Friday Finds: Norbert Hirschhorn’s ‘Stephen Spender’-commended Translation

Winners of the 2019 Stephen Spender Prize for poetry in translation were announced this past Wednesday, November 13:

This year’s list of winning and commended poems was unusually diverse for the Spender prize, with poems from the Japanese, Serbian, Classical Chinese, Arabic, Nepali, Tamil, and Bengali, among other languages.

The commended poem from Arabic, Fouad M. Fouad’s “The King,” was in translation by Norbert Hirschhorn, and opens:

I am the Lord of the room.
My crown is morning dust,
the floor my castle.

I am the Lord of the room,
The Bestower, beside me books are useless
A Corinthian Column, unlike the hat rack.
The Ever-lasting, like damp on the wall.

The prize — open to UK residents — is for an unpublished translation of a poem from any language into English, and there are three categories: open, 18-and-under, and 14-and-under.

Those who are submitting must send in both poem and commentary of no more than 300 words. In his commentary, Hirschhorn wrote about his process:

Since I am not literate in Arabic, the author of the original poem gave me a word-by-word literal translation. In making the poem into English we worked together to keep the metaphors and images intact; but I could not imitate the cadence of the Arabic, especially the hard glottal kaf whose repetitions in classical Arabic poetry connotes fear, impending doom. I did, however, use words with the subtler palatal ‘k’ and ‘c’. What was lost on one side was gained on the other.

Those who are interested can find a discussion between Fouad M. Fouad and Norbert Hirschhorn, as well as several more poems in translation, in the Winter/Spring 2019 issue of ArabLit Quarterly: The Strange.