Friday Finds: Newly Translated Poems by Ahmed Shafie, Wadie Saadeh, and Muhammad Al Maghout

Over at Qisas Ukhra, translator Robin Moger has published several new poems:

First, he bought out two newly translated poems by the late Syrian poet and playwright Muhammad al-Maghout (1934-2006).

Although at least two collections of al-Maghout’s work have been published in English — Joy is Not My Profession and The Fan of Swords, trans. May Jayyusi and Naomi Shihab Nye — both are out of print.

Moger has translated “Horror and sex” and “The orphan.”

From “Horror and sex”:

In the dark

deep stagnant dark

where the wind roars

and the wet trees howl like women raped

he encircles me with his arms

and sinks into my flesh like louse eggs.

Also by al-Maghout:

An excerpt from Joy is Not My Profession (translator’s name too small to read)

“Roman Amphitheaters,” trans. Ahmad Diab

“Tattoo,” trans. Sinan Antoon

“Shade and Noon Sun,” translator not named


Next was Wadih Saadeh’s “The grass,” which opens:

He wants to go back. In the wall of his house is a tuft of grass he wants to go back and see.

Guardian of the two stones and soul of their communion across the crack in that wall. The wall whose stones he laid stone against stone careful not to leave a space. But they found a soul and in a moment unattended a small space grew.

Saadeh, born in Shabtin, Lebanon in 1948, moved to Beirut at the age of twelve. In 1973, he self-published his first collection, Evening Has No Brothers, reputedly selling handwritten copies on the streets of Beirut.

After some itinerant years, Saadeh and his family moved to Australia, in search of social justice, and he’s been there since 1988. While his poetry often returns to a Lebanese landscape, it is also relentlessly interested in the possibilities of a future. As he wrote in the preface to his only English-language collection, A Secret Sky (1997): “Poetry is not just an expression of the past, it is an act of creation, a dream of renewal, the only way for me to recreate myself as I would wish to be.”

Also by Saadeh:

In Jadaliyya, you can find five poems translated by Sinan Antoon, from Sa’adeh’s collection Who Took the Gaze I Left Behind the Door. 

Also in Jadaliyya, An Attempt to Reach Beirut from Beirut,” translated Suneela Mubayi.

Poetry International Web has published various poems by Sa’adeh translated by Anne Fairbairn and published in the collection A Secret Sky (1997).

Two poems: “A Life,” and “Because of a Cloud, Most Likely,” both translated by Ghada Mourad.

Missing Slate published “Hey Allen Ginsberg, I Think That the Fan is Rotating,” translated by Maged Zaher.

Three poems, trans. Moger


Last was a new poem by Ahmed Shafie, “pasta tree,” which ends:

what matters  whichever way the branches reach  is that we now have   in an ordinary village whose name can be found in government files  unlike Macondo   a tree linked to a young woman  a tree around whose trunk pasta with hot sauce has been thrown  and a young woman who lives on light and water  and a window which has not been closed  and a geography teacher who climbs each night to the roof of his house and burns a copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude  to find it once more the instant he descends back to his rooms  on a shelf without a particle of dust upon it  to its right the bound volumes of the Story of Civilization and The Character of Egypt to its left  deep in black grime     what can we say about Manama?     safely  that it is the capital of the Kingdom of Bahrain and lies  according to Wikipedia  on the north coast of that country  and that it is a touch more than twenty-seven thousand kilometres in extent     no need to mention a dermatologist who is resident there according to the testimony of patients and friends and government records  and yet   despite this   despite it all

Shafie is an Egyptian poet, novelist, and translator, author of And Other Poems (2009) and the novel The Creator (2013). He’s also translated work by Charles Simic, Billy Collins, Lucille Clifton, and others  into Arabic.

Shafie was a 2014 International Writing Program resident; his translation of Russell Edson’s Collected Prose Poems was one of Muhammad Abdelnaby’s “favorite reads” of 2015.