Hadil Ghoneim: Home Accents

The author at school in Kuwait. Courtesy of Hadil Ghoneim

“You speak with no accent,” the American man remarked. He was hosting our small Egyptian delegation for lunch, and I knew he meant it as a compliment. It was my first visit to the US, but instead of simply thanking him, I found myself thinking over his comment. “I actually speak English with an American accent,” I said. The awkwardness dissipated as I went on to tell the whole group about growing up in Kuwait, attending an American school where all my teachers were from the US. That school’s Lebanese-American founders probably had the same self-aggrandizing sense of identity, too. They named it The Universal American School.

American wasn’t the only accent I picked up there. The majority of my peers were the children of Lebanese, Palestinian, and Egyptian professionals working in Kuwait. There were very few Kuwaiti kids, some Iraqis, some Syrians, and a small assortment of non-Arab nationalities. I wasn’t even conscious that I was mimicking the other kids’ accents until the Arabic language teacher, assuming I was Kuwaiti, asked me to tell the class something about Kuwait. Before I could correct him, another kid shouted out that I was Palestinian, only to be corrected by another. I was embarrassed, but also surprised at how deceptive my speech could be. I wasn’t aware that I was an accent chameleon. For a long time after that incident, I thought the way I spoke must be the result of some weakness or insecurity that I had as a child in a culturally mixed community. Nothing reassured me about my bidialectalism until I came across some British research on accents (the Brits are famous for obsessing over voices). Rather than a sign of inauthenticity, research shows that switching dialects and accents is a natural and subconscious adaptive impulse, and that it can be attributed to the increased mobility of the middle classes.

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Youssef Rakha Translates Sargon Boulus, Again

Butterfly Dream

The butterfly that flies as if
tied by an invisible thread to paradise
almost brushed my chin while I sat in the garden
drinking my first coffee
shaking last night’s nightmares out of my head
lolling in the sun
I saw it drift over the wooden fence
like a dream or a prayer, what was
only yesterday a caterpillar
locked up in its tight cocoon.

Beirut’s Just a Place: Robin Moger Translates “Beirut Shi Mahal” (An Extract)

“A sea breeze bearing the sound of a car as it passes down the Corniche: enough to make you feel you knew these roads once, before the wars, before the city changed and became what it came to be.”

Rabie Jaber

 

The plane still pitching forward like a bullet as my head rattles and jars to words I once composed on another journey: “Let the days go by, just set your heart on the nearest table and wait.” It’s not the landing that scares me so much as this wild careen across the tarmac, as though the danger’s only real to me when it submits to gravity.

Years since I’ve returned to Cairo this way.

“Not a drop of rain fell tonight. To go away with no goodbyes: I’ve no regrets.”

In the passport queue I remember when these lines had come to me: in transit between Egypt and England, a university student, miserable most of the time, my life like a dream, transient and insubstantial against the solid reality of airports. Not poems I had expended any great time on, and maybe I’d never have thought of them again had they not rattled back into my head on the runway. Mind you, though: when they were published, several people had told me they were the strongest thing I’d written. It was only by (almost) pure chance that they had been published at all, and in Beirut, from where I’m returning.

No response to my greeting from the customs officer at his window and I’m hunched over the conveyor belt, waiting in agony for my bags. An agonising need to piss. This was one of the most exhausting trips I’ve ever taken, but it had certainly had its uses.

Has mother sent a man to wait for me among the drivers with their signs?


 

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Shadi Rohana: Cervantes and the Arabs (Don Quixote in Translation)

This is the text of a paper given at the the Humanities Institute of the University of California at Santa Cruz on 22 May 2019

The Aljamiado Manuscript, a Qur’anic exegesis (tafsir) manuscript from 16th-century Arévalo written in Castilian using the Arabic alphabet. Source: ballandalus.wordpress.com

The story which I’m about to tell you today is the history —or, rather, la historia, which in the Spanish language means both story and history— of how Miguel de Cervantes’ novel El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha, or, in English, The Valorous and Witty Knight-Errant Don Quixote of the Mancha, was translated into Arabic.

Two weeks ago, after I finished writing this first paragraph in my study room in Mexico City, I began reading it out loud to myself to test how it may sound to you. However, back then in Mexico City, as I reached the written word “Quixote,” how it is written in English —Q U I X O T E— my reading was interrupted by the silence of the following question: How am I to pronounce to you, in English, the name of our world-famous caballero? Am I going to pronounce it, here in Santa Cruz, as دون كيهوتِ, as some of my north-American friends do —with an “h” sound in the middle— or the Anglicized دون كْويكْسوتِ, the way many English-language speakers in Britain, to my surprise, still do?[1]

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Yumna Kassab: Taxi

Beirut taxi by The Monocle. Source: cdn.shopify.com

When my father was younger, he said he would learn English. It is the language of the world, it is the future here.

 He took us out of our school and enrolled us in another. Arabic, English, a little French, and this would let us be citizens of the world.

How was he to learn English as an adult man? There were no courses in the village, he could not read at a level to enter university. His one choice was to read over our shoulders and for us to teach him the words. He put a satellite dish on the roof and we only ever watched English shows night and day. He had the TV turned to children’s shows because they spoke slowly and he could understand.

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K. Eltinaé: wasiya

Rashid Diab, Out of Focus, 2015. Source: artauctioneastafrica.com/

How long is a life avoiding the beach? believing God spoke through my father some found seashell pushed off a shelf I cannot bury. I’d like to think there are aisles of men praying somewhere once I’m gone/that their tongues wrap around where I kept warm like a turban woven in prayer by strangers/that I am not found stiff/half hanging off a hotel bed under a phrasebook in another useless language/I hope I go dreaming in Arabic/because love there sounds like the wind passes through every vowel/somewhere buried in my voice there is asphalt singing as brothers build rooms for one another/I find new corners in case I come back/everyone gets a duaa to float across the lake and watch disappear/this is mine.

 


K. Eltinaé is a Sudanese poet of Nubian descent. His work has appeared in World Literature Today, The African American Review and About Place Journal, among others. He can be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

The Ruins by Josh Calvo

“The Ruins” is a term borrowed from pre-Islamic poetry, in which “weeping over the ruins” is a favorite gharad; the word gharad, which literally means “purpose” and roughly corresponds to genre, is used to indicate not so much a poem’s theme as the driving force behind its utterance.

Josh Calvo is a writer who also translates from Hebrew and Arabic, among other languages dead and alive. He can be reached at this email.

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Entrance to Aleppo Castle, G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection, 1898. Source: loc.gov

Then the rains washed over the ruins, like a book whose text is written and rewritten….

— Labid (d. 661)[1]

For reasons he has kept to himself, Hakham Abraham Yeshaya Dayan–—born around the turn of the nineteenth century in Aleppo, and risen to become a rabbinic leader in its Jewish community, authoring several religious and scholarly books which have now become obscure, the world to which they are addressed having disappeared and the city in which they were to be read and applied having become in the hundred years since he lived unfathomably and irreversibly unrecognizable—decided suddenly, with the dawning of what would be the decade before his death, that the time had come for him to walk along the walls of his ancient city in search of signs from its long history. For want of some sense of his inner motivations, of what he beheld in his mind whenever he tried to see Aleppo in times he cannot have known, of what image of the city as he knew it over his own lifetime had been building itself in his memory, I can discover little more than he himself has admitted—or that has, by chance or by force, admitted itself—into his words. The nineteenth-century Hakham would not have needed to describe the impression left in mind by what he could still see outside: like the feeling of what remained of what once was: or the music of the undead voices of those who lived before: the cold stone of a synagogue surviving in the walls of a mosques: or the distant echoing of King David’s cavalry and Mongol horses heard faintly, aloft the wind from faraway mountains. And now that the Aleppo he knew has smoldered and will never again be seen, what remains are only these silent words by which it will never be described.

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Alienation: A New Chapbook by Mahmoud Almunirawi

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Click the image to access the PDF

Sometimes I think about praying

Maybe in congregation with other Muslims

Afterwards, I would call my mum and tell her:

People liked my voice when I recited the Qur’an

This happens again and again

But I haven’t done it a single time since I left home

I did not even call and ask her how she is…

Mahmoud Almunirawi defines this PDF as an album of overexposed images of architecture and poems “written during my 5 years in Sweden. Together,” he writes, “they form an abstract biography of life events.” тнє ѕυℓтαη’ѕ ѕєαℓ, which posted some of these poems in the original Arabic, was not involved in editing the English text, which was translated from Arabic by Slimen Zougari.

Noor Naga: No One Walks Woman in Alexandria

Anti-harassment stencil graffiti by Keizer. The legend reads “Check yourself before we check you”. Source: tavaana.org

The men of this city make animal

sounds as if to say

I got a slaughter with your neck

      on it now how

you gonna walk with your psst-psst hidden

  all your psst-psst hiding

      from me

           and my tick-tick pointing

pants how now you gonna walk two-legged

with my panting your

          stiff sniffable neck and my smick-smack with my

bone back watching—

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Matthew Chovanec: On Its Own Fucked-up Terrain

Matthew Chovanec reviews Yasser Abdel Hafez’s The Book of Safety, for which Robin Moger won the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize in 2017

Rohan Daniel Eason (copyright One Peace Books), from a children’s illustrated Kafka. Source: wired.com

Arabic novels are so frequently described as Kafkaesque or Orwellian that you’d be forgiven for thinking that the two authors were themselves Arab. It is a small wonder that noone has yet tried to uncover their secret Arab origins by etymologizing their names (قفقاء and الروال) in the way that the Turks have for Shakespeare. It is true that both of their names have become literary shorthand for a type of writing dealing with dystopia, oppressive bureaucracies, and the horrors of totalitarian society. It is also true that Arab societies have continued unabated to live through dystopias, oppressive bureaucracies, and the horrors of totalitarian society. But the label flattens out what is particular and new about so much excellent Arabic writing, and suggests that everything you need to know about the daily experience of living in a dysfunctional and cruel system can be captured by the term  “nightmarish”.

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55: Yasmine, Robin, Mohieddin

Poem 55 from a correspondence in translations of Ibn Arabi’s Tarjuman al-Ashwaq, between Yasmine Seale and Robin Moger. The first two translations are made independently and each subsequent rendering written after the other’s previous version has been sent and seen.

Khusraw discovers Shirin bathing in a pool from a 16th-century Khamsa by Nizami. Source: Wikipedia


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Y(i)

 

Distance, and desire ruins me. To meet

is no relief. Come or go, desire hardly cares.

 

Meeting him, unreckoned

things happen. In place of healing,

another ache of longing.

 

Because to meet him is to see

a person whose beauty grows

ever more abundant, proud.

 

All I can do is match my love’s ascent

To his loveliness on its measured scale.

 

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Tam Hussein: The American

Christopher Anderson, Kunduz, Afghanistan, 2001. Source: magnumphotos.com

“What do you reckon that is?” Abu Imad said, tapping the scope. He looked at me, rubbing his bushy beard thoughtfully. He wanted me to make the two-meter journey to take a look.

“I’m all right here to be honest,” I said, looking at Abu Imad’s powerful frame. In my experience, God creates two types who stay on for the long haul. Either the rugby player variety or the wiry knife wielding sort, used to taking down bigger opponents. Abu Imad belonged to the former.

“Come,” he insisted, “come.”

I didn’t really feel like giving him my opinion. I didn’t want to entertain the mad shit bouncing around his head. What’s it going to be? Either some mountain goat or a hardy plant that has somehow emerged out of this cruel valley where we’d been stuck for years. What new excitement could this brother show me? We hadn’t progressed against the enemy, not because we were weak but because the commanders were arguing sometimes over strategy, sometimes over tactics, most of the time over honour and on rare occasions about God. In spite of them, we held this crag. We were mountain lions in courage and mountain goats in stubbornness.

“Come,” he pleaded, “check it.”

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Valentina Viene Translates Ali Jazo: This Is Your City

Hans-Lemmen

Hans Lemmen/Roger Ballen, Rendez-vous, from “Unleashed”, 2016. Source: damnmagazine.net

Abandoned bags are tossed about by the noon breeze.

Tree leaves, narrow pavements,

.

children next to shoes,

teens, out of school, are smoking.

The curls on their foreheads are so shiny

they look frozen and stiff.

.

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Robin Moger: From Ibn Arabi’s Turjuman al Ashwaq

I wish I knew

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Claudia Gerhard. Source: strkng.com

I wish I knew they knew what heart

they held. That my heart knew

what pass they tread. You wonder

Are they safe?

Or perished?

.

The enamoured are

in love adrift

ensnared.

 

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.

This is Robin Moger’s version of the first poem in Turjuman al Ashwaq

Writing the North African Experience: Interview with Youssef Rakha

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Centre for African Poetry: Let us begin by inviting you to humour our ignorance. The title of your 2011 novel is translated Book of the Sultan’s Seal, but we wonder which of the two names we have seen for it in Arabic is more accurate – khutbat al-kitab, or Kitab at Tughra?

Rakha: Kitab at Tughra is the title. Khutbat al-kitab means, literally, “Address of the book”; it’s a formulaic canonical phrase for “introduction” or “prologue”, which here and in old Arabic books doubles as a kind of table of contents; on the surface the novel is modelled on a medieval historical text. It may be worth mentioning in passing that the original sense of kitab, which is the Arabic word for “book”, means simply “letter” or “epistle”: every canonical book is addressed to a patron or a friend, and that’s an idea that is particularly meaningful to me.

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Robin Moger Translates Mohab Nasr

Two Versions of “The People Are Asleep”

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Quamrul Abedin, from “Silent Solitude”. Source: lensculture.com

(1)

“The people are asleep,

Don’t wake the people, darling,

So she’d tell him

Whenever he cracked his knuckles on the balcony,

Whenever his eyes shone behind the door

Like a password,

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Banipal Interview with SARGON BOULUS

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By Margret Obank

Sargon Boulus has the rare experience of being an Iraqi poet who has been part of the American poetry since the late sixties. Today he is passing this on to the new generation of young Arab poets through his poetry.

He is one of the most important Arab poets today. He started publishing poetry and short stories contributing to Shi’r magazine of Yousef Al-Khal and Adonis in Beirut. When he went to the US, he was ‘lost’ the Arab world until he re-emerged in the mid-80s with his Arrival in Where-City collection of poems.

His poems and translations have appeared in numerous Arab magazines and newspapers, and he published four collections of poetry. Now in his early fifties, Sargon seems still to have all the energy and vibrant imagination of his youthful days in Iraq and Beirut.

Besides writing poems and short stories, Sargon is well known as an accomplished translator into English and American poets such as Ezra Pound, W. H. Auden (he is soon to publish a complete an his translations of Auden together with extensive notes and an introduction on Auden’s life), W. S Shakespeare, Shelley, William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath, Robert Duncan, John Robert Bly, Anne Sexton, John Logan, and many other poets including Rilke, Neruda, Vasko Popa and Ho Chi Min.

Since the mid-80s, he has been on the move between San Francisco, Paris, London and Cologne a last year has lived in Schoppingen artists’ village in Germany, where I visited him last September. We spent a day under the Sh?ppingen sky, eating, drinking and talking about his life, his childhood, his views on poetic form and his endless experiments with the Arabic language.

I keep going back and forth into the past. The discovery which comes usually late is that most of the material that has made you and still works on you, even today, lies somewhere there, mostly in childhood, so that, in a way, I think that whatever happened to you in childhood, your circumstances, the place you lived in, the time, the happenings, these shape you up, especially if you are a poet, if you are a writer, and later on you would come back to this material and discover that that is your real capital. So I keep going, as I said, in these late poems back into that time, to shape them up anew, see them in a new way, kind of bracket in the perspective, tighten it and bring out the deepest possible meaning in those scenes and happenings and family background.

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