If you’ll be in London on Wednesday, Nov. 25 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., join Atef Alshaer in translating Syrian poet Fouad Mohammad Fouad at the Poetry Translation Centre (PTC):
Born in Aleppo in 1961, Fouad Mohammad Fouad made his way in the world as a doctor, a public-health researcher, and a poet. He currently lives in Lebanon, where he’s a visiting professor at the American University in Beirut’s College of Health Sciences.
Fouad’s published several poetry collections, including Taghut al-Kalaam (Idol of Speech, 1990), Matruk Janiban (Left Aside, 1998), Qal Baydaba (Baydaba Said, 2004) and Ajza’ al-Hayawan (Parts of the Animal, 2010). You can read his “Aleppo Diary,” trans. Samuel Wilder, on the PTC website.
What does it mean to group-work on translations at the PTC?
My impetus to start the PTC was twofold: Firstly, my own experience as a poet indicated with absolute clarity that poetry only ever thrives through translation: see the impact Cathay had on Modernism or, more blatantly, the effect that Wyatt and Sidney’s translations of Petrarch had by their introduction of the sonnet into English.
Secondly, most translations of poetry from, say, Arabic were wincingly bad. I got the feeling that people only ever read them for ‘anthropological’ reasons. Nevertheless, the quality of good poetry does somehow shine through bad translations — the logic of the imagery is still there, the ideas function — so buried within the infelicities it was obvious that excellent poetry was struggling to emerge. My aim, when I founded the PTC, was to get outstanding poets to collaborate with exceptional translators, and that’s what we’ve done. Largely as a means of ensuring the poems are always translated to a high literary standard, but also in the hope that some of the poets might fall in love with poetry they otherwise would never have encountered and that these translations would permeate their own work. In addition, I hoped that their existing audiences would be inclined to read our translations out of curiosity, which demonstrably has occurred.
Thirdly, I was aware that the UK, especially London, is full of poetry fans! It’s notable that many of the recent immigrants here are poetry obsessed, particularly the Somalis, Afghans and Sudanese — many of whom have an especially tough time in Britain. So what better way to make them feel welcome than to translate their favourite poets to a high literary standard and invite them over here? The enthusiasm that has greeted our ‘star’ poet, the astonishing Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi from Sudan, is overwhelming to witness. And he too has been transformed as a result of his visits to the UK. As have I, his co-translator. Which means all of the above objectives have been fulfilled. In the process of which we’ve all had a wonderful time!
And, as Clarissa Aykroyd wrote of her experience at a PTC night translating al-Saddiq al-Raddi, “In working through this poem for a few hours with the group, I certainly appreciated the oft-expressed view that translation is the best way to engage closely with a poem.”
If you’re interested in being part of the group, you can sign up online. It’s free, although you can also append a donation.