What Fady Joudah’s Learned from the Poetry of Translation

Today, the 2013 Palestine Festival of Literature begins. Hopefully by later this afternoon, or at least by evening, posts will start to arrive. In the meantime, this week on Poetry Foundation, Alex Dueben has a very interesting interview with (Palestinian) poet-translator Fady Joudah:

xfady-joudah.jpg.pagespeed.ic.EZwY5mmtkkIn the interview, Joudah talks about his reading of Ghassan Zaqtan’s Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me (he likens it to Sebald’s work), his own poetry, his work as a doctor (also “a troubled field of power”), and the reclamation of language.

On what he’s learned from translation, Joudah said:

One of the things that I learned from the poetry of translation—and people ask that question a lot, as it is perhaps the closest form of reading that anyone can do of a text—is that a poet must have his or her own lexicon. It’s not necessarily a conscious process, but a process that accumulates spontaneously, and only much later will the poet become aware of [it]. It made me pay attention more to the things that recur in my language—not necessarily because I want to repeat them, but because they accumulate spontaneously, like straws or sediment after a flood. I’ve developed this belief that a poet who’s unable to create his or her own private lexicon probably risks entrapment into literature. I love one of the lines by Henry Miller in Tropic of Cancer, “the triumph [of the individual] over art.” I think that for me is the essence of writing poetry in translation.

About his latest book, Textu, forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press:

Textu is a book of short poems with a twist, a formal constraint that relies on character count on the cell phone as meter instead of the syllable count. Just as reading displaced memory in human time, and printing displaced reading, now visual technology, for better and worse, is displacing print, displacing one facet of many of our own sense of consciousness.

Joudah said he wrote all the poem “on the phone, in three couplets, no punctuation” and added that “Sometimes the experience had the feeling of action painting.”

Joudah also said, of readerly reaction to Textu:

When I was sharing the Textu poems with my friends, some did express excitement over noticing an actual physical conditioning taking place. The phone rings, a name appears, a particular quality of communication is anticipated, etc. But I return to a simple reality for me. I wrote Textu because I wanted to keep testing my language in a busy day between home and clinic.


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Suleiman Hodali, Levi Thompson and Rawad Wehbe on Zaqtan and Joudah’s visit to UCLA

Fady Joudah on ‘Othering’ Himself to Translate Ghassan Zaqtan

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The Arab Author’s ‘Place’ in America