Zaqtan was originally scheduled to read here in April but "ethnic profiling" by the US Government held up his visa application until a variety of political/poetical forces were applied to get this major representative of the avant-garde in Arabic literature here to be able to read his work in "the land of the Free …" etc., etc. He was accompanied by his translator, the poet & activist-physician Fady Joudah (whom I had heard read his own poems at the Split-this-Rock Poetry Festival). Joudah has also translated extensively the work of Mahmoud Darwish, one of the most admired & widely read poets in the Arab world.
The evening began with Don Faulkner from the Writers Institute introducing Lofti Sayahi, the Chair of the University's Department of Language, Literature & Culture. Dr. Sayahi's introduction placed the work of Ghassan Zaqtan in the larger context of Arabic literature, as well as discussing the work of the translator.
|Ghassan Zaqtan (left) & Fady Joudah|
Most of the poems are fairly short & have a surreal quality, in the best sense of that term, creating another, more real world in language. In introducing "Wolves Also" Joudah said "wolves don't appear the same way twice" in Zaqtan's poems. I was pleased to hear a poem titled "Cavafy's Builders," & the comment that Constantine Cavafy (one of my favorite poets since the time I discovered his work while reading many years ago Lawrence Durrell's The Alexandria Quartet) was the only non-Arab poet Zaqtan cited as an influence. I also like Zaqtan's use of poem fragments in "Everything as It Was," or as Joudah said, "the poem in its painful incompleteness."
At the end Don Faulkner asked Fady Joudah to read one of his own poems & he complied with "Bird Banner" with its images of pelicans. Of course there were questions from the audience, but I tried not to let that spoil the poems still echoing in my head.