Lit & Found: 3 Poems & an Interview, Iman Mersal and Robyn Creswell

Four Way Review, an online literary journal from the independent literary publisher Four Way Books, has published three poems by Iman Mersal in Robyn Creswell’s translation and a talk between Creswell and poet-translator Sara Elkamel.

The poems — “A grave I’m about to dig,” “A gift from Mommy on your seventh birthday,” and “A night at the theater” — come as Mersal’s The Threshold is set to appear in Creswell’s translation next month.

This extraordinary collection also features in the most recent episode of Bulaq: “End of Summer Reading.”

Photo credit: Ursula Lindsey

The conversation in Four Way Review addresses the selection process (the poems were taken from Mersal’s four extant collections), how Creswell and Mersal worked together, and the particular challenges of translating these “unmusical” poems.

About the choice of the title for the collection — and the wide-romping poem that lends it the name — Creswell said:

“The threshold,” in Arabic al-‘ataba, is an important motif in several of Iman’s poems. It names a site of risk, guilt, transformation. It’s also the title of a long poem that comes at the midpoint of the collection. To my mind, this is Iman’s farewell to the era of her youth. It’s a valedictory poem about Cairo in the nineties, full of Europeanizing elites, posturing poets, and entitled State intellectuals. It’s a poem of the open road that also tells the story of a generation: Iman and her friends wend their way from the Opera House in Zamalek, Cairo’s poshest neighborhood, to the ministry buildings and bars of downtown, through the streets of Old Cairo, and out into the City of the Dead—a burial ground that’s also a point of departure.

Read the interview and three poems at Four Way Review.

Listen to the latest episode of Bulaq at your preferred podcast app.