September 23, 2014, Cairo – Ferial Ghazoul, professor and chair of the Department of English and Comparative Literature at The American University in Cairo (AUC) and John Verlenden, writing instructor in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition, have recently published a translation of The Chronicles of Majnun Layla and Selected Poems by the renowned Bahrini poet Qassim Haddad. The translation, published by Syracuse University, brings together in one volume Haddad's seminal work and a considerable selection of poems from his oeuvre, stretching over 40 years. Both professors have won the University of Arkansas Arabic Translation Award for 2013, in recognition of their work, translatingChronicles of Majnun Layla and Selected Poems of Qassim Haddad.Haddad’s reworking of the Majnun Layla poem cycle and his copious output –– from aphoristic short poems to longer, free verse experiments –– have led to international recognition. The U.S.-based National Endowment for the Humanities awarded a substantial grant to Ghazoul and Verlenden in 2011 for the Qassim Haddad Translation Project. “However, we have been translating selected Qassim Haddad poems since 2005 and even published some of them in Banipal, the London-based journal specializing in Arab writers translated to English,” said Verlenden.
The selected poems reveal Haddad's playful yet profound meditations. A powerful lyric poet, Haddad juxtaposes classical and modern symbols, and mixes the old with the new, the sensual with the sacred, and the common with the extraordinary. Ghazoul and Verlenden's masterful translation remains faithful to the cultural and historical context in which the original poetry was produced while also reflecting the uniqueness of the poet's style and his poetics.
Verlenden describes the challenges facing them during translation as similar to the challenges facing translators in general, “Ghazoul's introduction and our combined Note on the Translation are very clear about the daunting aspect of bringing to English any Arabic text, especially from a poet who's taking liberties with the language, who's rewriting a well-known story from his unique post-modern vantage. We always want to produce a valid representation of that which is often untranslatable -- but too beautiful and too full of valuable meanings to let alone. It's a Sisyphean task.”
Ghazoul and Verlenden have been translating as a team in Cairo since 1995. Their first project, Quartet of Joy by Muhammad Afifi Matar, also won the Arkansas award (1997). In between that prize and this most recent award, the team translated the Naguib Mahfouz award-winning novel, Rama and the Dragon by Edwar Al-Kharrat (AUC Press, 2002). They have also contributed groups of poems by Saadi Youssef and Qassim Haddad to Banipal, the prominent London-based magazine for Arabic literature translated to English.
In addition to teaching at the University, Verlenden writes fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Ghazoul is also the editor of Alif: Journal of Comparative Politics, a peer-reviewed interdisciplinary journal at AUC on critical scholarship, published annually in Arabic, English and French.
Regarding their next project, Verlenden said, “we hope to produce a book-length translation of the Iraqi poet Nazik al-Mala'ika (1923-2007), a pioneer of free verse in modern Arabic poetry.”