Seagull Books has made Samuel Wilder’s translation of Ghassan Zaqtan’s Describing the Past available free online. To celebrate, four more by the multi-award-winning author:

Zaqtan, co-winner of Canada’s 2013 Griffin Poetry Prize, with his translator Fady Joudah, has also won the Mahmoud Darwish Award (2016) and was shortlisted for the US-based Neustadt.

He is the author of numerous collections of poetry, novels, and also the play The Narrow Sea, which was honored at the 1994 Cairo Festival. Memory has a central place in Zaqtan’s work; he told PBS: “For this uncertain place, for uncertain life, which we have in this area, we have to protect our personal history.”

1. Describing the Past, tr. Samuel Wilder

First, the semi-autobiographical novella, Describing the Past, about which ArabLit’s chief editor wrote earlier, “The 84-page work echoes the dreaminess of Kazuo Ishiguro′s The Unconsoled; instead of dream-logic, however, there is memory-logic.” 

The excerpt on Seagull’s website open:

I awoke from sleep. Something woke me. A sound or a call, a strange movement, five fingers on a lithe hand.

Someone woke me.

The muezzin was at the end of the call. Then everything fell silent.

The house was empty without reason.

I looked at the bed and he was still there. I crawled on my knees to him.

The void multiplied. He was dead.

While you’re there, you can also get Zaqtan’s Where the Bird Disappearedtr. Wilder.

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2. You’re Not Alone in the Wilderness, tr. Fady Joudah

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3. “Khalil Zaqtan,” tr. Joudah

This poem, one of several of Zaqtan’s published by the Poetry Foundation, opens:

And I will bend down to smell his desire
his tomb’s flowers and marble
his wilting joy
his swapping temptation for content

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4. “Glee,” tr. Joudah

This poem appears in Adroit. The poem begins with a few characters at a bus stop, and goes on: “To write a memory I gathered a memory / and to green the marshes I sprinkled friends/ over the salt marshes, and was at a loss/ with myself, I the conceited, at a loss/ with my palm as I collected stones,/ fruits and people from the hell of the earth/ to return them as poems/ that dreams almost leap out of”

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5. “Old Reasons,” tr. Joudah

On World Literature Today, it opens:

Old friend, when we meet, we will meet
as two shelves of wings and many harsh years,
as one imagination that won’t exchange toasts:
there’s no one to stomp the grapes for the ancient feasts

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