Antoon Wins 2012 National Translation Award for ‘In the Presence of Absence’

On Friday, the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) announced that it had honored two poet-translators, Sinan Antoon and Don Mee Choi:

Sinan Antoon received the 2012 National Translation Award for his translation of Mahmoud Darwish’s In the Presence of Absence. According to ALTA, “The $5,000 prize is given annually to a translator whose work, by virtue of its quality and significance, has made the most valuable contribution to literary translation.”

Elizabeth Lowe, ALTA VP, said in a news release that Antoon’s work preserves a valuable treasure:

“Antoon’s translation won not only for the high quality of the translation from the Arabic, but also for being a translation of the last words by someone who is arguably one of the world’s most important and beloved contemporary writers.”

The book has received two translations: This one, by Sinan Antoon, and another (titled Absent Presencepublished by Hesperus Press in 2010, trans. Mohammad Shaheen. Shaheen’s version begins, “Line by line, I scatter you before me with a capacity given only at beginnings. And as you instructed me, I stand here now, in your name, to thank those who have come to bid you farewell on this last journey, to invite them to make a brief leave-taking, to come together in a meal worthy of your memory.”

Antoon’s translation:


I scatter you before me, line by line, with a mastery I only possessed in the beginning. Just as you entrusted me, I stand now, in your name, to thank those who bid you farewell before this last journey. I call on them to shorten their farewell and go on to a  banquet befitting of your memory.

Allow me to see you, as you exit me and as I exit you, safe like prose purified on a stone that becomes green or yellow in your absence. And allow me to gather you and your name just as passers-by gather the olives the harvesters forgot under pebbles. And let us go together, you and I, on two paths:

You, to a second life promised to you by language, in a reader who might survive the fall of a comet on earth.

And I, to a rendezvous I postponed more than once, with a death to which I promised a glass of red wine in a poem. A poet is at liberty to lie. He does not lie except in love, because the heart’s provinces are open to enchanting conquests.

. . . Keep reading at Archipelago’s website. 

Antoon’s translation was also honored this year by PEN, the runner-up to Bill Johnston’s excellent translation of Wiesław Myśliwski’s Stone Upon Stone. 

Another short excerpt:

Over at PEN’s blog.

The ALTA news release: