#WiTMonth Cover Reveal: Iman Mersal’s ‘The Threshold’

By ArabLit Staff

Iman Mersal’s The Threshold, translated by Robyn Creswell, finally has a release date and a cover from FSG Books.

This long-awaited collection brings together poems from Mersal’s four extant books of poetry. They are in English translations that, Creswell writes in his introduction, were worked and re-worked over many smoky Skype calls, until their tense, storytelling musicality finally evoked the feeling of entering Mersal’s world in Arabic. Some of the poems — such as “The Visit” / “A Visit” — appeared earlier in Khaled Mattawa’s English translation. “A Visit,” in this new translation, is now much more alive, with a form and pacing that echoes the feeling of breathing heavily on stairs, pausing at the threshold, looking around an unfamiliar room.

“A Visit” is animated by infidelity, and betrayal, Creswell writes in his introduction, is both a motif that recurs and an artistic principal. The poems here betray their ancestors, although they also return to them, as in “Self-Exposure”: “I should tell my lover, / Be grateful for my infidelities. / Without them I wouldn’t / have stuck around long enough / to discover the open window in your laugh.”

As in Mersal’s prose, there is an entanglement of genres: concerns borrowed from her academic work; stylistic elements from confessional poets and epistolary novels; portraits of family and friends and frenemies; dark humor that is also social reportage and critique. As Creswell writes in his introduction, Mersal shares with Charles Simic and Wislawa Szymborska a “mistrust of bombast” and an “interest in the everyday surreal.” She is also, in a poetic move that feels wholly Egyptian, relentlessly funny.

The collection is coming mid-October and can be pre-ordered on the MacMillan website; we will have critical or creative entanglement with it in the coming months. Meanwhile:

Poetry by Iman Mersal, in translation by Robyn Creswell

Some things escaped me

Respect for Marx

It seems I inherit the dead

Black Fingers

Map Store

 The Idea of Houses

Raising a Glass With an Arab Nationalist

The Window


On Women’s Voices in Arabic Literature

Motherhood and its Images: Recapturing Motherhood in Photography – Iman Mersal


Listen to the Iman Mersal episode of Bulaq (English)

Listen to the Iman Mersal episode of Maqsouda(Arabic)

Other books by Mersal, in English, French, and Spanish translations

How to Mend: Motherhood and Its Ghosts, tr. Robin Moger

These Are Not Oranges, My Love, tr. Khaled Mattawa

Sur les traces d’Enayat Zayyat, tr. Richard Jaquemond

Geografia alternativa, tr. Ossorio Menéndez and Laura Salguero Esteban