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 Presence) published 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.”
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.
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:
The ALTA news release: