Sarah Coolidge on the the Dual-language Poetry Anthology ‘Home’

The anthology Home: New Arabic Poems is unusual among anthologies of Arabic-language poetry in English translation, as discussed in “‘Home’: Nine Arab Poets Explore Interior Spaces in a New Bilingual Anthology”:

There is no scholarly introduction, no contextualization of the poems or placement in a socio-historical framework. Instead, the poems in this dual-language speak to their doubles, to each other, and to the reader. Calico series editor Sarah Coolidge answered a few questions about the book.

Sarah Coolidge: The idea behind the Calico Series was always to create books that we ourselves would want to read. Oftentimes this means pursuing voices or themes that are underrepresented, or else putting familiar writers in new contexts, so that their writing can be considered in a new light. We wanted to focus on poetry for our second Calico, since the first one, That We May Live, consisted of fiction. Part of why we decided to pursue Arabic poetry was the feeling that, in particular, contemporary Arabic poetry is egregiously underrepresented in English translation. We also noticed that what little was published tended to focus on political upheaval and other themes that are important but limiting. We wanted to see what contemporary poets might be writing that we may not be seeing, including work that takes up more personal, everyday matters. It was extremely thrilling to choose a theme that allowed us to peek into more intimate spaces and watch language at its most dexterous, making whole worlds out of everyday encounters. We had no idea we’d all be confined to our homes during the editing process!

The Two Lines website calls Calico “a new book series dedicated to capturing vanguard works of translated literature.” Can you say a bit more about what you mean by vanguard?

SC: In the Calico Series, we’re really committed to finding new voices and upending expectations. We’re eager to see work that speaks to the present moment or breaks conventions, pointing to new ways of thinking about literature and our world. Our hope is that readers can look to this series to discover new writers, as well as new writing by favorite writers, and have a reading experience outside the conventions of big publishing. We’re also incredibly grateful to be working with some of the best literary translators, thanks to relationships developed over more than twenty-five years of publishing translated literature through Two Lines. We couldn’t do any of this without the hard work of incredibly dedicated, talented, and enthusiastic translators. Really we look to them to tell us who the “vanguard” writers are, who they’re most excited about.

What were you looking for when you chose these nine poets (some of whom are of course widely acclaimed, but it doesn’t include for instance Adonis, or Ghassan Zaqtan, or Mohamed Bennis, etc.)? 

SC: In the end we chose these nine poets because their poems felt the most dynamic and thought-provoking on the subject of home. But early in the process, I was really determined to see as diverse a pool of submissions as possible. My goal was to publish as many male writers as non-male writers, and I wanted to represent as many countries as we could. I wanted to counterbalance the structural inequality of publishing in my solicitations as much as possible. The goal of Home was certainly never to be exhaustive in representing the breadth of contemporary Arabic poetry. As you mentioned, many notable Arabic poets of the twentieth century aren’t featured. I guess it goes back to our initial inspiration for this series: finding work that speaks to the present moment by writers underrepresented in English. Hopefully readers will discover new writers and avenues for thought in its pages. Like all books, it’s a jumping off point.

Also read:

Selected Poems: Mohamad Nassereddine, tr. Huda Fakhreddine

Ines Abassi’s “The Key,”  tr. Koen De Cuyper and Hodna Bentali Gharsallah Nuernberg

The book’s table of contents is at the Two Lines website.

The next book in the series, Elemental, is set for a March 2021 release