From today's reading:
Maram Al-Massri's A Red Cherry on a White Tile Floor, Khaled Mattawa's brisk translation from Arabic of a Syrian poet living in France-- her first US publication, but a book that appeared in Britain years ago (check out this flamethrowing negative review). These are short, rough poems that remind me more of Catullus than of other modern poetry from Arabic in translation: most of them are about sex or about sexism, and some of the best are about both. It's not something I expected to find memorable, especially not since most of the sound patterns from inherited Arabic forms appear to have been eliminated (perhaps inevitably) in the scoured surfaces and sharp edges of Mattawa's translations. And yet it turns out that they work. I'll post a poem Monday if I can; in the meantime, here's a revealing interview with the author (beware: ugly web page, at least if you're using a Mac). Two more recent readings, with queries, below the fold.


These are books I'm rereading because I'm teaching them next week: each one provokes, this weekend, an open-ended query for Harriet's readers.
The first is William Gibson's Neuromancer, from which all cyberpunk fiction descends. Holy cow, is this an enormous study guide! My question for you: other than Cathy Park Hong's Dance Dance Revolution, is there any cyberpunk poetry? Has there ever been? Should there be? Was it any good?
The second is a group of poems from the 1960s and 70s by Derek Walcott, and the question they raise is...
American critics find it pretty easy to think about Anglophone Caribbean poetry in the context of Walcott and Brathwaite, or Walcott versus Brathwaite (which doesn't mean Americans get the answers right). And we can certainly find and read some Anglophone Caribbean poets of later generations: I've been following the Jamaican poet Mark McMorris, e.g., for a few books now. But I don't have a sense of the shape of the literature for Anglophone Caribbean poets of McMorris's generation, nor (more generally) of what the monuments and the reference points are for poets who grew up in the Anglophone Caribbean in the 1970s or 1980s or 1990s, and I do have a sense that I've missed a lot. What have I missed? What should I have read?

Originally Published: November 9th, 2007

Stephanie (also Steph; formerly Stephen) Burt is a poet, literary critic, and professor. In 2012, the New York Times called Burt “one of the most influential poetry critics of [her] generation.” Burt grew up around Washington, DC and earned a BA from Harvard and PhD from Yale. She has published four collections of poems: Advice...

  1. November 10, 2007
     Don Share
  2. November 10, 2007
     Steve

    Is Rachel Manley's most recent book of poetry from 1992?
    I'll certainly look for Wayne Brown. (And yes, I do know about Lorna Goodison, David Dabydeen, and E. A. Markham-- I do want to read more of Markham, who belongs, I know, to a prior generation.)

  3. November 12, 2007
     Don Share

    Let's not forget Harriet's own Kwame Dawes!

  4. November 12, 2007
     Nicholas Laughlin

    From a (Port of Spain-based) reader's perspective, at least, it seems that the influence of Walcott and Brathwaite still weighs heavy on the younger poets who came of age in the 80s and 90s--along with that of Martin Carter, who isn't well known outside the Anglophone Caribbean. (See the excellent collected poems edited by Gemma Robinson and published by Bloodaxe last year.) I think no West Indian poet is so well memorised by so many as Carter.
    Increasingly I see and hear hints and notes of Lorna Goodison in the work of newer poets, and her 1986 book I Am Becoming My Mother was clearly a landmark of some kind. Dennis Scott and Anthony McNeill remain potent precursors. Louise Bennett also, and not just for Jamaican poets. To fill out the picture, see: Edward Baugh, Mervyn Morris, Olive Senior, Kendel Hippolyte, Jane King. The three "emerging" poets I'm most interested in and hopeful about are James Aboud, Vahni Capildeo, and Kei Miller. See the latter's recent Carcanet anthology New Caribbean Poetry for an idea of the newish-comers _he_ finds most promising.

  5. November 13, 2007
     Don Share

    That's usefull info, Nicholas: thank you. There's also the Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse, for those who like to start off with anthologies.

  6. May 2, 2008
     albaida

    Hello, I am sorry for my English but I am Italian. I have read Maram al-Massri's poems in Arabic and I believe that they are not about sex and sexism but about love and many other autobiographical subjects as homesickness for Syria and loneliness of the foreigner (the poet was born in Syria but emigrated in France since 1982).
    And when her lines speak about love they never do it in a vulgar way but in a so sweet and finely sensual way. Her poems speak about love to speak about other subjects, for example the impossibility of a total communication of feelings, which seems a trial for every human being.
    I love much the way she writes and perhaps I interpret her in a different way than a man because I am a woman, just like al-Massri!
    Sorry for my Eng!!
    ;-)

  7. June 25, 2008
     Slim

    Your comments really shocked me,
    I discovered Maram recently and since that moment, I read all that I was able to find among her poems, in English, in French in Italian, in Spanish and in Arabic and I do not understand in no way this criticism who seems to me in no way objective.
    Indeed, if the Maram’s poems seem to you, at the first sight, rough it is because you did not understood its subtlety, besides, I wonder that you found that these poems speak only about sex or about sexism, while they concern all the human feelings in complex relations of a woman with her man, her lover and her Childrens ie with the life. Personally, at no time I found that these poems speak about sex or sexism, in fact, the main quality of Maram’s poems is that they give free rein to the imagination of the reader, (but if your imagination carries you towards the sex ....... )
    Reducing Maram’s poems only to the sex and to the sexism it is as to reduce a film of Altman to a porn just because there is a love scene.
    The poetry of Maram is the suffocated and bare shout of the woman which waiting for everything from the liked man. Her poetry is charming, Nothing ostentatious, few images, but the upstroke of the emotion, the gravity of a caress, the thoughtlessness of a source. To see only sex and some sexism we must really be blind or very very nearsighted. I inform you besides that in many contries Maram’s poems are symbolic of the fight of the women for their dignity. That they are studied in schools in France, where it notably allowed a girl to speak about the rape that she had undergone. In Grenada in Spain, it was publicly read on the occasion of a gathering of women's movements of all Europe. It was also used by a feminist association of Cordoba as text of reunification of their cause. I just remind you that the poems of Maram are translated into French, Spanish , English, German, , Italian , Serbian, Macedonian, ,Turkish, , Corsican , kabyle …… and that she won several rewards such as on 2007 la bourse Poncetton the best Arabic creation from the Lebanese cultural Adonis Forum, Autumn reward from “ “Société des Gens de lettlre” in france ....... You know a lot of poets who can claim so much?
    Finally, it is true, Mram’s poems, have in the original, virtues that the translation doesn’t have, but , it may amaze you, It is exactly the same for poems of william blake, lord byron or of kipling translated into Arabic or even into French, if the sense stays all the subtlety and the original beauty disappears but it is not a reason for lowering these big poets and for reducing their works.

  8. June 27, 2008
     albaida

    I agree with you!
    Me too, I know Maram very well. I translate her books from the Arabic into Italian.
    Bisous
    Besos
    Baci
    Opush
    Qoblet
    Kisses