The first of the Loggernaut Reading Series took place last Thursday at Gravy, in North Portland, with Chelsey Johnson, Alicia Cohen, and Charles D’Ambrosio reading from their work. The Loggernaut website also features interviews, one of which is with the poet and translator Ammiel Alcalay. The conversation caught my eye because of Alcalay’s great choices in terms of Arab fiction that’s out there but not getting the attention it deserves:
This [what to recommend, Ed.] is a tough question because we really only have the barest minimum available in translation. Having said that, if one digs a little further, some things can be found. The poet and translator Khaled Mattawa has done some excellent work in translating the Iraqi poets Saadi Yousef and Fadhil Azzawi. Many works by the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish are available, particularly his prose masterpiece Memory for Forgetfulness, in Ibrahim Muhawi’s extraordinary translation and presentation. There is an excellent Penguin book of Modern Arabic poetry translated by Abdullah al-Udhari that gives a very good overview; unfortunately, it’s out of print but can be found in a good on-line search. A recent bilingual edition of the great poet Adonis, translated by Shawkat Toorawa, presents a kind of model of how such things should be done. We have our own treasure, Etel Adnan, an Arab poet who happens to write in American English. Some Arab poets, like Abdellatif Laabi, have written in French, and his work is available through City Lights in a book called The World’s Embrace for which I wrote an introduction. In the UK, there is a superb journal called Banipal that only publishes contemporary Arabic literature in translation. It is the best place to get a wider sense of what is going on, to read younger, lesser known writers. Having said all of this, we are still very far from really getting into a deeper sense of what is going on.
More about Alcalay here.