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

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Homage to Abdelwahab Meddeb

May 2nd, 2015 · Maghrebi Literature, Uncategorized

Hommage à A. Meddeb


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Kalmars Attack

April 29th, 2015 · Performance

Off to France today & first gig for Nicole Peyrafitte & me on Friday, May 1st in Sète with a group of post-dada, post-everything performers:


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Humphrey Davies on ‘Representational Translation’ and the Uses of Urban Dictionary and Google Translate

April 28th, 2015 · Arab Culture, Arabic, Translation

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During his talk about Leg over Leg on Saturday’s Library of Arabic Literature workshop in Oxford, Humphrey Davies discussed the “hardest challenge for me as a translator in this book”:

UD-logoThis was, he said, the lists of words that are like a “magical invocation” in Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq’s text, through which “an almost surreal affect is achieved.”

“In the middle of a sentence,” Davies said, “you may get a list of words with no definition. Obscure, arcane words; words he did not expect you to know.”

An attempt to achieve a one-to-one correspondence of these words, Arabic to English, would be doomed to some kind of failure, Davies said. Indeed, researching the meanings of words and trying to map them to English just didn’t work. “Even if the English language has 248 words for pudendum, you can be pretty much certain that those 248 words will not map accurately onto the words you found in Shidyaq.”

“So I started experimenting with other approaches.”

In the middle of one list, where the narrator is speaking of the charms of women, he also gives antonyms, some of which Davies read off on Saturday: “runts, trolls, long-necked pinheads…”

“And I took these from the Urban Dictionary online,” he said.

In another occasion, Davies said, “I took the Arabic words, and I put them through the Google Latin translate facility and came up with words that have some claim to reflect the meanings, but which are very strange to hear, which was the intended effect.”

The final strategy Davies discussed for these lists was “representational translation.” In this, Davies said he took a list of the Arabic words, arranged them in subgroups, and then found words in English in the thesaurus, grouped such that they have “some internal logic, and then present that as a representational translation.”

Davies did footnote it every time he used a “representational translation,” as contemporary readers do have an expectation, he said, of literal, one-to-one correspondences in their translations, whereas Davies’ translation was moving more toward conveying what the Arabic did for the reader.

He also wanted to make clear:

Despite all these pyrotechnics, we must never forget that this book actually was not just about being clever, and that it’s one of the most intellectual engaged, one of the most surprisingly modern sensibilities…he talks about human rights, he talks about the stupidity of trying to persuade people to your point of view through violence, he talks about his fears of his wife’s infidelities, his wife’s fears, his fear of erectile dysfunction. … It’s not just about word games.

Also, from yesterday:

What Does It Matter If ‘Leg Over Leg’ Is the ‘First Arabic Novel’?

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“The great urban transformation”

April 27th, 2015 · Uncategorized

Fascinating Green Health City in Hainan with River And Forest

Fascinating Green Health City in Hainan with River And Forest

Press Release by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research


Nobel Laureates call on cities to tackle sustainability challenge

Cities around the globe need to re-invent themselves if they want to be a safe home for generations to come. Nobel Laureates call upon cities to tackle the dual challenge of population growth and climate change and seize the opportunity to lead the transition to sustainability. National and internationally agreed greenhouse-gas reduction targets need to guide and support local action. The distinguished scientists signed a memorandum this week in Hong Kong at the end of the three-day Nobel Laureates Symposium on Global Sustainability, convened for the first time in Asia. The Symposium was co-hosted by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the Asia Society Hong Kong Center.

“We challenge all city governments, innovators, and the private sector to work together to unlock necessary resources and enable evidence-based local action to limit further man-made climate change,” the memorandum reads. Entitled ‘The Great Urban Transformation,’ the memorandum states, “We challenge nations to adopt and meet national targets consistent with the internationally-agreed 2°C guardrail. We challenge national political leaders and policymakers to heed the call – not only from leading scientists and economists – but from their own cities and citizens – to generate a strong, equitable, and science-based agreement at the UN Climate Summit in Paris, in partnership with mayors, business leaders and civil society.”

The Hong Kong Symposium focused on the role of cities in the face of climate change, under the title “4C: Changing Climate, Changing Cities” – a reference to the fact that global warming, if unabated, will reach four degrees Celsius already by the end of the century. This rapid rise would be unprecedented in the history of human civilization.

“I have no right to be pessimistic. None of us do.”

“If we do not act boldly and reduce our greenhouse-gas emissions, the impacts of global warming will hit hard,” said Nobel Laureate Yuan T. Lee (Chemistry, 1986) from Taiwan, who until recently served as the President of the International Council for Science in Paris. “Especially cities are prone to climate change risks such as unprecedented heat-waves or flooding. Countries spend enormous sums to defend themselves against other nations. They forget that climate change is our biggest, and common, enemy. Cities seem to understand this much better, and they’re indeed critical for combating climate change as they’re a prime cause for CO2 emissions. Many of them are indeed pioneering.”

“I am optimistic, because I have no right to be pessimistic. None of us do,” Lee added. “My little granddaughter once asked me: Did your life as a scientist actually make a difference? If, together, we work hard to change, I eventually will be able to tell her, that we tried – and we did.”

“Some of the brightest minds of our planet, a number of Nobel Laureates, have intensely debated what they deem to be one of the greatest challenges of our times: climate change,” said Penny Sackett of the Australian National University, former chief scientist of Australia, who led the memorandum team. “They have a plain message: the future of humanity is at stake. We are at a watershed moment.”

The cities of tomorrow are forming today, determining emissions

Since the cities of tomorrow are forming today, determining the greenhouse-gas emissions for decades to come, smart infrastructure design is key. This is particularly true for Asia which hosts nine out of the world’s ten largest urban areas, including Tokyo and Shanghai.

“The cities of the world provide some 100,000 laboratories, where modernity can be re-invented, and where the transition to sustainability can be tested and implemented, “ said John Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact research and initiator of the Symposium series. “Human progress in the future will be based on our renewable energies, on circular economies, on unprecedented resource efficiency. Cities have always been the ‘mothers of invention’, so they will lead by example on the road towards global decarbonization. However, the urban challenges are very diverse: while mature and rich settlements can rapidly enter a climate-friendly state, billions of people in informal settlements first need to be provided with fundamental services. Yet even the latter can be addressed in ways that do not harm the local, regional and global environment.”

Hong Kong could serve as a laboratory for change

Participants of the Hong Kong Symposium included Nobel Laureates Brian Schmidt (Physics, 2011, from Australia), James Mirrlees (Economics, 1996, from the U.K.), Rioyi Noyori (Chemistry, 2001, from Japan), William E. Moerner (Chemistry, 2014, U.S.), Mario Molina (Chemistry, 1995, Mexico) Ada Yonath (Chemistry, 2009, Israel), Peter Doherty (Medicine, 1996), George F. Smoot (Physics, 2006, U.S.), and Yuan T. Lee (Chemistry, 1986). Numerous experts participated in the debate, including Jiang Kejun, Director of the Energy Research Institute of the National Development and Reform Commission of China, Christine Loh, Under Secretary for the Environment of The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administration Region, Aromar Revi, Director of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, and Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

“I believe we’re sending a strong message from Hong Kong to the world: fundamentally greening city development is necessary, and it is possible,” stated Ronnie C. Chan, Chairman of the Asia Society Hong Kong Center and co-host of the Symposium. “We deeply appreciate that the Nobel Laureates and distinguished experts came to us to debate this critical issue. Given the importance of megacities – especially the rapidly growing ones in Asia – for global greenhouse-gas emissions, Hong Kong could serve as a laboratory of change.”

Weblink to the Symposium, where the Memorandum will be published:

For more information on the symposium, please contact:

External Affairs, Asia Society Hong Kong Center

Tara Duffy

Phone: +85221039578


Communications, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

Jonas Viering

Phone: +491793998862


About the co-organizers:

Founded in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller 3rd in New York, The Asia Society is a leading not-for-profit, non-government educational organization dedicated to promoting mutual understanding and strengthening partnerships among peoples, leaders, and institutions of Asia and the United States in a global context. Across the fields of arts, business, culture, education, and policy, The Asia Society provides insight, generates ideas, and promotes collaboration to address present challenges and create a shared future.

As one of the eleven centers of Asia Society, the Asia Society Hong Kong Center (the “Center”) was established in 1990 by a group of Hong Kong community leaders, led by the late Sir Q.W. Lee, the honorary chairman of Hang Seng Bank.  In 2012, the Center established its new permanent home in Admiralty, Hong Kong.  Through conservation, rehabilitation and adaptive re-use of a group of historic structures on a former British military site, the new center premises combines heritage conservation with a distinctive modern aesthetic, complete with world-class arts, performance and conference facilities.  These facilities enable the Center to offer a broad selection of programs in the form of lectures, performances, film screenings and gallery exhibitions to members of the public.

The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, founded in 1992 and based in Potsdam/Germany, is one of the worldwide leading research centers in its field. A staff of more than 300 from both the natural and social sciences work together to generate interdisciplinary insights and to provide society with sound information for decision making. The main methodologies are systems and scenarios analysis, computer simulation and data integration. The research results get published in peer-reviewed international scientific journals. The institute’s core funding is provided by the Federal Government of Germany and the State of Brandenburg. Its director Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber initiated the Nobel Laureates Symposium Series and brought it to London, Stockholm, and now Hong Kong.

About the sponsors and supporters that the organizers wish to thank:

Lead Sponsors

JPMorgan Chase & Co. is a leading global financial services firm with operations worldwide. The Firm is a leader in investment banking, financial services for consumers and small businesses, commercial banking, financial transaction processing, asset management and private equity. JPMorgan Chase & Co. serves millions of consumers in the United States and many of the world’s most prominent corporate, institutional and government clients under its J.P. Morgan and Chase brands.

Robert Bosch Foundation. Established in 1964, the Robert Bosch Stiftung GmbH is one of the major German foundations associated with a private company. It represents the philanthropic and social endeavors of Robert Bosch (1861–1942) and fulfills his legacy in a contemporary manner. The Robert Bosch Stiftung works predominantly in the fields of international relations, health and education, and the aims and objectives of modern science.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club. Founded in 1884, The Hong Kong Jockey Club is a world-class horse racing operator and Hong Kong’s largest community benefactor, operating as a not-for-profit organisation.  Committed to global excellence and giving back to society, the Club is always “riding high together for a better future” with the people of Hong Kong.

Supporting Sponsors

CLP Group: CLP Holdings Limited, a company listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, is the holding company for the CLP Group, one of the largest investor-owned power businesses in Asia Pacific. Through CLP Power Hong Kong Limited, it operates a vertically-integrated electricity supply business providing a highly-reliable supply of electricity to 80% of Hong Kong’s population.

Climate-KIC is the EU’s main climate innovation initiative. It is Europe’s largest public-private innovation partnership focused on mitigating and adapting to climate change. Climate-KIC consists of companies, academic institutions and the public sector. The organisation has its headquarters in London, UK, and leverages national and regional centres across Europe to educate students and professionals, to support start-up companies and to bring together partners on innovation projects to bring about a connected, creative transformation of knowledge and ideas into products and services that help mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Giti Group is a diversified group active in manufacturing, real estate and consumer lifestyle in Asia-Pacific. It founded the largest auto tire operations in China and South-East Asia.

Stiftung Mercator is a private foundation which fosters science and the humanities, education and international understanding. It specifically initiates, develops and funds projects and partner organizations in the thematic fields to which it is committed: it wants to strengthen Europe, improve integration through equal educational opportunities for everyone, drive forward the energy transition as a trigger for global climate change mitigation and firmly anchor cultural education in schools. Stiftung Mercator is committed to reducing the human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases included in the Kyoto Protocol by 40 percent in Germany by 2020 and by at least 80 percent by 2050, measured against the 1990 levels.

The Volkswagen Foundation is an independent non-profit foundation established under private law. With an annual funding volume of around 150 million euros it is the largest private science funding foundation in Germany. It supports the huma¬nities and social sciences as well as science and technology in higher education and research. The foundation places a special focus on providing support for junior scholars and scientists and fostering cooperation between researchers across the borders of disciplines, cultures, and national states.

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Tom Raworth’s “As When: A Selection”

April 24th, 2015 · Book Launch, Uncategorized


by Tom Raworth

for Gordon Brotherston

the green of days : the chimneys

alone : the green of days and the women

the whistle : the green of days : the feel of my nails

the whistle of me entering the poem through the chimneys

plural : i flow from the (each) fireplaces

the green of days : i barely reach the sill

the women’s flecked nails : the definite article

i remove i and a colon from two lines above

the green of days barely reach the sill

i remove es from ices keep another i put the c here

the green of days barely reaches the sill

the beachball : dreaming ‘the’ dream

the dreamball we dance on the beach


gentlemen i am not doing my best

cold fingers pass over my eye (salt)

i flow under the beachball as green waves

which if it were vaves would contain

the picture (v) and the name (aves)

of knots : the beachball : the green sea

through the fireplaces spurting through the chimneys

the waves : the whales : the beachball on a seal

still : the green of days : the exit

* * *

From As When: A Selection by Tom Raworth published this month by Carcanet and available to order here.

 As When spans the range of Tom Raworth’s poetry to date, and includes work omitted from his Collected Poems (2003) as well as poems previously only issued as fugitive cards and broadsides. This edition of Tom Raworth’s poems is beautifully arranged, with an introduction to his life and work long overdue.

As When is the selection I have waited for-the whole spread of a great poet’s work.- Fanny Howe

Click  here to order As When by Tom Raworth with 10% discount and free UK P&P from .

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In Memoriam Gulf BP Disaster 5 Years Ago

April 21st, 2015 · Gulf Disaster, Man-made Disaster



joint military operation

Iraqi American forces killed two senior al-Qaeda leaders

Abu Ayyub al-Masri, and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi

News broke explosion at 11 p.m. EST on BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig

safe house in Thar-Thar in the province of Salaheddin

umbrella group, Islamic State of Iraq

radical Sunni militant groups

General Raymond Odierno said significant blow to al-Qaeda

24 people killed 2 separate suicide bombing attacks in Peshawar

A schoolboy victim attacks take death toll to 73 in three days, after two blasts in the city of Kohat killed 49 people during the weekend

News broke an explosion occurred at 11 p.m. EST on BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico

A magnitude 5.2 earthquake hit Western Australian mining town

Kalgoorlie-Boulder this morning.

Long Island  teen guilty of murdering Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero.

Toyota pays a record $16.4 million fine to the US government over allegations that the automaker concealed defects in its vehicles — sticky pedal

NATO service members died bomb attack army base southern Afghanistan.

death toll of foreign soldiers in 2010 to 166 in Afghanistan

McLaren driver Jenson Button won the Chinese Grand Prix

re-open the skies over Europe

ash from a volcano in Iceland

a high pressure here and a low pressure there

News broke that an explosion occurred at 11 p.m. EST on BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico southeast of Venice

the jet stream came down, spun around, & then went back up through the Straits of Gibraltar

amphibians, reptiles, mammals, bird and fish species

Remembering Columbine 11 years ago

celebrate National Park Week

largest subtropical wildnerness

showdown Senate financial reform

Zephyrs top Express in 11 innings

Today’s Money Word is deflation

BIG Oil Rig Explosion Off Louisiana Coast, 11 to 15 People Missing, Infernal Blaze

trust leaked away with the Tritium

bar NEPA analysis of climate change impact

Being fat is bad for your brain

erratic, potentially fatal heart rhythms defibrillator responsibility the Guidant Corporation

short-circuit and fail

“Nobody is being held accountable.”

Google criticized privacy practices

the privacy rights of the world’s citizens forgotten

stricter enforcement of title IX

Twain’s last words

Best Nonholiday Quarter for Apple

Taliban sniper fire lethality rates drop

Peter Steele “Life is killing me” is dead

no ban on animal cruelty videos

Off Louisiana Coast, 11 to 15 People Missing,

Statoil Committed to Oil Sands

Bush warcrimes on off broadway

Miami Condo Sales rise

Oil Rig Explosion  Infernal Blaze

boxer hangs himself in jail

Reds pitcher Volquez suspended

Tuesday, April 20

News broke that an explosion occurred at 11 p.m. EST

on BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico

52 miles southeast of the Louisiana port of Venice.

According to the Coast Guard, 11 to 15 crew members were reported missing

of the total 126 workers aboard the rig

at the time of the blast.


from my poem-sequence The Gulf (from Rigwreck to Disaster): A Triptych (Barzakh, Black Widow Press 2014). Image collage by Nicole Peyrafitte for multi-media performance of the piece.

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Interview with Marina Warner…

April 20th, 2015 · Arab Culture, Uncategorized

… on the Revelations of Classical Arabic Literature and Judging the Man Booker International

by mlynxqualey via Arab Literature (in English)

unnamed-1Marina Warner is an internationally renowned novelist, critic, and cultural historian who is host to a massive upcoming Arabic literature workshop in Oxford and the chair of judges for the 2015 Man Booker International:

Warner’s award-winning works of popular scholarship have touched on classical Arabic literature, as in Scheherazade’s Children: Global Encounters with the Arabian Nights (2013), co-edited with Philip F. Kennedy, and Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights (2011), for which she won a National Book Critics Circle Award, a Truman Capote Award, and a Sheikh Zayed Book Award. Warner is also the recipient of the 2015 Holberg Prize, which is awarded to “outstanding researchers in the arts and humanities, social science, law, or theology,” and is set to be presented in June.

In a Skype interview, she spoke about the LAL’s upcoming event at All Souls College at the University of Oxford on April 25 2015 , “A Corpus Not a Canon: A Workshop on the Library of Arabic Literature,” as well as the forthcoming LAL collection Consorts of the Caliphs, the process and project of being a judge for the Man Booker International, and more.

ArabLit: How did you get to this point, of being part of the Library of Arabic Literature?

Marina Warner: Philip Kennedy helped me, when I was asked to give a lecture at a memorial for Edward Said at Columbia in 2006. I wanted to explore the name of the West-East Divan Orchestra, because Edward, who was the great scourge of “Orientalism,” had chosen Goethe’s lyric cycle of poems, which could be seen as quite Orientalist by his standards, as the title for his great orchestra.

Basically, because I can’t read Arabic, I asked Philip for help with the sources that Goethe was using. Of course, Goethe couldn’t read them either. So I went into the history of the eighteenth century translation of ghazals and so forth, and I was very much guided by Philip to the right references and articles. And then I wrote an essay that eventually turned into a chapter of Stranger Magic. I’ve since done a tremendous amount of work on encounters, translations, and cross-fertilization between the Middle East and Europe, and I’m very committed to this line of inquiry. I have evolved an interest in how texts exist as imaginary zones — mythemes, if you like — taking different forms according to the language in which they are incarnated, the place and time.

I realized that many of the books that I consider absolutely fundamental to my knowledge of literature are texts that I can’t read in the original. For example, the Odyssey. Although I can puzzle out Greek, there’s no way I can read it transparently, to enjoy it. So I’ve basically been reading the Odyssey in multiple versions across time. And the same can be said about the Epic of Gilgamesh, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. I can read Latin, but not fluently as I read French or Italian. I like and need translations.

And then I have a political concern with trying to raise awareness. One of the maxims of the West-East Divan Orchestra is “knowledge is the beginning.” And I think that the only thing someone like myself, who’s a reader and a writer, can do in the present dangerous and very distressing situation of the world’s conflicts, is to try and read across cultures, in order to understand a bit more.

AL: And now you’re helping to stage this workshop on April 25.

MW: Yes, and then we’re doing this massive workshop, and I hope it’s going to come off without incident.

It’s very much larger than we expect. I think All Souls is rather reeling at this mass descent of Orientalists.

AL: How many people are you expecting?

MW: We’ve got around 40 coming who are invited from all different parts of the world. And then we’ve had quite a lot of interest in Oxford itself, and we’ve now got a waiting list. Fire regulations restrict the capacity to 100.

AL: That’s unfortunate.

MW: Well, it isn’t really, because I do want there to be a conversation — not a grandstanding event, but a discussion between people who are working on similar things. A hundred is already a bit large for that, but many of them know each other already so that will help keep the conversations lively.

AL: This will be the first LAL event in England?

MW: It is actually rather surprising that LAL hasn’t had a proper showcase in Britain till now. This will be the first time the list is discussed in England. And I do think that shows the kind of ignorance that I’ve been worried about. So my role is to try and help get the texts out there, in all their variety, their heterodoxy, and their richness. So people don’t continue having this terribly monolithic view: on the one hand Scheherazade, and on the other, Taliban.

AL: This is why you’re calling it a workshop and not, for instance, a symposium, because you want to foster discussion of projects?

MW: Yes, exactly.

Also, we haven’t asked for prepared papers, so it’s also meant to be fairly informal. We want it to seed ideas.

AL: What are you hoping will come out of it?

MW: I’d like the barrier that segregates Arabic literature and its traditions from the rest of literature to dissolve in the way that it’s dissolved between European literature and Latin American literature, for example. The status of Arabic literature in the general context of studying literature is very marginal. That’s partly because the texts haven’t been accessible.

For that reason, the Library is very, very valuable.

AL: And there will be additional events with the invited authors and academics, after the workshop?

MW: I’m doing a series of seminars, called “Orienting Fiction,” following weekly after the workshop, at a tangent to it, as it is concerned with living literature and motifs. I want to explore how the different modes of fictional narration in Europe and in Arabic are learning from and intertwining with one another. So within the novel, a very large category, Arabic writers are bringing traditional methods of their own.

For example, Hoda Barakat, who is on our Man Booker International list, patterns in a symbolic way. The Tiller of Waters is constructed around imagery of fabrics, which provide the cadences of the story. It’s a very poetic structure and an interwoven structure — it is a fabric in itself.

Ibrahim Al-Koni, who’s also coming to the seminars, and is also on the International Man Booker list, is drawing on Tuareg folklore, customs, mysticism — a whole world of experience and imagination We’re enriching the corpus of fiction by acknowledging the innovations coming from these writers, which are, in many important ways, their own responses to their cultural traditions.

AL: There is a panel discussing Consorts of the Caliphs, which isn’t available yet, to which you wrote the foreword. How did you come to that book?

MW: I think it has a feminist interest, and there is a feminist strand to my work since the Seventies. I certainly found it very interesting in those terms. The fact that the women’s trace on history was fairly light, and had it not been for these quite fragmentary details that Ibn al-Sai’s brought out, that he’s recorded, some of that trace would be lost. There’s a certain poetic side to that.

I’m thinking about doing something inspired by the book.

AL: Can you talk about it?

MW: I’m going to NYU next autumn, to the Center for Ballet and the Arts, and I’m hoping to create a ballet with composer Joanna MacGregor and choreographer Kim Brandstrup.

They may not feel immediately involved in the subject, so I have to put it to them, but I’m quite interested in how many of these women were involved in creating water irrigation systems and supplies, and had the people’s access to water in their minds. So I was thinking of trying to do something watery in a ballet — a strong metaphorical theme in the history of the form — think of Swan Lake!

It seemed to me that this was a way I could shift Orientalism — that instead of having houris, we could have water-engineers; a different kind of enchantment.

AL: So there’s a definite feminist interest in Consorts of the Caliphs. What about other aspects that would interest people from across other disciplines?

MW: One of the aspects of it that I thought could be discussed is the concept of slavery, which is very complicated. One can see in the Consorts of the Caliphs, as one can also see in the Arabian Nights, that the word is a very elastic one and its English resonance narrow and very unsatisfactory. The editors and translators of Consorts have decided to use ‘slave’ for the favorites of the Caliphs, and they gave this decision a great deal of thought. That is one of the things that we can discuss at All Souls.

The fact that slavery was practiced and then used metaphorically in different ways, I think, deserves more discussion.

AL: In your foreword, you talk about the Consorts of the Caliphs and the Nights. How do you see the relationship between those two texts?

MW: I think I’m right in saying that some of the traces of earliest culture and politics in the Nights are pretty coeval with the Consorts of the Caliphs. The vision of Baghdad in the Nights reflects that period. There’s a way in which that peak of Abbasid civilization colors the stories in the Nights, and we glimpse it in some of the stories.

AL: And do you think this collection will have mainstream interest?

MW: These volumes represent a necessary first level: accessible publications for further dissemination. This is the kind of raw material that writers will use, and teachers, and filmmakers and other communications media. People who do research will use these books, but readers won’t so much take them on the tube to work unless they’re really professionally interested. They don’t have quite that feel. But the paperbacks, I think, will have that feel.

But I don’t think that’s against the Library’s editions. The scholarship establishes the texts. It’s a vital and necessary stage.

AL: One of the sessions at the April 25 workshop talks about cultural diplomacy. I wondered how you saw the LAL books in the context of cultural diplomacy.

MW: Crucial. One hopes that they will contribute a more nuanced and subtle and more informed picture of the very, very complicated and very different phases and interests of the whole culture that has flourished in Arabic. It’s vastly varied and a vast area of the world.

I think the Sufi poet ‘A’ishah al-Ba’uniyyah will be a revelation. A woman teacher with a mystical vision. Her work has very striking resonance with other mystics, for example the thirteenth-century Flemish mystic Hadewijch, who wrote a form of ecstatic poetry which is really quite close to ‘A’ishah’s. So there is some very interesting comparative thinking to be done.

AL: Will there be more LAL events in Britain after this?

MW: I hope there will be. There’s a lot of interest in the people who are coming. Abdelfattah Kilito is going to do the first seminar in my series, and then he’s going to SOAS in London, and they’re thrilled that he’s coming. And al-Koni’s also going to go to SOAS. I think once one takes a step, others rise to the occasion.

AL: Did your familiarity with the Nights, and with LAL, and Arabic literature, at all inform your readings for the International Booker?

MW: Very much so, yes. I was asked to be the chair, and the chair’s job is to choose the judges. I chose them — and I was very lucky that they agreed to do it — because they have an interest beyond the Anglo-American metropoles.

It wasn’t that I wanted to impose. But I think the way communications are now happening in the world, and the way languages are existing in these forms of transmigration, that we need to consider the map of literature from multiple perspectives rather than from the commercial poles where the publishing powerhouses are.

And it’s very significant that actually most of our writers on the list, and many of the writers whom we read for the prize, are published by small publishers. It’s the small presses that are reading widely and finding interesting voices. The voices of our time.

One of the writers whom we read, who unfortunately didn’t quite make the list, is Bensalem Himmich. And Himmich is a very strong example of writing about the past in a very detailed, rich way — as Gamal al-Ghitani does, in Zayni Barakat, a novel I also admire profoundly. These are exemplary historical writings, that bring the past into living being, but at the same time they’re actually palimpsests through which one sees the present time.

It isn’t a question of changing the vantage point to another vantage point, it’s actually accepting a model of the world that is very internet-like, in the sense that it’s flat and networked, rather than radiating from New York or London.

AL: Will the judges meet again in person before May 19?

MW: We meet on May 17 for the final decision.

AL: You’re re-reading before then?

MW: We’re reading some more, yes. Reading again.

AL: It must have been overwhelming. I’ve spoken with many of the judges of the “Arabic Booker” (the International Prize for Arabic Fiction), and all of them have eye tics by the end.

MW: I must say, I found it hugely enjoyable. The Arabic fiction prize is submitted by publishers?

AL: Yes.

MW: That’s a drawback for judges, because it creates an enormous list, not of your own choosing. We were very privileged, because we came, all of us, with a pool of books we had read — in our work and in our lives — and we’re all of a certain age with different areas of knowledge. So there’s a lot of reading behind us. Basically I asked the judges: Why don’t you recommend writers who you think could win and who the rest of us haven’t heard of? And I suppose we started, therefore, with a pool of five writers each, whom we each didn’t know, who we each thought could win. There were lots and lots more who were famous, who we all knew about and we’d all read and we discussed them as well, of course.

AL: It’s very different from a publisher-submitted prize.

MW: And those only look at a single year. This is a prize for a lifetime’s body of work — though not a lifetime achievement award — so it goes right back.

It’s a very pleasant prize to read for. It was a huge amount of work, and it’s also very taxing on one’s house. My house is now impossible. I haven’t been able to have a friend to a meal. It requires rebuilding Babel each time I try and sit down at my kitchen table.

AL: Are there other Arab writers who were close to the shortlist?

MW: The chair always writes an article about the prize, and I want to pay tribute to Radwa Ashour, because she was a strong candidate for the shortlist if she hadn’t died. I can’t guarantee that she would’ve been on, but she was definitely under consideration.

AL: Is there a part of the April 25 workshop that you’re most looking forward to?

MW: I suppose I am looking forward to the cultural diplomacy panel because that’s the one I can engage with without being at sea. And it is a very live issue. Obviously, there are all kinds of critical considerations — criticisms of the Emirates, for example — and questions about the limits of collaborations, and so forth. All these questions are very, very crucial.

This interview first appeared on the Library of Arabic Literature website, through which you can pre-order a copy of the Consorts of the Caliphs.

Note: Since this interview, I have received an invitation to the April 25 workshop and look forward to participating and writing about the discussions.

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“The typewriter was his Tin Drum:” Schlöndorff on Grass (in German)

April 17th, 2015 · Memoir, Obituaries

The Frankfurter Allgemeine (FAZ) brings today a remembrance of Günter Grass by his friend, the film maker Volker Schlöndorff. Opening paras (in German) below; the rest of the article here.

Erinnerung an Günter Grass: Das Herz eines zürnenden Gottes

Günter Grass war die Stimme des deutschen Geistes in der Welt: ein Patriot, kein Rechthaber, auch wenn er oft über das Ziel hinausschoss. Erinnerung an einen Freund.

16.04.2015, von VOLKER SCHLÖNDORFF

© DPAVergrößernBei den Dreharbeiten zur „Blechtrommel“: Günter Grass, David Bennent und Volker Schlöndorff

Da soll man nun was sagen oder schreiben, wenn der letzte und beste „väterliche Freund“ einen ohne Vorankündigung verlässt. Und man es vor zehn Minuten erfahren hat. Reden kann ich eh nicht, weil ich mich erst mal im Wintergarten eingeschlossen und wie ein Schlosshund geheult habe. Nie hätte ich gedacht, dass es mich so treffen würde.

Warum tut diese Nachricht so weh? Millionen werden diesen Verlust ebenso empfinden: die „schweigende Mehrheit der Leser“, die ihm über ein halbes Jahrhundert treu gewesen sind. Sein großes Herz, aus seinen Texten sprach es; seine vielen Kinder, Enkel, seine Frauen, seine Freunde kannten es, in Liebe wie im Zorn. Es gab ihm etwas Allmächtiges, sogar in seinen eigenen Augen – was wir ihm liebevoll verziehen, ohne ihn für unfehlbar zu halten.


Anders war das mit der Öffentlichkeit. Da hatte er einen anderen Stellenwert. Päpstliche Unfehlbarkeit wurde ihm nicht zugestanden. Allenfalls, dass er „anders“ war. Anders als man sich einen Schriftsteller, einen Deutschen, vorstellte. Und deshalb wiederum stellte er alle anderen in den Schatten. Er war die Stimme, auf die man hörte, im Inland wie im Ausland. Nicht Deutschlands Stimme, sondern die Stimme aus Deutschland, die die Welt aufhorchen ließ bald nach dem Krieg, an dem er, rühmlich oder unrühmlich, jedenfalls teilgenommen hatte. Er wusste, wovon er sprach, wenn er schrieb. Und er ahnte auch das Echo – meistens …

Die Schreibmaschine war seine Blechtrommel. Er wusste sie zu nutzen. Zum Nutzen der Leser und unseres Landes. Denn natürlich war er ein Patriot.

Daran ändert die Tatsache nichts, dass er vielen als Nestbeschmutzer galt. Zuerst mitten im Hochgefühl des Wirtschaftswunders und des „Wir sind wieder wer“, als er ihnen (uns und sich) in der „Blechtrommel“ Schuld zuwies und sie antworteten, sein Buch sei Pornographie.

[ctd. here]

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PEN Award for Poetry in Translation Shortlist

April 16th, 2015 · Book Award, Poetry, Translation

For a book-length translation of poetry into English published in 2014.

JUDGE: Ana Božičević


Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream by Kim Hyesoon
Translated from the Korean by Don Mee Choi
(Action Books)
Amazon | Indie Bound

I Am the Beggar of the World
Translated from the Pashto by Eliza Griswold
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Amazon | Indie Bound

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz by Juana Inés de la Cruz
Translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman
(W. W. Norton & Company)
Amazon | Indie Bound

Breathturn into Timestead by Paul Celan
Translated from the German by Pierre Joris
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Amazon | Indie Bound

Guantanamo by Frank Smith
Translated from the Spanish by Vanessa Place
(Les Figues Press)
Amazon | Indie Bound


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Günter Grass (1927-2015)

April 14th, 2015 · Obituaries, Poetry, Translation

günter-grass-2012Though best known as a novelist, artist & polemicist, Grass was also a poet. A good obit here, an excellent article here & his last interview here in the Guardian. Salman Rushdie tweeted: “This is very sad. A true giant, inspiration, and friend. Drum for him, little Oskar.” (See also Rushdie’s piece in The New Yorker). I will reread some of the work, and watch Schlöndorf’s  film version of “The Tin Drum.” Here some of his poems translated by Jerome Rothenberg, from the latter’s New Young German Poets (City Lights, 1959):


When the silence seemed to have been subdued,
Aurelius came with the bone.
See my flute and my white shirt,
see the giraffe peering over the fence,
that’s my kin that’s listening.
Now I’m going to beat down all those thrushes.

When the yellow dog ran over the meadow
the concert died out.
Nobody ever found the bone after that.
The notes were laid out under the chairs,
the concertmaster raised his air-rifle
and shot down all the blackbirds.


The shoes are on the bottom.
They stand in terror of a beetle
On title way out,
Of a penny on the way back in,
Of a beetle and a penny on which they can step
Till it makes an impression.
On top is the Kingdom of Headwear.
Head where it’s safe. Head nowhere.
Impossible feathers,
Tell me the bird’s name,
Where did his eyes roll
When he found himself trapped in so much color?
The tiny white balls, asleep in the pockets,
Are dreaming of moths.
Here a button was lost,
The snake in the girdle grew tired.
Sorrowful silk,
Asters and other highly combustible flowers,
Autumn transformed to a dress.
Every Sunday stuffed full of meat and the
Salt of ruffled panties.
Before the wardrobe grows still, turns wooden,
A distant kin of the pine tree —
Who’s going to wear your topcoat
Someday when you’re dead?
Moving an arm through your sleeve.
And every movement so friendly?
Who will turn up your collar on top,
Will continue to stand in front of the pictures,
And be alone under the windy bell?


The Clock

The doll is playing with the minutes,
but no one’s playing with the doll —
unless the clock should take three steps
and then say, Nana, Nana, Nana, Nana …

The Hairdresser

The doll is playing with the rain,
she braids it, she covers her ears with its locks,
then she pulls out a comb from a miniature box,
and combs the rain with the comb.

A Full Moon in March

The doll wakes up, the children are asleep,
the moon’s entangled in the curtains,
the doll helps out by shaking the curtains,
the moon plays possum and the doll wakes up.

A Humid Day

The doll got a yardstick sent as a gift,
it was yellow so she played Hurricane.
When it bent she got lightning without any hitch,
but making it thunder was really a bitch.


The doll discovered a hollow tooth,
she dropped it into a glass.
The glass blew up, but the tooth was safe,
so it bit the leg of a chair in half.


The doll is playing with a spider,
the spider has a yo yo.
The doll is yanking the line, this could give us all a rough time,
so much depends on a line.


The doll is happy, celluloid!
the roof drops water on her head
and makes a hole —
the doll is happy, celluloid!


The doll is playing with the market,
currencies and poplars quiver.
The leaves drop down like colored bonds,
the deutschmark’s up the river.

At the Zoo

The doll rode up to the zoo
and stared an owl in the eye.
Since then the doll’s had mice on the brain,
if it only was pre-owlic times again.

The Longest Song

The doll is singing the carpet.
But because the carpet has so many stanzas
the doll will soon be hotter than that —
who knows the last line of the carpet?

Careful Love

The doll sat under the grownups’ bed and dug every sound.
When she decided to try it out with the rocking horse
she kept on repeating, during the breaks:
Be careful what you’re doing, man, be careful what you’re doing!

Lousy Marksman

The doll was nailed on a piece of wood
and bombarded with darts —
but none of them hit her
because she blinked.

The Torso

The doll wound up without any arms,
and after her legs had migrated too,
she thought for a long time whether to stay in this country —
when she stayed, well, she said, what could be better than Europe?


The doll grew so tall she could look over the dresser.
Each time the ball bounced she just couldn’t help feeling gay
where she was. The children down below refused to believe it:
they never would have dreamed their doll would act that way!

Doll’s Last Sermon

Now that the doll has spoken out, the weary slotmachines
grow dumb, they stop rattling peppermints,
the houses crumble to their knees
and turn devout — and all because the doll has spoken out.


The doll fell into the tea,
dissolved like sugar in that tea —
and whoever drank her got all dolled up
till everyone looked like everyone’s doll.

In Memoriam

This doll will cost you a dollar ten —
at that price she doesn’t look bad at all.
But if you want prettier dollies,
then you’ll have to pay more than a dollar ten.

GASCO,  or

In back of our town
there’s a toad who squats on
    the gasworks
when he breathes in and out
    we can cook

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