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14th Anniversary Edition, Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume Seven Nov-Dec 2023.
All Beauty is Poetry, Voices of Arab Poets, guest editorial by Dr. Salwa Gouda.
When I was young, I used to spend two or three months at my grandmother’s house in the village. The house is huge and surrounded by a wide garden, serenely located near the river Nile. I thought at this time that it was the biggest in the world. One day, which is the most important in my life, I heard the voice of the gardener, Ahmed Abu Ali, reciting poetry. I was moved by its intensity, depth and music. Being just eight years old, I was confused about the unsophisticated man’s language, and the childish questions started to rise: why did my grandmother and the rest of the people in the house never speak and recite similar poetic rhymed words like the old man? Is it a language only for gardeners? Since this time, I have started my journey with literature, poetry and all creative arts as well. Questions like why some people are more creative than others, how they feel during the creative process, and what kind of environment they need to produce their works, whether performing or visual arts.
Throughout the years, I have come across the notion that this is innate, that poets are gifted with the power of words, and that their souls are stores of music and rhythm. In addition, they are more sensitive than usual to their life incidents, their surroundings and their social circumstances, which help nourish their talents. I always remember the group of poets in England like William Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Samuel Southy, who lived in the English Lake District of Cumberland and Westmorland at the beginning of the 19th century and how the beauty and the spectacular landscape have been a huge influence in their poetry. Also, I recall Mahmoud Darwish, the famous Palestinian poet, and how the massive circumstances in his country shaped his words, style, themes and form.
I have also discovered at an early stage that life in the shadows of literature is beautiful, and without it, it is harsh and arbitrary. It makes you rejoice in happiness even though you have not crossed your doorsteps: you fly with Salma Lagerlöf in Niels’ Adventures, you enter exciting detective worlds with Arthur Conan Doyle and his hero Sherlock Holmes, your heart beats with love for Rita Mahmoud Darwish, and you suffer with Goethe in Warter’s pain; you regain your old pulse with Al-Shahawy’s poetry; and you get emotional with Lorca as he patted his friend’s shoulder because the sea might get narrow sometimes.
What is poetry?
This is one of the old questions that I always ask and try to find an answer to. I arrived at the understanding that all beauty in the world is poetry. Poetry is to let words flow gently and peacefully through my soul, like the flow of the river Nile on the banks of civilizations. Poetry is, also, disturbed by screaming and violence. Poetry means to mix your pictures, your metaphors, the walls of your house, your village, your garden, your lover, your love letters, your indiscretions, the threshold of your school, and your musical instrument, in stanzas that you own. At that moment of creation, you are like the one coming from the furthest part of the city, seeking a message of love and peace in its entirety. Surprisingly, when I write about poetry, I wear the heart of a poet, and my language turns poetic:
I will wait next to your dreams
Until the villagers return from their fields
And the ears dance in the darkness of the field
And the lights of truth shine in the travels of Ibn Rushd
And Thales comes out of his resting place
and declares that wisdom is the foundation of kingship
And my grandmother Tawhida finishes spinning the morning dresses
And my nanny Mufidah Sun braids the hair of the sun
And the gypsy women produce mermaids from the beads
And Cupid removes his arrow, and there is no separation or loss
And Lavender walks into homes with open doors
And music is administered to him, and lovers are at his side
As Lavender incites love
I also like to share my insights about my work as a literary translator in addition to being an academic. I always feel that we need to know each other and share experiences through art productions, as this alone can create respect, mutual understanding, tolerance and peace between humans. Since I have confidence in the power of poetry as a life bridge, I decided to carry the voices of the Arab poets to people who belong to other cultures. We need our voices to be heard and our poetry to be appreciated.
I have chosen poetry and not any other literary genre because the Arabic language is often called the language of poets, and Arabs themselves consider poetry to be the essence of Arabic—the diwan al-Arab.
Sir John Denham, the seventeenth-century Irish poet, said, “Poetry has an invisible spirit that disappears as it flows from one language to another.” In the same tone, the English Romantic poet Percy Shelley believes that “translating poetry is a completely futile attempt, like transferring a violet flower from the soil in which it grew into a vase,” while the Russian linguist Roman Jacobson opens a window to the possibility of poetry translation when he says that “the only possible translation is the creative translation, that is, rewriting the poem and producing it anew.” A good translation is the offspring of the text and part of its soul, as the German philosopher Heidegger says.
Moreover, translating poetry is not an ordinary, routine process that I can do at any time. I must prepare for it with all the psychological energy, wisdom, and serenity I possess. Before I enter the arena of the poet whom I intend to translate, who has condensed the essence of his experience into living verses with their metaphors and music, I should give up everything that bothers me in the heavy materialistic worlds, return to the blank page that I was on and which I had unconsciously forgotten, and unite with the poet’s experience and capture his creative moment. Not only that, but to be him, which is a state that I strive to create until I unite with his poetic self, and my eyes are in her eyes without the movement of a single eyelash, so that she allows me to appear in the presence of meanings, gestures, signs, references, and the interpretations between them. I am not myself at this stage, as the poet was at the time his text was born, and even when returning to the first state and engaging in it again, I need self-struggle.
This time in Live Encounters Poetry & Writing, I have the honor to present the translated versions of the poetry of more than twenty Arab poets from Egypt, Yemen, Palestine, Iraq, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, in addition to a short story by the Egyptian novelist, Mohamed Baraka. A big thank you should be given to Mark Ulyseas, the prophet of creative writing, and to the great Egyptian poet, Ahmad Al Shahawy for his support.
© Dr. Salwa Gouda
Salwa Gouda is an Egyptian literary translator, critic, and academic at the English Language and Literature Department at Ain-Shams University. She holds a PhD in English literature and criticism. She received her education at Ain-Shams University and California State University in San Bernardino. She has published several academic books, including “Lectures in English Poetry, and “Introduction to Modern Literary Criticism” and others. She has also contributed to the translation of “The Arab Encyclopedia for Pioneers,” which includes poets and their poetry, philosophers, historians, and men of letters, under the supervision of UNESCO. Additionally, her poetry translations have been published in various international magazines.