Which Revolutionary Poetry, Prose, Jokes, or Songs Do You Want Translated?

I’ve already sent in my first request to translatingrev@gmail.com, the email address of Dr. Samia Mehrez’s “Translating Revolution” course at the American University in Cairo.

The students of this class, according to their blog, “welcome – in fact, encourage – contributions from our readers.”

They’ve just published translations of their first revolutionary poem, a section of the colloquial poem “Al Midan / الميدان,” by Abdel Rahman al-Abnoudi. A blog post describes how the class was divided into three groups—mixing native Arabic and English speakers—and each given the task of collectively translating the poem. They post the resulting three translations, as well as each group’s comments on their work, and welcome readers to join in with their own “thoughts, reflections, and insights.”

Much of the commentary was interesting and to the point, such as why group 3 decided to keep the title as “The Midan” vs. translating it as “The Square” or “The Public Square.” I would’ve liked to hear why group 2 chose, instead, to render the title as “The Square.” (Perhaps they should be given the opportunity to see and respond to each other’s commentaries.)

Sometimes, I couldn’t agree: When I read “smashing the stands,” I was picturing a football stadium, not the underpinnings of a regime. But it was generally very useful to see the translators’ thought processes. I do agree that “bright voice” is evocative and appropriate, much more so than a people’s voice that “shines.”

Each of the translations has its problematic moments—the “exquisite youth” in group 2’s version, for instance, is fairly empty of meaning, while in group 3’s “both they are green” is too topsy-turvy, it sounds stilted—but generally 2 and 3 were much stronger poems. Their sense of rhythm is stronger, and they use stronger and more evocative English terminology. Their commentaries were also much more specific.

The class further posts two versions of the poem they found online; in all, five versions of  الميدان are available. Each one is very different. Go read them.

Although first you might want to listen to the poem:

Also about translation:

Daniel Hahn in Words Without Borders: On Reviewing Translations