Ghassan Zaqtan’s ‘Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me’ on Prestigious Griffin Shortlist

Palestinian poet Ghassan Zaqtan and Palestinian-American poet-translator Fady Joudah have made the prestigious Griffin Prize shortlist for Joudah’s translation of Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me:

straw-bird-joudah-zaqtanThe list was announced this morning by Scott Griffin.

Other books on the “international” shortlist are: Liquid Nitrogen by Jennifer Maiden, Night of the Republic by Alan Shapiro, and Our Andromeda by Copper Canyon Press. Books on the Canadian shortlist are David McFadden’s What’s the Score, James Pollock’s Sailing to Babylon, and Ian Williams’ Personals.

Straw Bird is the only translated work on the list.

The seven finalists will each be awarded $10,000. The winners, to be announced at the Griffin Poetry Prize Awards evening on Thursday, June 13, will each be awarded $65,000.

Works translated from the Arabic have been on previous lists; in 2011, Khaled Mattawa and Adonis were on the shortlist for Mattawa’s translations in Adonis: Selected Poems, also published by Yale University Press. One of the great things about the Griffin prize is that the translator is recognized and rewarded alongside the author.

According to a prepared statement from judge Wang Ping:

“What does poetry do? Nothing and everything, like air, water, soil, like birds, fish, trees, like love, spirit, our daily words… It lives with us, in and outside us, everywhere, all the time, and yet, we are too often oblivious of this gift. It’s a poet’s job to bring this gift out and back, this gift that makes us human again. And Mr. Zaqtan has done it. His poetry awakens the spirits buried deep in the garden, in our hearts, in the past, present and future. His singing reminds us why we live and how, in the midst of war, despair, global changes. His words turn dark into light, hatred into love, death into life. His magic leads us to the clearing where hope becomes possible, where healing begins across individuals, countries, races…and we are one with air, water, soil, birds, fish, trees…our daily words pregnant with beauty, and we begin to sing again till ‘… the singer / and the song / are alike (Biography in Charcoal)’. This is Mr. Zaqtan’s only ‘profession’. It’s now also ours. About the translation: as a translator of poetry myself, I know the danger, frustration and the joy in the process of catching the fire from the original and delivering it through/into another language, another culture, another sentiment. Mr. Joudah delivered with such grace and power. My salute to Mr. Joudah, as translator to translator, as poet to poet, as doctor to doctor.”

Zaqtan and Joudah toured the UK and US with the book in the fall of 2012 after an initial tour, scheduled for spring 2012, had to be curtailed when Zaqtan did not receive a visa from the US government.

Views from events in Boston and Los Angeles:

By Ghada Mourad: ‘The Best Poems Are Not Political Poems, But —

By Kristin Wagner: Fady Joudah on ‘Othering’ Himself to Translate Ghassan Zaqtan 


A number of Zaqtan’s poems are online: herehere, and here.

Griffin Press Release:

In PDF format

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