PalFest Previews: Tom Warner on Accepting the Questions As Part of Translation

In the approach to Palestine Festival of Literature, we’ll be running a few preview-interviews with the authors traveling along for this year’s six-city festival. Among them is UK poet Tom Warner, who won an Eric Gregory Award in 2001, a Faber New Poets Award in 2010, the ink-sweat-and-tears Norfolk Prize in 2009 and 2010, the Escalator Prize in 2011 and the Plough Prize in 2011. A pamphlet of Tom’s poetry was published by Faber & Faber in 2010. This is his first time with PalFest:

Tom-inreading-room-300x198ArabLit: What made you decide to go along? What are you hoping comes out of it, both for you & for audiences?

Tom Warner: I enjoy hearing new work and meeting writers and audiences. I hope to get a sense of Arabic poetry and offer something of UK poetry to PalFest audiences.

AL: You do a number of festivals (Cheltenham, Cambridge, Dhaka, Nottingham). What are you expecting to be different about PalFest?

TW: I don’t have any preconceptions about what PalFest will be, but I’ve heard great things from previous guests, the British Council others involved in the festival.

AL: You give creative-writing workshops at schools — I assume you’ll also be doing at least one creative-writing workshop as part of PalFest? What do you enjoy about teaching these workshops? Or…you do enjoy them, right?

TW: I will be delivering workshops at Palfest. I enjoy working with writers at all stages of their development. I feel I benefit as a writer as much as the participants do – again, a kind of trade. They’re an opportunity for poets to connect and discover other processes and share work. Editor’s note: You can sign up for Warner’s workshop, and six others, on Facebook.

AL: Your PalFest biography notes that you’re currently at work on a translation of poetry by Nouri al-Jarrah. Is that your first translation? How did it come about? Are you working with al-Jarrah? 

TW: I’m working on a translation of a small selection of Nouri’s poetry, supported by Arts Council England. It’s my first experience of translation and I’m still getting a feel for the process. It’s a process full of doubt and questions such as; What’s my role in this? Am I serving the original well? Am I producing something that stands up on its own? I’m still getting used to just accepting these questions as a natural part of translation.

I came into the translation after making contact with Najwan Darwish at a reading I did in the UK. We became friend and Najwan suggested I give translation a go. I don’t have any Arabic so Najwan kindly gives up his time to help me develop literal translations of the poems which I can then work with.


Note: Banipal has three of al-Jarrah’s poems, trans. Seema Atalla, available online. From “Summer Balcony”:

My words are dying.
Bringing them water,
I arrive to find them dead –
my words
were born
and lay on this balcony.

Days have passed
and I, as one drugged,
stare out
at yellow cars
on the hill.