Meanderings & mawqifs of poetry, poetics, translations y mas. Travelogue too.

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‘A Letter in My Purse': From Slain Poet Shaimaa El-Sabbagh

January 25th, 2015 · Obituaries, Poetry, Translation

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Shaimaa El-Sabbagh, the activist who was shot dead at a rally in Tahrir Square yesterday, was also a poet:A letter in my purse

By Shaimaa El-Sabbagh, trans. Maged Zaher
I am not sure
Truly, she was nothing more than just a purse
But when lost, there was a problem
How to face the world without her
Because the streets remember us together
The shops know her more than me
Because she is the one who pays
She knows the smell of my sweat and she loves it
She knows the different buses
And has her own relationship with their drivers
She memorizes the ticket price
And always has the exact change
Once I bought a perfume she didn’t like
She spilled all of it and refused to let me use it
By the way
She also loves my family
And she always carried a picture
Of each one she loves

What might she be feeling right now
Maybe scared?
Or disgusted from the sweat of someone she doesn’t know
Annoyed by the new streets?
If she stopped by one of the stores we visited together
Would she like the same items?
Anyway, she has the house keys
And I am waiting for her

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Sinan Antoon First to Win Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Self-translation

January 21st, 2015 · Arab Culture, Literature, Mashreq, Novel, Translation, Translator

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Iraqi novelist, poet, and translator Sinan Antoon has won the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation for bringing his own novel, The Corpse Washer, into English:

Sinan-Antoon-02The 2014 prize was awarded to Antoon for his translation of hisThe Corpse Washer, originally titled The Pomegranate Alone and published by Yale University Press in 2013. Meanwhile, Paula Haydar got a “highly commended” for her translation of Jabbour Douaihy’s June Rain, published last year.

Judges for the award, which is in its ninth year, met in December of last year to choose from between 17 submitted titles. The judging panel was made up of literary translator and former Banipal prize winner Jonathan Wright, translator and writer Lulu Norman, broadcaster and writer Paul Blezard, Banipal editor and trustee Samuel Shimon, and was chaired by the Society of Authors’ Paula Johnson.

The judges’ statement about The Corpse Washer says that “Sinan Antoon comes close, in this translation of his own novel, to the ideal in literary translation – the invisibility of the translator”:

1corpse0728Heart-warming and horrifying, sad and sensuous in equal measure, The Corpse Washer is the moving story of Jawad, a young Iraqi whose family washes and prepares bodies for burial, and of the fracturing effects of war, occupation and civil strife – on Jawad, his family, his friends and their country. The subject matter is often grim, as befits the tragedies that Iraq has suffered for over three decades, but the meticulous portrayal of the corpse-washing rituals, Jawad’s ambivalent feelings about his work and the other world of his nightly dreams, show a gentler, more human side to a world of violence and brutality.

 Thoughtful, precise and consistent in voice and mood, Sinan Antoon comes close, in this translation of his own novel, to the ideal in literary translation – the invisibility of the translator. His fluent and forthright language matches the style and rhythm of his own original Arabic and the unadorned, sometimes affectless tone reflects the hollowness of life as the onslaught of war brings an onslaught of bodies for the corpse washers of Baghdad. The novel ends with Jawad sitting under the pomegranate tree that grows from the water he uses to wash the corpses. A rich, profound insight into an Iraq we hear very little of, this is a story that resonates with human pathos and bears every hallmark of becoming a modern classic.

About June Rain, the judges wrote that Haydar’s translation “exactly captures the tone and heft of an extraordinary novel”:

june_rainThe judges very highly commended the masterly translation by Paula Haydar of June Rain by Lebanese author Jabbour Douaihy. This complex story explores the effects – at once  cohesive and corrosive – of family and clan loyalties in a mountain village in northern Lebanon, taking as starting-point a massacre in 1957 and its repercussions throughout the community. Eliyya Kfoury returns there after decades living in the United States to search for the truth behind the murder of his father, which took place before he was born.

Lyrical and at times wistful, Douaihy’s novel, part tragedy, part ‘whodunnit’, is rendered through a kaleidoscope of superb stories and characters. Using multiple points of view, the shifting of time and a cast of beautifully drawn characters, his affectionate, at times humorous, conjuring of Lebanese village life makes June Rain a very rich and rewarding read. Paula Haydar’s astonishing translation exactly captures the tone and heft of an extraordinary novel that tells us so much about sectarianism and its heartbreaking legacies.

Previous winners include last year’s tie between Jonathan Wright (for Azazeel) and William Hutchins (for A Land Without Jasmine), 2012 winner Roger Allen, 2011 winner and “Genius Grantee” Khaled Mattawa, and two-time winner Humphrey Davies.


Tuesday, Feb 24

Sinan Antoon talks with Paul Blezard at 6.30 p.m. at WATERSTONE’S PICCADILLY. This is a free event, but please reserve your place by
Wednesday, Feb 25

The Award Ceremony of Translation Prizes from Arabic, French, German, Greek, Spanish and Swedish, held at Europe House,32 Smith Square, London  SW1P 3EU. The event will be introduced by Paula Johnson, Prize Administrator, the Society of Authors and prizes will be presented by Sir Peter Stothard, editor of the TLS, with readings by the winning translators. This is a free event, but please reserve your place by emailing

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Happy 90th B-Day, Eugen…

January 20th, 2015 · Uncategorized

… Gomringer!



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Uri Avnery: Waving in the first Row

January 17th, 2015 · Islamic Fundamentalists, Israel

ParisdemoBibiJanuary 17, 2015

THE THREE Islamic terrorists could have been very proud of themselves, if they had lived to see it.

By committing two attacks (quite ordinary ones by Israeli standards) they spread panic throughout France, brought millions of people onto the streets, gathered more than 40 heads of states in Paris. They changed the landscape of the French capital and other French cities by mobilizing thousands of soldiers and police officers to guard Jewish and other potential targets. For several days they dominated the news throughout the world.

Three terrorists, probably acting alone. Three!!!

FOR OTHER potential Islamic terrorists throughout Europe and America, this must look like a huge achievement. It is an invitation for individuals and tiny groups to do the same again, everywhere.

Terrorism means striking fear. The three in Paris certainly succeeded in doing that. They terrorized the French population. And if three youngsters without any qualifications can do that, imagine what 30 could do, or 300!

Frankly, I did not like the huge demonstration. I have been in many demonstrations in my time, maybe more than 500, but always against the powers that be. I have never participated in a demonstration called by the government, even when the purpose was good. They remind me too much of the late Soviet Union, Fascist Italy and worse. Not for me, thank you.

But this particular demonstration was also counterproductive. Not only did it prove that terrorism is effective, not only did it invite copycat attacks, but it also hurt the real fight against the fanatics.

To conduct an effective fight, one has to put oneself first into the shoes of the fanatics and try to understand the dynamic that pushes young local-born Muslims to commit such acts. Who are they? What do they think?  What are their feelings? In what circumstances did they grow up? What can be done to change them?

After decades of neglect, that is hard work. It takes time and effort, with results uncertain. Much easier for politicians to march in the street in front of the cameras.

AND WHO marched in the first row, beaming like a victor?

Our own and only Bibi.

How did he get there? The facts came out within record time. Seems he was not invited at all. On the contrary, President Francois Hollande sent explicit messages: please, please don’t come. It would turn the demo into a show of solidarity with the Jews, instead of a public outcry for the freedom of the press and other “republican values”. Netanyahu came nevertheless, with two extreme rightist ministers in tow.

Placed in the second row, he did what Israelis do: he shoved aside a black African president in front of him and placed himself in the front row.

Once there, he began waving to the people on the balconies along the way. He was beaming, like a Roman general in his triumphal parade. One can only guess the feelings of Hollande and the other heads of state – who tried to look appropriately solemn and mournful – at this display of Chutzpah.

Netanyahu went to Paris as part of his election campaign. As a veteran campaigner, he knew that three days in Paris, visiting synagogues and making proud Jewish speeches, were worth more than three weeks at home, slinging mud.

THE BLOOD of the four Jews murdered in the kosher supermarket was not yet dry, when Israeli leaders called upon the Jews in France to pack up and come to Israel. Israel, as everybody knows, is the safest place on earth.

This was an almost automatic Zionist gut reaction. Jews are in danger. Their only safe haven is Israel. Make haste and come. The next day Israeli papers reported joyfully that in 2015 more than 10,000 French Jews were about to come to live here, driven by growing anti-Semitism.

Apparently, there is a lot of anti-Semitism in France and other European countries, though probably far less than Islamophobia. But the fight between Jews and Arabs on French soil has little to do with anti-Semitism. It is a struggle imported from North Africa.

When the Algerian war of liberation broke out in 1954, the Jews there had to choose sides. Almost all decided to support the colonial power, France, against the Algerian people.

That had a historical background. In 1870, the French minister of justice, Adolphe Cremieux, who happened to be a Jew, conferred French citizenship on all Algerian Jews, separating them from their Muslim neighbors.

The Algerian Liberation Front (FLN) tried very hard to draw the local Jews to their side. I know because I was somewhat involved. Their underground organization in France asked me to set up an Israeli support group, in order to convince our Algerian co-religionists. I founded the “Israeli Committee For A Free Algeria” and published material which was used by the FLN in their effort to win over the Jews.

In vain. The local Jews, proud of their French citizenship, staunchly supported the colonists. In the end, the Jews were prominent in the OAS, the extreme French underground which conducted a bloody struggle against the freedom fighters. The result was that practically all the Jews fled Algeria together with the French when the day of reckoning arrived. They did not go to Israel. Almost all of them went to France. (Unlike the Moroccan and Tunisian Jews, many of whom came to Israel. Generally, the poorer and less educated chose Israel, while the French-educated elite went to France and Canada.)

What we see now is the continuation of this war between Algerian Muslims and Jews on French soil. All the four “French” Jews killed in the attack had North African names and were buried in Israel.

Not without trouble. The Israeli government put great pressure on the four families to bury their sons here. They wanted to bury them in France, near their homes. After a lot of haggling about the price of the graves, the families finally agreed.

It has been said that Israelis love immigration and don’t love the immigrants. That certainly applies to the new “French” immigrants. In recent years, “French” tourists have been coming here in large numbers. They were often disliked. Especially when they started to buy up apartments on the Tel Aviv sea front and left them empty, as a kind of insurance, while young local people could neither find nor afford apartments in the metropolitan area. Practically all these “French” tourists and immigrants are of North African origin.

WHEN ASKED what drives them to Israel, their unanimous answer is: anti-Semitism. That is not a new phenomenon. As a matter of fact, the vast majority of Israelis, they or their parents or grandparents, were driven here by anti-Semitism.

The two terms – anti-Semitism and Zionism – were born at almost the same time, towards the end of the 19th century. Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, conceived his idea when he was working in France as a foreign correspondence of a Viennese newspaper during the Dreyfus affair, when virulent anti-Semitism in France reached new heights.  (Anti-Semitism is, of course, a misnomer. Arabs are Semites, too. But the term is generally used to mean only Jew-haters.)

Later, Herzl wooed outspoken anti-Semitic leaders in Russia and elsewhere, asking for their help and promising to take the Jews off their hands. So did his successors. In 1939, the Irgun underground planned an armed invasion of Palestine with the help of the profoundly anti-Semitic generals of the Polish army. One may wonder if the State of Israel would have come into being in 1948 if there had not been the Holocaust. Recently, a million and a half Russian Jews were driven to Israel by anti-Semitism.

ZIONISM WAS born at the end of the 19th century as a direct answer to the challenge of anti-Semitism. After the French revolution, the new national idea took hold of all European nations, big and small, and all of the national movements were more or less anti-Semitic.

The basic belief of Zionism is that Jews cannot live anywhere except in the Jewish State, because the victory of anti-Semitism is inevitable everywhere. Let the Jews of America rejoice in their freedom and prosperity – sooner or later that will come to an end. They are doomed like Jews everywhere outside Israel.

The new outrage in Paris only confirms this basic belief. There was very little real commiseration in Israel. Rather, a secret sense of triumph. The gut reaction of ordinary Israelis is: “We told you so!” and also: “Come quickly, before it is too late!”

I HAVE often tried to explain to my Arab friends: the anti-Semites are the greatest enemy of the Palestinian people. The anti-Semites have helped drive the Jews to Palestine, and now they are doing so again. And some of the new immigrants will certainly settle beyond the Green Line in the occupied Palestinian territories on stolen Arab land.

The fact that Israel benefits from the Paris attack has led some Arab media to believe that the whole affair is really a “false flag” operation. Ergo, in this case, the Arab perpetrators were really manipulated by the Israeli Mossad.

After a crime, the first question is “cui bono”, who benefits? Obviously, the only winner from this outrage is Israel. But to draw the conclusion that Israel is hiding behind the Jihadists is utter nonsense.

The simple fact is that all Islamic Jihadism on European soil hurts only the Muslims. Fanatics of all stripes generally help their worst enemies. The three Muslim men who committed the outrages in Paris certainly did Binyamin Netanyahu a great favor.

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Four of nine planetary boundaries now crossed

January 16th, 2015 · Climate Change, Uncategorized


Press Release by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research


Four of nine planetary boundaries have now been crossed as a result of human activity, says an international team of 18 researchers in the journal Science. The four are: climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, land-system change, altered biogeochemical cycles. The scientists say that two of these, climate change and biosphere integrity, are “core boundaries” – significantly altering either of these would “drive the Earth System into a new state”. The team will present their findings in seven seminars at the World Economic Forum in Davos (21-25 January).   

The concept of planetary boundaries, developed by a global community of scholars with participation of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and first published in 2009, identifies nine global priorities relating to human-induced changes to the environment. The science shows that these nine processes and systems regulate the stability and resilience of the Earth System – the interactions of land, ocean, atmosphere and life that together provide conditions upon which our societies depend. The new research confirms the original set of boundaries and provides updated analysis and quantification for several of them (see table at end). To achieve some of these quantifications, a PIK computer model (LPJmL) simulating human impacts on Earth’s water resources and ecosystems was key.

“Transgressing a boundary increases the risk that human activities could inadvertently drive the Earth System into a much less hospitable state, damaging efforts to reduce poverty and leading to a deterioration of human wellbeing in many parts of the world, including wealthy countries,” said lead author Will Steffen from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Professor at the Stockholm University and the Australian National University, Canberra. “In this new analysis we have improved our quantification of where these risks lie.”

On the regional scale, even more boundaries are crossed

Even some boundaries that have not yet been crossed at the planetary scale were found to exceed regional tolerance limits, such as freshwater use in the western US and in parts of southern Europe, Asia and the Middle East. “The challenges for society to stay within several planetary boundaries require balanced policies,” said co-author Dieter Gerten of PIK. The boundaries are closely interlinked, and preventive measures relating to one of them can have negative repercussions on another one. “For example, if irrigation was reduced to stay below the boundary for freshwater use, cropland may have to be expanded as a compensation measure, leading to further transgression of the boundary for land-system change,” Gerten explained. “Implementing methods to use water more efficiently in agriculture can help sort out this dilemma and at the same time increase global food production.”

Regarding climate change, the team argue that carbon dioxide levels should not cross 350 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere. The current level is about 399 ppm (December 2014), growing by about 3 ppm per year. “This boundary is consistent with a stabilisation of global temperatures at about 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels,” said co-author Professor Johan Rockström, director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, who will present the new findings at the World Economic Forum. In December, nations will meet in Paris to negotiate an international emissions agreement to attempt to stabilise temperatures at 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. “Our analysis suggests that, even if successful, reaching this target contains significant risks for societies everywhere,” said Rockström. “Two degrees must therefore be seen not only as a necessary but also a minimum global climate target.”

Investigating the implications of global risks for national policy-making

PIK maintains an extensive collaboration with the Stockholm Resilience Centre on the topic of planetary boundaries. Under the leadership of Wolfgang Lucht, Co-Chair of PIK’s department of Earth System Analysis, PIK is a founding member of the Planetary Boundaries Research Network ( to coordinate this science. PIK researchers led by Wolfgang Lucht have also recently launched a project funded by the German Environmental Agency (Umweltbundesamt) to specifically investigate the implications of planetary boundaries for national policy making.
Steffen, W., Richardson, K., Rockström, J., Cornell, S., Fetzer, I., Bennett, E.M., Biggs, R., Carpenter, S.R., de Vries, W., de Wit, C.A., Folke, C., Gerten, D., Heinke, J., Mace, G.M., Persson, L.M., Ramanathan, V., Reyers, B., Sörlin, S. (2015): Planetary Boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet. Science (Express, online) [DOI:10.1126/science.1259855]Article:

Weblink to the article:

Related weblinks:

For further information please contact:

Jonas Viering
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
Tel.: +49 (0)331 288 2507
Fredrick Moberg
Stockholm Resilience Centre

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A Poem by Serge Pey

January 15th, 2015 · Poetry, Translation


A New Name for Newborns


When I was born

my mother gave me a name I didn’t choose

out of all the alphabets

and letters


I’ve carried it around nonstop

I’ve used it as my address my signature

it’s even on my tomb

it’s in the silence of photos people take of me


But as of this morning

I’ve changed my name and address

From now on I’m Charlie

from Charlie Street

like thousands of other men

and dogs

and women and cries

like Alpha Bravo

Charlie Delta Echo

Completely Charlie

Absolutely Charlie


Because my cartridge belt’s loaded

with pens and erasers

for drawing the world’s laughter

that can never be wiped out


And because I’ve got nothing else

and because my mouth

bursts into slivers

like a pane of glass

in a pool of laughs


But let’s be clear

my new name doesn’t yet appear

on infinity’s joke calendar

So I call in the night

and I call on you

to add your saint too

to the list

of the names of light


Because I know

that unknown names

are among us


very still in the silence

most of all the names of those

who cry on birthdays

and death-days

eyes scanning the skies


Won’t you

help me

I want Charlie added to the list

of human spirits

who laugh out of hope


Help me

in this January sun

which is itself a laugh-reservoir

losing drop by drop

the absolute force of its given names

and cries

Today will be the feast of St. Charlie

even for someone like me

who doesn’t believe in any heaven

hidden in the stars

since heaven’s all around us

which is the kind of hope

that makes me laugh


January 9, 2015

(translated from the French by Dan Bellm

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Imprisoned Poet Ashraf Fayadh’s ‘Frida Kahlo’s Mustache’

January 14th, 2015 · Mashreq, Poetry, Translation

via Arab Literature (in English) by mlynxquale

Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh has now gone more than a year without trial in Saudi prisons on the ostensible charge that he’s been “insulting the Godly self” through his poetry, as ashrafwell as “having long hair”:

Poet and activist Mona Kareem has translated one of Fayadh’s poems, posted online on Laghoo.

Frida Kahlo’s Mustache

By Ashraf Fayadh, trans. Mona Kareem

I will ignore the smell of mud, and the need to reprimand the rain, and the burn that has long since settled in my chest.

I am looking for fitting consolation for my situation, which doesn’t allow me to interpret your lips however I wish

Or to brush away the drops of mist from your reddish petals

Or to ratchet down the level of obsession that overtakes me when I realize you are not beside me at the moment

And will not be… When I am forced to justify my position to the punishing silence of the night.

Just act as if the earth is silent, as we see it from a distance, and that everything that’s happened between us was not more than a bad joke that’s gone too far!


What do you think of the days I spent without you?

About the words that evaporated so quickly from my heavy pain?

About the knots that were deposited in my chest like dried algae?

I forgot to tell you that I’ve grown used to your absence (technically speaking)

And that wishes lose their way to your desires

And my memory is being eroded.

That I am still chasing the light, not to see, but because darkness is scary…even if we get used to it!

Would my apology be enough? For everything that has happened while I tried to make up good excuses.


For every time jealousy was aroused in my chest,

For every time despair ruined a new day of my dark days,

For every time I said Justice would get menstrual cramps and Love was a feeble-minded man in the autumn of his age with erectile dysfunction!


I will have to sidestep my memory

And claim that I sleep well.

I’ve got to tear out the questions

That have come looking for a rationale, to get convincing answers.

The questions that, for very personal reasons, have come after the fall of the usual punctuation.


Let the mirror explain how beautiful you are!

Remove your dusty pile of words, breathe deeply.

Remember how much I loved you, and how the whole thing turned into an electric shock that could have caused a huge fire…in an empty warehouse!

For the last year, poet Ashraf Fayadh has been detained in the Saudi city of Abha without clear legal charges beyond having “ideas that do not suit the Saudi society,” based on a reader’s complaint about Fayadh’s 2008 poetry collection, Instructions Within.

Translator Mona Kareem is a stateless poet and writer from Kuwait. She published two poetry collections in Arabic and is currently a doctoral candidate at the Comparative Literature department in Binghamton University. 

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Reading at The Shed

January 13th, 2015 · Uncategorized

a3238fb8-77cc-4aeb-a2cd-221f41ff1c8eThe Shed proudly invites you, on next Saturday, January 17th at 8 pm, to ALL LINED UP, a display and reading of broadsides printed by Soho Letterpress. Broadsides on display include Vyt Bakaitis, Joe Elliot, Elaine Equi, Norman Fischer, Nada Gordon, Mitch Highfill, Pierre Joris, Burt Kimmelman, Andrew Levy, Kimberly Lyons, Trace Peterson, Nicole Peyrafitte, Douglas Rothschild, Jerome Sala and Christina Strong. Refreshments will be served after the reading. Please feel free to bring your favorite beverage to share.

Our address is:

366 6th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11215

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Quick, More Democracy Everywhere Against Barbarism

January 12th, 2015 · Uncategorized

« Vite, plus de démocratie partout contre la barbarie » : des manifestants et leur pancarte, place de la Nation, à Paris, dimanche 11 janvier 2015 (JOEL SAGET/AFP)

« Vite, plus de démocratie partout contre la barbarie » : des manifestants et leur pancarte, place de la Nation, à Paris, dimanche 11 janvier 2015 (JOEL SAGET/AFP)

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Anita Ekberg (1931-2015) & Francesco Rosi (1922–2015)

January 12th, 2015 · Film, Obituaries

Anita Ekberg in her most famous scene:

Ad for Rosi’s 1963  Hands Over the City (Le mani sulla città)


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