Sunday, October 7, 2018

An encounter with a Translator Poet - Khaled Mattawa

On Thursday the 4th of October 2018, I had the pleasure of being invited to meet with Khaled Mattawa, a Libyan poet, a renowned Arab-American writer, and a leading literary translator, focusing on translating Arabic poetry into English.

Mattawa is the 2010 recipient of the Academy of American Poets Fellowship. He has received a Guggenheim fellowship, a translation grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Alfred Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, the PEN American Center Poetry Translation Prize, three Pushcart Prizes, and a MacArthur Fellowship (Source).

The meeting was facilitated by the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University. Khaled Mattawa was also invited to introduce the winner of THE STAN AND TOM WICK POETRY PRIZE, Michael McKee Green for his book 'Fugue Figure'

To celebrate the meeting with Khaled Mattawa, I have written two poems, in English and Arabic. These poems highlight the main ideas Mattawa shared with us. Please note that those two poems are not translations, but a creation of a bilingual mind. I hope you like them. The English Poem:

Meeting a translator poet (Khaled Mattawa)
By: Ahmad Al-Khatib

In the Wick house of poetry,
I met the Son of Libya,
The pride of America,
A face from Maghreb Arabia,
Khaled Mattawa.

He spoke of a profession,
Of poetry and translation,
And what goes in between them.
Of tales from the East,
And stories from the West,
Of the South,
And the North,
Of poets he quotes,
And poems he Wrote,
of Adonis, and Iqbal,
And Elliott, and Wittman,
And Emily Dickenson.

 He said it openly
Translation of poetry,
To me, is like playing a symphony!

Translation is an instrument,
of now and here,
Amongst the texts,
You find me there,
of an ancient script,
Rekindling the spirit.

In translating a poem,
perfection is unattainable,
There’s either beyond, Or below,
But never the identical.
And an awareness of the original,
And awareness of the text,
And the approximation amongst.

He spoke of other things significant,
Of stories from his childhood,
And the mosque of his neighborhood,
Suddenly the time ran out

But the words have not...

The Arabic Poem:
الشاعر المترجم (خالد مطاوع)
في أمريكا، وفي بيت الشعر تحديدا
حضر ابن ليبيا
وجهٌ من المغرب العربي
نعرفهُ ونألفهُ..
ليتحفنا ويغنينا..

قص لنا الحكاية
عن الشعر والترجمة
وأشياء بينهما
عن الشرق والغرب
والشمال والجنوب
والشعر ينظمُهُ
كأدونيس وإقبال...وإليوت.. وويتمان
وإيميلي ديكنسون.

قالها بصراحة
ترجمة الشعر عندي
كأغنية لأم كلثوم،
أعرفُها، وأعزفُها،
ألحّنُها، وتطربُني...

هناك بين النصوص
أجدني في المنتصف
وبين البينين أقف
هي لغة الآن
وفي القصص العتيقة
تبث الروح والألوان...

وأضاف يعلمنا
في ترجمة الشعر
هناك ما فوق الكمال
وما دون الكمال
أما الكمال فمستحيل
والوعي بالأصل
والوعي بالنص
والمقاربة بينهما

عن مُساعد الإمام
يُردد الكلام
كي يُسمِع الأنام
وانتهى الوقت،
ولم ينته الكلام

وللحديث بقية..


  1. Translating a poem from Arabic to English is not that easy to do. It is not just a simple translation where you find any synonymous with the foreign word. It is a difficult job where you find the right word that rhymes with the poem with your artistry and creativity.

    1. Hi John,
      Sorry for not replying to you earlier. I just wanted to let you know that I wrote the two poems "if I may call them so" myself, one in English and the other in Arabic, translation was not intended.

  2. Nice article, which you have described very well about the Arabic Translation School. Your article is very useful for those who are looking to Arabic lesson for Beginners at online. thanks for sharing.

  3. Mr.Ahmad al khatib, I want to talk with you. Is there any contact for you?


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