Two Words: The Blog of the Center for the Art of Translation

Two Voices with Fady Joudah on Mahmoud Darwish

Posted on March 10, 2009, 10:57:00 PM by Two Voices audio

Mahmoud Darwish has been called Palestine's most important poet, and he is often compared in stature to giants like Czeslaw Milosz. Also called Palestine’s “national poet,” he is commonly termed “The Poet of Exile,” as Palestine, from which he was exiled from 1973 to 1995, figures in his poems as an Eden, yearned for and irreplaceable.

In this Two Voices event recording, hear acclaimed poet and translator Fady Joudah read from The Butterfly’s Burden, his award-winning translation of three books from this major Arabic poet, as well as several poems of his own. Among Darwish’s works, Joudah reads “I Have the Wisdom of One Condemned to Death” and “Who Am I Without Exile,” and he offers important context for these works by reading his own poetry. In between readings he discusses the status of Arabic poetry in English translation, building a case that there has to be a “particular pile of dead Arabs” for Arab writers to gain notice.

As someone who must stand between the original work and a translation whose place in English-language culture he has important misgivings about, Joudah shares his fear of becoming a symbol of our culture’s self-satisfaction. He discusses his concerns over being seen as a hero or “healthy-looking” spokesperson for the displaced, as well as explaining how these concerns are exacerbated both by being an American born to Palestinian refugee parents and being a physician who works with Doctors Without Borders.

Addressing his audience at 111 Minna Gallery, Joudah declared “we live in an intellectual bubble that is obsessed with the classification of suffering” because collectively “we have not witnessed suffering nor suffered it.” In this Two Voices event recording, hear him explain the reasons behind that statement, as well as why he carefully situates himself as an individual who translates not academically but “as if writing a poem.”

—text by Sophia Kraemer-Dahlin