi, is worth seeing. English words are accompanied by a reading in Arabic by Samer Traboulsi.

Also, Syracuse University Press has published (or will be publishing, according to Amazon) Abundance from the Desert: Classical Arabic Poetry. I haven’t seen it, but it’s apparently based on Dr. Raymond Farrin’s “award-winning dissertation completed at UC Berkeley.”

Banipal 40 will no doubt have some interesting new translations of contemporary Libyan poems. And there’s also a new Kindle book out, titled Arabian Poetry, featuring “rare” Orientalist translations of classic poems. I don’t know anything about it except: Wow, look at that cover.

Poetry translation prizes to which you should submit:

Sure, we know about the PEN. But what of The Times Stephen Spender Prize for poetry translation 2011? Entries must be postmarked no later than the last post on Friday 27 May 2011, and entrants must be British residents or British citizens.

The Willis Barnstone Translation Prize. The competition welcomes submissions of unpublished translations of poems from any language and time period–ancient to contemporary. All right, we’ve  missed the deadline for this year (Dec. 1), but you can get in for next year.

You may well have heard of the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award, but, in case you haven’t, the deadline fast approaches: Jan. 31, 2011.

Million’s Poet update:

The first “non-Arab” poet has qualified for second phase of the Prince of Poets competition. Malian poet Ali Gibreal the highest points amongst the four poets who stood before the panel at Al Raha Beach Theater.

Help me out, if you can:

Remember this story? Mounir Said Hanna found guilty of ‘Satire’. It’s “old news,” but I would like to know what ‘s happened to Mounir Said Hanna, found guilty of writing a satiric poem about Mubarak.