‘And the Freight of…Sufi Poetry That They Bear’

Over at the blog ‘The Stone and the Star,’ host Clarissa Aykroyd writes about translating work by Ateif Khieri at the Poetry Translation Centre (PTC) in London:

AteifAykroyd wrote, about the May 29 PTC workshop, that:

It was a fun evening. We ended up laughing quite a lot, which was a surprise, as it’s not a particularly humorous poem. You can judge for yourself and read the poem, ‘Exhortation to the Village (8)’….

The original of the poem, “(تشجيع القرويات (8”, begins:

الحروبُ النحيلةُ غداً
صدفةً في الظلام
أقفاصُ الفاكهة تخيف

The “literal” translation opens:

The emaciated wars tomorrow
A surprise in the dark
The cages of the fruit terrify

And the final version:

Tomorrow the straitened wars
In darkness, suddenly,
the crates of fruit terrify

The translational notes say that this “small, delicate, and suggestive poem” was one of the hardest the workshop had tackled in a long time. This was particularly “because of the density of the imagery, the way in which images are juxtaposed and the freight of meanings from centuries of Sufi poetry that they bear.”

Akroyd said the poem reminded her somehow of Paul Celan, and gripped her with an odd sense of familiarity.

Every word required discussion, according to the notes, beginning with the title, which “in Sam’s very literal version, could seem close to ‘broadcast’ in English, but which also carries the idea of an instruction, which we translated as ‘exhortation’ – to the final line with, again, an image of something being broadcast, this time via an aeriel.”

According to the PTC website, Ateif Khieri was born in northern Sudan in 1967 and moved to Khartoum in 1986 to study drama at Sudan University. He became actively involved in the city’s theater community.

It was 1989 when Ateif first came to prominence as a poet, shortly after the coup that brought Omar El-Bashir to power. That’s when Ateif and Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi took part in a series of underground poetry readings in defiance of authorities.

After this, Ateif moved in and out of the country — living for a time in Libya and Egypt — but returning to read poetry and direct and act in plays until 2002, when he moved to exile in Australia.

Ateif has published three collections of poetry: Script of Earth (1995), Suspicions (1999), and Heartening Country Women (2006). He is also the author of two plays, Master in Exile and Dancing in the Museum.


Two of Khieri’s poems were included in Best Australian Poems 2006, trans. Timur Hammond. You can see them on Google Books.

You can also find translations of his work in other Australian publications, such as Going Down Swinging.