Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Arabic Literature (in English): Translating Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi

Last week I went to one of the Poetry Translation Centre's collaborative translation workshops, where we translated one of Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi's mesmerizing, labyrinthine poems - with the poet himself present.

I wrote about the experience for M Lynx Qualey's blog Arabic Literature (in English), which is known to be an absolutely essential resource for people interested in just that. If you click on the "poetry" tag, it will bring up a wealth of interesting stories about the translation of Arabic-language poetry.

You can read my writeup about the workshop here: http://arablit.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/in-the-room-at-the-poetry-translation-centre-reading-al-saddiq-al-raddi-2/

Here's a excerpt:

"The translator who had produced the literal English version, Samuel Wilder, had selected a sequence of poems from which Saddiq had deduced that he was a) a bit of a romantic and b) possibly interested in Sufism, which is a huge influence on Sudanese poetry and was especially evident in these poems. The other poems were shorter, had charming details about butterflies, and while also complex were probably a little more straightforward. So, naturally, the group chose to go for the long, extremely difficult poem…"


  1. What an interesting expericence. The poet must be a very laid back person, I imagine not that many writers would like to sit in a room helping others translate his poems.

    The poem "Longing" is very intense. I wonder what it sounded like in Arabic. Did the poet read it aloud at the workshop? x

    1. I've met him a few times now... I guess he is pretty laid back. Also, only some of us spoke Arabic (not me, besides a few years) and he's still learning English - who knows, maybe that made things easier... ;) A lot of his input was along the lines of either "yes, this word/expression pretty much means what you think it does" or "well actually, this word has several meanings and in the context of the poem it means something else still". Seriously! It was perhaps an overly challenging poem for a workshop, but it was still a really interesting experience. I think a lot of its references were very Sudan-specific or Sufi-specific.

      He did read it in Arabic first - when translating a poem, or even hearing the completed translation of the poem, it's always best to hear the original first. You just get a sort of sensory feel for it, even if you don't speak the language at all. It definitely sounded intense, particularly the repeated words. Arabic is a very intense rhythmic language, hard to reproduce in English.