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Maged Zaher in the Spotlight at HTMLGIANT

By Harriet Staff

Seattle Author Spotlight #2 at HTMLGIANT features poet Maged Zaher. Zaher is author of Thank You For The Window Office (Ugly Duckling Presse 2012), The Revolution Happened And You Didn’t Call Me (Tinfish 2012), and Portrait of the Poet as an Engineer (Pressed Wafer 2009). Originally from Cairo, Zaher moved to the United States at the age of 28. He continues to translate contemporary Egyptian poetry into English, and some of those translations have been published in Jacket and Banipal. Rauan Klassnik interviewed Maged Zaher for HTMLGIANT’s Seattle Author Spotlight #2. We’ll excerpt from it here:

Rauan: What’s the difference between Cairo and Seattle (plz be brief)?

Maged: Cairo is much bigger. Seattle is much cleaner, and we have Oysters here.

RK: Tell me about “longing” in your poetry and fondness for Cavafy and Hikmet who are able to recreate the erotic (sometimes, as in the case of Cavafy for sure, erotic from ages ago)?

MZ: I think “longing” for me is somehow a mix between Cavafy’s and the Udhri poets of ancient Arabia. Longing to the unattainable. To the erotic that can never happen because the lover isn’t around or isn’t interested or because the home country is far away, is longing to a lost home erotic? – Although as I am writing this, I think the erotic longing in Cavafy has its origin in his poem the city, where life is wrecked by choice, or despite choice. I am now thinking this is closer to my brand of longing. (Although the city poem can be too much it is almost a caricature)

RK: To give our readers a bit of a taste of your poetry could you please give us, here, a short poem, or a 10-15 line excerpt from a longer piece?


This is a badly decorated crisis—
Time to migrate to the next condo
All lines of poetry are created equal
So deliver your speech without background music
I finished my dream
Then with a skateboarder’s single mindedness
I went to the market
Some porn is taken for granted
Hopefully you can see
This poem is struggling hard
To be on someone’s top ten list
You always said: “Capitalism made me do it”
It is sometimes irrational to be irrational
And whatever you wear on Casual Fridays is up to you
Or so said the cockroaches of hope
For a dollar you can have a glimpse at the Dalai Lama’s soul
I need this poem to make it to the playoffs tomorrow

RK: What was yr biggest challenge in learning to write in English (you came to the U.S. at the age of 28 when, as you said, your English was just good enough to get by. Also, as you explained, Arabic prosody is very different to English) (please be kind of brief)?

MZ: I believe I write in English with Arabic rhythm – the rhythm is in the body, it is unavoidable. I think when I started writing in English, I had a blast, the naivete of facing words for the first time and “taking them for a spin” as Stroffolino would say was a tremendous pleasure

Read more of their conversation at HTMLGIANT.

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Posted in Poetry News on Monday, July 1st, 2013 by Harriet Staff.