A Review of Adonis: Selected Poems

From The Kenyon Review, April 2011 (although just barely):

Edited and translated by (the exceptionally talented) Khaled Mattawa. Yale University Press: New Haven, 2010. 399 pages. $30.00.

Adonis: Selected PoemsIt was 1988 when Adonis’s name was first connected with the Nobel Prize for Literature.

In his 2006 memoir, Memories in Translation, pioneer Arabic-English translator Denys Johnson-Davies writes of meeting with a woman sent by the Nobel committee to discuss the 1988 award. The delegate, he said, wanted to know more about the best Arabic-language writers. Four names were on the committee’s list: Naguib Mahfouz (who won the prize), the great Egyptian short-story writer Yusuf Idris, the celebrated Sudanese novelist Tayeb Salih, and the Syrian poet Adonis, pen name of Ali Ahmad Said Asbar.

Johnson-Davies notes that he dismissed Idris and Salih because too little of their work was available in translation. The committee, he felt, would not be able to form an opinion of their significance.

He could perhaps have dismissed Adonis for similar reasons. More of Adonis’s work has been available in French, particularly since 1990. But until this past decade, little had been translated into English. And, until 2010, no single work in English gave an idea of the poet’s range. Adonis: Selected Poems is thus a landmark: the collection matters not just because of its internal beauty, but because it provides a window on the career of one of Arabic literature’s transformational poets. It begins with Adonis’s first works, published in 1957, and takes us through changes in his style, moving through experimentations and openings, often dizzying in its sudden leaps.

Keep reading over at the KRO…