A New Translation from Amal Dunqul’s ‘Book of Genesis’

When asked back in 2009 what Arabic works should be translated into English, poet-translator Fady Joudah told the Quarterly Conversation he’d like to see Ghassan Zaqtan’s Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me in English. Joudah has since translated that collection — and won the prestigious Griffin Poetry Prize for his translation. 

But Joudah also named two more poets, in addition to Palestinian novelist Ibrahim Nasrallah. The two poets were  Syrian Muhammad al-Maghut and Egyptian Amal Dunqul (1940 – 1983):

There are, I believe, two out-of-print collections of al-Maghut’s work in English translation, as well as a number of additional poems translated by Sinan Antoon. I don’t believe there are any full-length collections of Donqol’s work.

As Suneela Mubayi wrote in Jadaliyya several years back, accompanying a translation of Dunqul’s “Spartacus’ Last Words,” Dunqul “was part of what is known as the ‘sixties generation’ of Egyptian poets and one of the most significant (political) poets of modern Arabic literature who remains largely untranslated.”

Dunqul — who continues to be celebrated in Egypt — had six published poetry collections, and his life was also chronicled by his wife, the author Abla El-Roweyni. Director Ateyat al-Abnoudy also made a documentary about Dunqul’s life, “Memories of Room 8.”

One also finds stray lines of his poetry appearing in contemporary Egyptian novels and short stories, as in Ibrahim Farghali’s Smiles of the Saints or Yasser Abdellatif’s “Country Train,” when the narrator says, “Recalling some lines of poetry by Amal Donqol—At the village stations insomnia’s trains pull in/ And the wings of dust draw up with the languor of imminence—I took to entertaining myself by repeating them and fancied I saw the train approaching, swaying indistinct through the darkness… but it was only fancy.”

Although he is best remembered for his more political poetry, his work was also interested in ancient stories, pre-Islamic lore, and Biblical legends.

Now, in the long-awaited third issue of The Seedings, Robin Moger has translated “Book of Genesis,” which opens:


You can continue reading at Seedings.

Other translations of Dunqul’s work:

Spartacus’ Last Words, trans. Suneela Mubayi

A Special Interview with Noah’s Son, trans. Ghada Mourad

Koleib’s Murder (The Ten Commandments), trans. Nada Hegazy