As part of my trip to the Oxford campus this summer, I had the pleasure of attending a poetry reading by Oxford-based poet Jenny Lewis and Iraqi poet Adnan al-Sayegh, who have created an unusual collaboration by translating each other’s poetry, from English to Arabic and Arabic to English.
The Bread Loaf event started with Jenny reading some of her poems in English and Adnan translating them into Arabic. They then switched roles—giving us a unique opportunity to hear Arabic outside the contexts where it often appears in headline news. To cap off the event, they then asked us, in pairs, to rework an Arabic poem and its literal transcription into a viable translation—a poem—by looking at the size and shape of the Arabic lines and words. On-site director Emma Smith (profiled in this newsletter) and I teamed up together and also had to choose between British and American “English.” We all then read our poems to the group, smarter now about the power and play of translation, of English as well as Arabic, and perhaps smarter about ourselves as readers, writers, and culturally embedded subjects. Another fabulous Bread Loaf moment.
Emily C. Bartels