Language: Arabic

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The international literary news you won't find anywhere else.

It’s Friday and we’re back with the latest news from our Editors-at-Large, providing us with their personal roundups of the most exciting literary developments in their region. We kick off with Jessie Stoolman in Morocco, where there’s never a shortage of intriguing events and publications; Julia Sherwood in Slovakia takes us on a tour of the various cross-cultural literary encounters that have been occurring recently in the Czech Republic; and finally, Omar El Adl gives us some insight into the latest talks, discussions and publications that are taking place right now in Egypt. 

Jessie Stoolman, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Morocco: 

July was filled with literary events throughout Morocco, starting with a conversation between two Moroccan Prix Concourt winners, Leila Slimani and Tahar Ben Jelloun, at the Minzah Hotel, where they discussed “Comment écrire et publier un livre?” (“How to write and publish a book”) Another star Moroccan author (and painter), Mahi Benibine, whose novel Horses of God, inspired by the 2003 suicide attacks in Casablanca, was made into a critically-acclaimed film, presented his newest novel Le fou du roi at Librairie les insolites in Tangier.

Speaking of new publications from major Moroccan authors, Dar Toubkal’s newly released publication of the poet Mohammed Bennis’ الأعمال النثرية (Works of Prose) was just reviewed in Al-Hayat.

Still staying within the Tangier region, the Galerie Delacoix hosted artists, academics, and students for the الجسد الإجتماعي والمحيط الحضري (Espace urbain & corps social) program and internal working week. Among the participants was Moroccan-French artist and co-founder of the Cinémathèque du Tanger, Yto Berrada. Given continued action from the Al-Hoceima-based protest movement (حراك الريف), the geographer William Kurtz’s talk on “La Globalisation de la Région Tangier Al-Hoceima et son impact sur les inégalites sociales et spatiales” (“Globalization of the Tangier Al-Hoceima Region and its impact on social and spatial inequalities”) was particularly timely.

If that was not enough activity in Tangier, Librairie des Colonnes hosted Zahra Al-Khamleshi, who presented her most recent work, الحدود في شمال المغرب: آمال وآلام النساء الحمالات (Borders in Northern Morocco: Hope and Suffering of Women Porters) on the women who carry products between Ceuta (a Spanish enclave/colony in northern Morocco) and Morocco.

Moving further south, in Casablanca, Kabareh Cheikhats was back again. Their travelling show aims to shed light on the history of Cheikhats, who are often mischaracterized as exotic dancers. Historically, Cheikhats throughout the Maghreb were skilled poets, improvising verses on such controversial topics as resistance to colonization, which they sang and set to music at community gatherings.

Lastly, check out the “Lilipad” project, started by young Moroccan activist Sara Arsalane, which aims to collect books and distribute them to underserved schools throughout Morocco.

Julia Sherwood, Editor-at-Large, with all the latest news from the Czech Republic: 

On August 4, as we go to press, Czech poet and literary historian Petr Hruška and Georgian poet and musician Erekle Deisadze are reading from their works in the Ukrainian city of Lviv. Their performance brings to a close a 31-day long marathon tour of five cities, comprising Authors’ Reading Month (Měsíc autorského čtení or MAČ 2017), Central Europe’s largest literary festival. The readings, by two or more authors each day, are broadcast live and the recordings are available online. The festival’s founder Petr Minařík, whose publishing house Větrné mlýny is based in the Czech Republic’s second largest city Brno, has given a wide berth to capital cities, instead locating the festival in four other cities of similar size: Ostrava near the Polish border, Wrocław on the other side of the border in Poland, Košice in eastern Slovakia and, more recently, Lviv in Ukraine.

The guest country of this year’s festival, which kicked off in Brno on 1st July, is Georgia. This country in the Caucasus is fast becoming a trendy tourist destination, yet its literary riches are not all that well known in Central Europe. Thirty-one Georgian writers joined the tour, accompanied by acclaimed Czech authors, among them Ivan Klíma, Arnošt Goldflam, Ivan Binar, Marek Šindelka, Martin Reiner, Michal Viewegh and Jáchym Topol (whose 1995 novel Angel Station, just out from Dalkey Archive Press in Alex Zucker’s English translation, was reviewed by James Hopkin in last week’s Times Literary Supplement). A traditionally strong Slovak contingent was represented by poets Peter Repka and Ivan Štrpka, and fiction writers Balla, Monika Kompaníková, Ondrej Štefánik, Michal Havran, and Silvester Lavrík. Several Ukrainian and Polish writers and poets also took part in some of the readings.

One of the Polish festival participants, Zośka Papużanka, arrived in Brno fresh from another appearance, in Prague, with Czech writer Ivana Myšková. The two women read from their works at the (A)VOID Floating Gallery, a boat moored on the Vltava Riverbank, which serves as an art gallery and a venue for music, theatre and literary readings. Other writers reading there this summer include Ben Aaronovitch and Czech horror story writer Miloš Urban. The gallery provided a more than fitting venue for the launch of a bilingual Czech and English anthology, A Giant Barrel of Rotgut, that “celebrates the Vltava as a river of slain crocodiles, viziers and rotgut.” If that sounds intriguing, you can find out more in this interview with poet Sylva Fischerová on Radio Prague.

And, finally, emerging translators from the Czech (and Slovak) will be interested to hear that Underpass.co, an online journal for modern literature in translation, is seeking submissions specifically from these two languages. The journal aims to offer English-speaking readers a window into new countries, neighbourhoods, cultures, perspectives, and they are especially interested in stories with a strong sense of place.

Omar El Adl, Editor-at-Large, giving us the latest scoop from Egypt: 

Alia Mossallam presented a talk on August 3 in the Townhouse gallery in Downtown Cairo. The talk featured her text RAWI which deals with motherhood, writing, and revolutionary politics, according to Mada Masr. Mossallam has collected oral history testimonies in Nubia, Alexandria and Port Said, has been involved in alternative pedagogical structures in Cairo, and her dissertation focused on a popular history of Nasserist Egypt through stories and songs by people behind the 1952 revolution. The text was created as part of a long form essay workshop held in Cairo by 60pages, which describes itself as an international network of writers, artists, thinkers and scientists, based in Berlin. Other texts produced for 60pages include Arab Porn by Youssef Rakha (which will be published as a book featuring Rakha’s photography by Matthes and Seitz Berlin), Migrating the Feminine by Nora Amin and a forthcoming text by Amr Ezzat. The talk was held in Arabic, with a reading of the text in English.

Youssef Rakha is also to write a column as the central character from his Book of the Sultan’s Seal, Mustafa Çorbacı, according to his bimonthly newsletter. Rakha describes this development on his newsletter as follows:

“First, that mad newspaperman Mustafa Çorbacı has resolved to write a column. You may be familiar with Çorbacı from a certain, overrated Book of the Sultan’s Seal. In hopeless pursuit of the same meme, he has named his ephemeral effusions, “Postmuslim.” Raising vaguely relevant questions only to leave them grossly un-dealt with would not be untypical. But if mildly psychotic speculation on being in Cairo today holds some promise of amusement, do humour the unfortunate lunatic by reading and sharing his 400 words.”

According to Rakha, the column will appear printed in Al-Ahram Weekly as well as on this site every Friday starting from July 7.

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Recipes for Peace: Arab Cuisine Garnished With a Message Of Coexistence

A bilingual feminist from an Arab village in Israel makes a potent appeal for peace—with food.

In the introduction to her vegan cookbook, Recipes for Peace, Kifah Dasuki describes her mission this way: “This is more than an ordinary cookbook, though. I wrote it in two languages—Hebrew and Arabic—side by side from a place of great love and with a real hope for change. A hope to fight fear and hostility and to nurture love and compassion.” For Dasuki, compassion is unconditional. Person to person, human to animal, language to language, compassion is fundamental to the building of a new world free of the “fear and frustration” she feels have been her lot. And this book is one building block she will contribute to the new world.

As she personalizes her recipes with anecdotes and reflections from her life, Dasuki isn’t shy about the challenges she has faced as a woman from the Arab village of Fureidis (which aptly means “paradise,” she notes, though in her darker moments she also calls it a “hellhole”) in Israel. She attributes her ambition and resilience to such challenges. Possibly her most vivid anecdote describes her first day of university in Tel Aviv, during which she encountered the word “proportzionaly,” a Hebraization of the English word “proportional.” As she didn’t know the word at the time, feeling inferior in her foreignness, she went crying to her dorm room. Later in the semester, she recognized for the first time how a difficult but honest dialogue between Hebrew and Arabic speakers can lead to mutual understanding. With this foundation, she began to actively bring people together for such conversations from all parts of the extremely diverse Israeli society. READ MORE…

#3arabizi: Arabic in the Internet Era

While the classical/dialectal debate rages, crowdsourced Arabic transliteration rises from the Internet, spreading among the multinational youth.

A language is alive—it’s a breathing, blooming entity that metamorphoses as worlds turn. Often, we turn to the literary when charting these changes, but language goes where the people are. Asymptote Editor-at-Large for Morocco, Hodna Nuernberg,  writes about the changes that the Internet—blogs, texting, social media—is catalyzing in transliterated versions of spoken Arabic around the world. 

According to the United Nation’s 2016 Measuring the Information Society Report, approximately 47 percent of the world’s population are internet users, and nearly 3.6 billion people are expected to rely on messaging apps as a primary means of communication by 2018. Thanks in no small part to the pervasiveness of computer-mediated communication, we are reading and writing more than ever—in fact, Andrea Lunsford, a professor of writing and rhetoric at Stanford University and principal investigator for the Stanford Study of Writing, speaks of a literacy revolution in which “life writing” (in the form of texts, tweets, emails, status updates, or blogs) accounts for a massive 38 percent of the average Stanford student’s written production.

For many of us, the distance between our spoken language and its written form is small enough as to seem nonexistent, so converting our speech into print is a fairly straightforward process. But this isn’t always the case.

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Zeinab Hefny’s A Pillow for Your Love: Confronting the Shiite-Sunni Conflict

Hefny boldly punctures Saudi biases with a taboo-shattering love story.

This is the second in our series of essays highlighting women writers from Yemen, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia who have never been translated into English before. One of Asymptote’s core goals is to provide a platform for work from regions generally underrepresented in translation. Yemen, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia have long been marginalized in the realm of translations from Arabic to English. The contributors have chosen to focus on women writers because they face greater hardships in getting published. The latest essay focuses on the firebrand Saudi writer, Zeinab Hefny.

A dominant conflict in Arab society is the one between the Shiite and Sunni sects of Islam. This conflict has led to extreme violence against the Shiites, from political marginalization in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, genocide by Saddam Hussein in Iraq, to confiscation of property, captivity of women and bombing by ISIS. Recently, a military alliance led by Saudi Arabia struck Shiite targets in Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the region, that left hundreds dead and wounded. Despite these atrocities, very few Arab writers have discussed the Shiites’ daily suffering and the violation of their political rights.

However, one who has stood up to condemn this racist sectarianism is the Sunni Saudi writer Zeinab Hefny. She plays an important role as an activist-writer who touches on multiple Saudi taboos—social, sexual, and religious—from the Shiite-Sunni issue to women’s rights.

Zefny’s novel, A Pillow for Your Love (2011), is a worthy addition to the canon of dauntless Arab literature attempting to expose the cultural, political, social and religious crises in Arab society that few Arab writers have confronted out of fear of prosecution. In the novel, Hefny discusses religious anathemas in the Arab community. She highlights the plight of the Shiite sect in the predominantly Sunni Saudi society. READ MORE…

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your weekly ride around the literary universe!

This week we will bring you up to speed on what’s happening in Central America, Morocco, and Spain. José brings us the latest news from the world of independent bookstores and publishing houses that are a treat for bibliophiles in Central America. Layla too has updates about exciting literary festivals and meets in Spain which bring book lovers together. Jessie shares some sad news from Morocco which however, on an optimistic note, reminds us of the universal reach of literature. 

José García, a cultural journalist from Guatemala, covers Central America for us this week:

On June 20 in San José, Costa Rica, Uruk Editores released Bernabé Berrocal’s second novel Archosaurio (Archosaur). Fellow Costa Rican writers like Aquileo J. Echeverría Prize winner Warren Ulloa and philologist Manuela Álvarez Escobar have called Archosaurio disturbing and captivating.

In late 2016 los tres editores publishing house announced its creation in Costa Rica. On June 21 they revealed their first title, Vamos a tocar el agua (Let’s Go Touch the Water) by Luis Chaves, a celebrated author of eleven books, whose work has been translated into German and is considered one of the leading figures of contemporary in Costa Rican poetry. los tres editores is yet to announced the publication date of Chaves’s book.

Additionally, the renowned Guatemalan writer Eduardo Halfon and Guggenheim fellow—whose work has been translated into several language including English, French, and Italian—on June 22  presented his novels Pan y Cerveza (Bread and Beer) and Saturno (Saturn). These novels were originally published by Alfaguara in 2003 as a single book titled Esto no es una pipa, Saturno (This is not a pipe, Saturno), and are now separate, as the author originally intended them to be. Pan y Cerveza and Saturno were published thanks to the work of Guatemalan bookstore SOPHOS and Spanish publishing house Jekyll & Jill. Eduardo has also a new book entitled Duelo (Duel) coming out later this year.

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Trishanku―Language as Purgatory

“My adulthood is covered with the bubble-wrap of English.”

So here’s a story―Trishanku was a mythological king, the ancestor of the Hindu god Ram. When Trishanku grew old, the gods invited his soul to heaven, but he wanted to rise to paradise in his earthly body. “Impossible,” the gods shuddered. Trishanku went to the sage Vishwamitra for help. Vishwamitra conducted a great yagya for Trishanku, and with the power of his ritual, started levitating Trishanku―body and all―towards heaven. But when the gods barred the gates, Vishwamitra built an entirely new universe between heaven and earth where Trishanku dangles, upside down, for eternity.

As a bilingual writer, I often feel like Trishanku. Having grown up in a postcolonial country with the shadow of a foreign language colouring every aspect of my existence, a duplicity cleaves my life. I inhabit two languages―English and Hindi―but I’m never fully comfortable in either. It’s telling perhaps that Trishanku is also the name of a constellation that in English is known as Crux. This confusion of languages I reside in, this no woman’s land of living between tongues defines me.

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On The Revolutionary is a Hermaphrodite by Yemeni Novelist Mohammed “Al-Gharby” Amran Followed by an Interview with the Author

There is only one voice and it is the voice of violence.

The Yemeni literary scene is replete with examples of fiction that accompany the tragic events Yemen is going through, principally the war, on the one hand, and on the other the desire for social and political change. This phenomenon is clear in many Yemeni fictional works, including novels by Wejdi Al-Ahdal and Nadia Al-Kawkabani, as well as the short stories of Huda Al-Attas, Arwa ‘Abd Uthman, Saleh Ba Amer, and others. Mohammed Al-Gharby Amran in particular is among those who have touched the heart of real life in Yemen, and whose voice has reached the wider Arabic nation.

Mohammed Al-Gharby Amran’s most recent novel, The Revolutionary is a Hermaphrodite, was published by Dar As-Saqi in 2014. Prior to that, he had written two significant works, The Red Quran, published by Dar Riyadh Arreyis in 2010, and Yael or Yael’s Darkness.The former produced strong reactions, especially in Yemen, where the book was banned because of its bold ideas, and the latter received the Tayyeb Saleh Award in 2012. He has also written short story collections, including Bed Sheets[1] (1997), published in Damascus by The Union of Arab Authors, and Black Minaret, published in 2004 by The Union of Yemeni Authors and Writers.

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Huda al-Attas: A Writer Who Speaks for the Women of Yemen

In her stories, Al-Attas documents Arab women’s lives in general and Yemeni women’s lives in particular.

This essay is the first of a series of three which will highlight three women writers from Yemen, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia who never before have been translated into English. The series was catalyzed by Asymptote’s call this past winter for a Special Feature for the Spring Issue dedicated to literature from the countries covered by Trump’s travel ban on certain predominantly Muslim countries. One of Asymptote’s core goals is to provide a platform for work from regions generally underrepresented in translation. Yemen, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia have long been marginalized in the realm of translations from Arabic to English. The contributors have chosen to focus on women writers because they tend to face greater hardships in getting published, particularly in Saudi Arabia.

Yemeni writer and journalist Huda al-Attas, born in 1971, is a pioneer of women’s short-story writing in Yemen and other Arab countries. Al-Attas has been writing for more than two decades. She was born in Hudarmut, in southern Yemen, and was raised in Aden with her brothers by her mother. Her family members are her biggest fans and greatest supporters. As a journalist, she is a regular Yemeni newspaper columnist. Her short stories have been published in Yemen and all over the Arab world.

Al-Attas has a broad fan base, consisting of not only conservative middle-aged literary readers but also a new generation of young, liberal readers. Contrary to stereotypes about the Arab world, Yemeni culture has been hospitable to writers, male and female alike. Interestingly, Al-Attas’s Yemeni audience can be divided into two parts: a liberal, secular audience that desires progressive change and a conservative audience that does not believe in women’s rights and even goes so far as to believe that a woman could not be the author of such daring work.

Well regarded by writers around the Arab world, Al-Attas is known as a liberal advocate of human rights and equality between people. She was well known before the Arab Spring as a bold writer who shed light on religious, social, sexual, and political taboos in a conservative society that shackles both men’s and women’s rights and prevent progress. Her personal bearing is as daring as her literary work: for example, pictures of her not wearing a scarf (a breaking of taboo in her culture) appear frequently in newspapers. She has received awards from many different Arab countries, such as Yemen and UAE. Her collections of short stories include Obsessed Spirit…Obsessed Body (hājisrūḥwahājisjasad, 1995), Because She (li’annaha, 2001), and Lightning Training to Be Light (bariqyatadarrabalada’, 2003). Her work has been translated into many languages. Topics that she addresses include incest, patriarchal ownership of women’s bodies, child brides, child begging, child labor, and khat addiction, to name a few. She explores these topics through innovative literary techniques that are as liberating as her subject matter.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Presenting literary news from Egypt, USA, Morocco, and Qatar!

We are back with your weekly dose of literary news from around the world. Our very own Jessie Stoolman takes you on a journey through the cultural landscape of Morocco and Qatar. Following, our editor-at-large on the ground Omar El Adl writes about the latest goings-on in Egypt, and last but not least, Reverie Powell brings you the latest from the buzzing literary scene in Texas.

Jessie Stoolman, Editor-at-Large from Morocco, reports from Morocco and Qatar:

The 21st Annual Salon International de Tanger des Livres et des Arts just wrapped up on May 7 after four days of roundtables, workshops, concerts (including the iconic Moroccan rock band, Hoba Hoba Spirit), and appearances from world-renowned authors like Mohamed Kacimi (featured in our latest issue), Sapho, and Tahar Ben Jelloun (Prix Goncourt winner).  In conjunction with the book fair, Darna Theater’s Dakirat al Mostakbal – Memoires d’Avenir presented “Nous Sommes”, a piece outlining the lives of two young Moroccans that asks “[s]ommes-nous condamnés à n’être que ce que l’on nous sommes d’être?” Darna Theater is a local non-profit situated outside Tangier’s old city that provides community members opportunities in drama education. “Nous Sommes” was presented in both French and Darija (Moroccan Arabic.)

Don’t fret if you weren’t able to attend the book fair because there is still a chance to see Abdellah Taïa at the Librairie des Colonnes in Tangier on May 9, where he will present a brand-new translation of his novel, Un pays pour mourir, into Arabic (بلد للموت).  At the book fair, Taïa gave a conference about his writing and the difficulties facing society today which was structured as a conversation between him and young Tangerines. Taïa’s letter “Homosexuality Explained to My Mother” and an interview with the author appeared in Asymptote’s July 2012 issue.

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Translation Tuesday: Poetry by Nazih Abu Afash

The worst thing a ewe can do: / Seek refuge amidst the flock.

In these poems, published in the Lebanese daily al-Akhbar under the overarching title “An Incomplete Diary”, the renowned Syrian poet Nazih Abu Afash dissects the benign indecisiveness of human nature by seeking refuge in the quietness and silence of words, his words, in the face of the noises generated daily by the ongoing war in Syria.

Abu Afash, like a lonely shepherd, counts his flock with no intention of committing remembrance to the act of existence per se, but to remind us of one thing: I am returning to die in the forest. The following are translations of this vulnerability into another form of vulnerability where contemplation can be as valid as involvement.

 

All were human: some returned disfigured, with incomplete eyes, incomplete shoulders, and incomplete dreams. Some still clutched their wilted flags envying themselves for the kisses, tears and garlands awaiting them. Some stopped in the middle of the road to stare at the buses, the processions and the women inhaling air outside the cage of chastity. Some were overcome by tiredness. Some despaired of everything and believed in nothing. Some blamed themselves for falling for hope. Some realised they had been betrayed. Some said: So we were told. And we believed. Some watched over the front lines hoping to witness peace break out of the remnants of their lives and the piles of their enemies’ empty cartridges. Some sat weeping. Some, who were apt only for forgetfulness, the dustmen buried under the sand of their trenches, as though returning a lost child to his family, in the hope that they might one day return to the arms of their old life with the simplest of reasons and the lowest of costs…

 

All: were

 

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Spotlight on Banned Countries Feature

A Q&A with ALTA director Aron Aji and co-translator Bakhit Bakhit

After our Blog Editors’ and Section Editors’ Highlights, we turn our attention to our Banned Countries Special Feature, put together by founding editor Lee Yew Leong. These Q&As by new Assistant Interviews Editor Claire Jacobson shed further light on the creative process of translation. First up, we are thrilled to be joined today by Dr. Aron Aji and Bakhit Bakhit, who collaborated on a translation of Mohamed Abd-Alhai’s poem “Al-Salmandel at the Edge of Absence”. Bakhit, originally hailing from Sudan, is an MFA candidate in literary translation at the University of Iowa, where Dr. Aji is his advisor. 

Beyond the obvious differences between the Arabic and English grammar, Abd-Alhai’s syntax presents particular challenges to the translator. Often adverbs and adjectives are placed to accentuate sound and rhythm, more than sense. To ‘correct’ their placement in order to conform to the English usage would hurt the sound structures in the poem. Likewise, each stanza presents a single thought unit through the network of linked images and ideas developed across the four or more more lines. It is not unusual for particles or pronouns to simultaneously refer both to a preceding verb, noun, or image and to one that might follow. The translation, therefore, has to reflect these simultaneous links, working against a conventional linear reading. The actual process involves breaking down the original stanzas into phrasal units and to reconstruct them with these links in mind. A good example are the lines:

She on her loom waiting
driving time, onward once, then back

that should capture the movement of the loom back and forth and the workings of her mind between memory of loss and the longing for return.

Bakhit Bakhit’s collaboration with Aron Aji, too, involves the weaving together of two discrete translation processes that yield or resist to each other—now interrogating now complementing—hopefully moving toward an English version remains sensitive to the Arabic cadences—in sound, sense, or imagery.

—Bakhit Bakhit and Aron Aji

In your translators’ note above, you mention your “two discrete translation processes” that work together to produce a single translation. Can you describe the different approaches you take to the text, and how you were able work together to produce this translation?

Bakhit is the one who knows the poet, the poem, its aesthetic and socio-cultural context. Our collaboration begins after Bakhit completes a relatively advanced draft; then Aron enters into the process, silently reading the poem while listening to Bakhit read the original in Arabic; Aron marks the translation according to the rhythms and sounds he hears in Bakhit’s reading, in places where the Arabic feels more resonant, more charged. What follows is a rich conversation about individual words, lines, etc., in order to tease out this “charge.” Some inevitable semantic revisions notwithstanding, our conversation is about carrying into English the subtler, less intellectual, more intuitive aspects of the original, what belongs not so much to the body of the poem, but maybe to its soul.

Can you talk about your decision to leave the words al-samandel and hijra wal awda in Arabic?

We preferred keeping the Arabic phrase hijra wal awda to counteract the negative reception of the words, immigration and immigrant, nowadays. In Abd Alhai’s poem, immigration as hijra is always attached with return as al-awda. It is a journey where the immigrant always comes back after attaining self-knowledge and knowledge of his/her roots. Coming back may not always mean physical return to the homeland. But it always means growth, recognition, wisdom that has to do with a reconciliation with, a consummation of the past.  He may be welcome with songs and celebrations or he may die with honor, “if lost in his inclination to the sea ….”

As for al-samandel, the English translation is “salamander” but does not necessarily carry the mythic resonance that Al-Samandel does.

In these instances, we were not deliberately trying to be foreignizing or to provide a cultural flavoring. Rather, both hijra wal awada and al-samandel are meant to function like windows through which the sincerely curious reader will look and find out much that would have otherwise seemed lost.

What do you see as Abd-Alhai’s contribution to the conversation on banned countries, given that he wrote in a different time and context? 

The “Inclination to the sea” is about the nomad condition—whether of the hero, the immigrant, or the refuge—which lies at the heart of Homer’s The Odyssey as it does of Abdl-Alhai’s poem, which, in fact, directly engages the classical epic. The woman at the loom may be Penelope or Fatima, but also represent homeland, a place of real or imaginary return.

Find Mohamed Abd Alhai’s poem “Al-Salmandel at the Edge of Absence” in Bakhit Bakhit and Aron Aji’s translation here, where you can also listen to Bakhit Bakhit’s reading of the poem in the original Arabic.

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Teach This—Banned Countries Special Feature

Imagine Dallas’ Amos Hunt on Thematic Analysis through Identifying Choices

Welcome to Teach This, Asymptote for Educators’ answer to the current issue’s Banned Countries Special Feature. We believe that the classroom is the perfect setting for young people to be exposed to diverse, contemporary voices, both allowing them to challenge their assumptions and to engage them with living literature… a conversation in which their own voices matter. To that end, Asymptote for Educators has launched this weekly blog series in which global educators share how and why they would teach the feature’s articles. We hope you and your students enjoy!

Are you an educator with your own lesson plan ideas? Teach This – Banned Countries Special Feature is currently open for submissions. Email education@asymptotejournal.com for more information.

By paraphrasing a poem, we discover other choices the author could have made. If a paraphrase is possible, then the author could have said the same thing a different way. Why did they choose to say it the way they did? When we focus on this question, analyzing the effects of the author’s choices and considering how these choices contribute to the meaning, we get closer to the art of the poem. By doing so, we have the opportunity to recognize that poetry does not divide so evenly into form and content. The poem’s way of saying is essential to what it says.

This lesson plan is a rung on the ladder toward that insight. Pedagogically, we have to draw lines between form and content in order to draw attention to their special interrelationship in poetry.

Course Level: Middle School

Student Objectives:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.2

Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.4

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone

Materials:

One copy for each student of

A projector or Promethean board

Preparation:

For homework, ask students to read all three poems and complete brief, written paraphrases of their literal content. (This assignment assumes that they have already been trained in literal interpretation of poetry). Encourage students to infer the meanings of words they don’t know from context clues.

Be prepared to divide the students into groups of three or four.

Be prepared to explain the terms jilal (a severe, arid season in Somalia from December to March), tusbax (Islamic prayer beads), guntiino (traditional Somali dress), and jinni (a supernatural creature in Arab and Islamic traditions). Though you have assigned students to infer what they can from context for homework, you should share this information with them as the need arises.

Exercise:

Review of Literal Interpretation (5-10 minutes)

Before discussing the theme, meaning, and tone of a poem, it is important to have a common interpretation of its literal content. Tell the students you’re going to do the same thing together with Edil Hassan’s “Origin Stories” that you’ve practiced before in previous lessons: read it one line or sentence at a time, paraphrasing its direct, surface meaning. They can and should refer to the written work they have done to prepare.

For each line or sentence, ask one student to tell the class what they think it says. Another student paraphrases this reading. As needed, address questions to the class to elicit closer reading. Be clear that no one is entitled to speak to these questions who cannot show that they have listened to what the other students have said. You can even ask them to repeat or paraphrase previous remarks before they speak. This requirement helps to ensure that everyone has the same basic read of the poem and reinforces the understanding that interpretation is a communal activity.

Some difference of opinion is possible, but everyone should at least agree that the speaker is telling the story of how her parents met, and that the afternoon light colors the mother’s skin with the gold of her earrings. (It’s not melting them down her neck; a likely misreading!)

Introduction to Thematic Analysis (5-10 minutes)

Tell the students you’re now going to read the poem again, this time with a new question: not just “what does it say?” but “what is it doing?” Be explicit about the interpretive strategy you are about to demonstrate: you’re going to think about other choices the author could have made, other ways they could have said the same thing, and try to see how the choice they made has a unique effect.

Read “Origin Stories.” As you read the title, and each line or sentence, stop to point out to the students the choices the author has made and to briefly consider them. (e.g., why not “How My Parents Met?” How does the allusion to superhero stories tell us what to expect?) Keep each choice and its effects in mind as you analyze the next choice, and reach a conclusion about what the poem is doing as a whole.

It may be helpful to use a graphical organizer to represent the choices and their effects. For example, in a table, you can list interesting choices in one column, and analyze their effects in a second column. (Variant: an additional column with the heading “Alternatives,” presenting other choices the author could have made, can help to highlight the choice as a choice.)

In this part of the lesson, do not allow the children to interject or ask questions until the end. Just politely ignore all those eager raised hands.

Check for Understanding (5 minutes)

Ask a volunteer to explain the meaning of the poem and the theme to the class. Encourage them to use the choices identified earlier to support their interpretation of the theme. If they make an error in literal interpretation, do not correct them but ask questions based on the text. If they present a thematic analysis different from yours, encourage this exploration.

On the other hand, if other students want to help the volunteer, this should be permitted.

Don’t allow this segment to continue for too long.

Small Group Practice (25 minutes)

Tell the children that they will repeat the same exercise in small groups of three or four, with the longer poem “The Drought.”

Each group should work through the poem to identify decisions made by the author, and analyze the effects of those decisions. If you demonstrated a graphical organizer for this process, they should use a similar organizer. You don’t need to hand it out. It’s better if they draw it up themselves.

Tour the classroom, checking in with each group. If students are struggling to analyze a particular choice, ask them to compare it to the alternatives. What difference does it make?

Independent Practice (in-class or homework)

Ask the children to read Omar Youssef Souleimane’s “In the Foreign Land,” and write two or three paragraphs addressing the following prompt:

What is the tone of this poem? What effect does that tone have on the way we read the poem? What choices does Souleimane make to create this tone? Refer to particular lines, describing the effect of the word choices.

Teacher Follow-Up

You can continue the discussion of student analyses by having representatives of each discussion group report their results and allowing other students to pose questions and comments about any of the poems. Encourage students to support their conclusions by providing textual evidence.

Students may wish to respond to each other’s analyses of “In the Foreign Land.” You can act as a facilitator in this discussion and avoid interfering too heavily, except to insist, that the students demonstrate diligent attention to each other.

 

Amos J. Hunt‘s mission in life is to cultivate a discerning mainstream readership for poetry. As the founder and executive director of Imagine Dallas Literary Arts [imaginedallas.org], he designs and delivers in-class poetry appreciation tutorials for public schools in Dallas County. He also edits the literary magazine Grub Street Grackle [grubstreetgrackle.com].

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Asymptote for Educators wants to see your students’ creations! Submit them to education@asymptotejournal.com for the opportunity have them published in a follow-up to this blog post.

International Prize for Arabic Fiction Winner Announced

“These works existed but were not known outside the Arab world as they deserved to be.”

Last night in Abu Dhabi, Mohammed Hasan Alwan was announced the winner of the 2017 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) for his novel, A Small Death, chosen from an impressive shortlist including Elias Khoury of Lebanon and Mohammed Abdel Nabi of Egypt.

In a video for IPAF, Alwan, who was born in Saudi Arabia but now lives in Toronto, said, “It might seem odd to choose to write a novel about Ibn ‘Arabi with all those extreme eastern concepts, whilst residing in this distant cold corner of the world in Canada. I often think about this. So, at first, I directly linked it to me feeling nostalgic, then I realised that being exposed to what is seemingly foreign or different is what drives me to reconnect with myself, as well as with my heritage and old culture.”

Since its inception almost ten years ago, IPAF, often referred to as the “Arabic Booker,” has maintained as its central mission the translation of winning and shortlisted novels to encourage greater readership of high-quality Arabic literature internationally.  In fact, it guarantees translation of winning novels into English (and other languages when the budget permits), provides monetary awards to shortlisted pieces ($10,000 each, and $50,000 to the winner), and supports appearances of authors at international festivals, including Shubbak in London and the Berlin Literary Festival.

The initial idea for IPAF emerged in 2007 when Ibrahim el Moallem, then President of the Arab Publishers’ Association, “talked of the regrettably few numbers of high quality contemporary Arabic novels being translated into leading Western languages,” as Fleur Montanaro, current administrator of IPAF, recounted to me in a recent interview.  Ms. Montanaro added “these works existed but were not known outside the Arab world as they deserved to be.”

According to numbers alone, IPAF does appear to have made some headway in promoting translation.  Although some have argued in the past (see this report from Literature Across Frontiers) that IPAF primarily encourages Anglophone translations, winning and shortlisted novels have been translated into 20 languages, including several non-European languages, among them Chinese, Turkish, and Russian.  Furthermore, distribution has not been limited to the European continent.  For example, The Druze of Belgrade by Rabee Jaber, winner in 2012, was distributed in Latin America.

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Teach This—Banned Countries Special Feature

UT Arlington’s Gabe Mamola on The Meta-Poem

Welcome to Teach This, Asymptote for Educators’ answer to the current issue’s Banned Countries Special Feature. We believe that the classroom is the perfect setting for young people to be exposed to diverse, contemporary voices, both allowing them to challenge their assumptions and to engage them with living literature… a conversation in which their own voices matter. To that end, Asymptote for Educators has launched this weekly blog series in which global educators share how and why they would teach the feature’s articles. We hope you and your students enjoy!

Are you an educator with your own lesson plan ideas? Teach This – Banned Countries Special Feature is currently open for submissions. Email education@asymptotejournal.com for more information.

Technology is changing the way we think about information. We not only collect data, but we collect data about that data, i.e. meta-data. By thinking about the patterns, concerns, images and word choices that we find not only in one poem but across several, we can use the language of information technology and meta-data as an intriguing and topical portal through which to access poetry. What does poetry or a poem become when we subject it to the kinds of processes we use to organize other kinds of data? Do we learn more about the poets or poems by comparing them to other poets and poems in this way? And what (if anything) is lost when we do so?

Underlying these questions is the more fundamental fact that all our thinking and talking and writing about poetry is itself a kind of meta poem: a new thing we construct with our insights, our speculations, our assumptions, and yes, the words and contexts of the poems. This exercise is an attempt to make this fact clear and accessible to students in a way that also touches on our current digital concerns about anonymity, technology, and data.

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