NTA’s 2023 Poetry Longlist Includes Iman Mersal’s ‘The Threshold,’ tr. Robyn Creswell, and Vénus Khoury-Ghata’s ‘The Water People,’ tr. Marilyn Hacker

SEPTEMBER 1, 2023 — The American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) today announced the longlists for the 2023 National Translation Awards (NTA) in Poetry and Prose.

Although there were no Arab or Arabic titles on this year’s prose longlist, there were two on the 12-book poetry longlist: Iman Mersal’s The Threshold, translated from Arabic by Robyn Creswell, and Vénus Khoury-Ghata’s The Water People, translated from French by Marilyn Hacker.

The judges’ citation for The Threshold says:

Robyn Creswell writes that the poet Iman Mersal,  “Egypt’s—indeed, the Arab World’s—great outsider poet” finds her politics “not in the public square or at the checkpoint, but rather in the realm of sexual relations, commonplace idioms, and hierarchies of power that are more durable because mostly unacknowledged.” It is in his straightforward, lyrical rendition of such scenarios that the translator succeeds. An abiding skepticism animates The Threshold, of collective identities, political mobilization, modernization, family relations, and much more. In the title poem, “one long-serving intellectual screamed at his friend / When I’m talking about democracy / you shut the hell up.” “CV,” which catalogues the conspicuous absence of wasted days and empty hours, ends by defining the vita’s relationship to life itself as “proof that the one who lived it / has cut all ties to the earth.”

While the judges’ citation for The Water People says:

Lebanese-French author Vénus Khoury-Ghata invents a fabulist realm, lyrically rendered by Marilyn Hacker, a village where daily life plays out among the “water people,” their words and silences, and feathers, fire, wolves, bees, and, crucially, trees. Hacker locates the village, in part, in Khoury-Ghata’s mother’s village of Bcharré, and notes the way “Lebanese Arabic, with its own history, its music, its proverbs” infuses Khoury-Ghata’s French.The long poem’s vivid and unvarnished dream world poignantly signals to our climate crisis: “if you step on the stream’s foot it will make the ocean’s / water level rise the shamaness had said / and no one contradicted her.”

This year’s poetry judges are Pauline Fan, Heather Green, and Shook. This year’s prose judges are Natascha Bruce, Shelley Frisch, Jason Grunebaum, Sawad Hussain, and Lytton Smith.