Last year, Modern Poetry in Translation was very pleased to be invited to participate in the British Council’s ambitious Majaaz project, focusing on ten emerging poets from the Maghreb region, who write in Arabic, Arabic dialect and Tamazight. The poets met in Tunisia in September, along with five emerging UK poets and various translators and facilitators including myself, for a chance to make connections and collaborate. Every day we were driven to the whitewashed Villa Ma’amoura, a working organic farm, decorated with rugs and cacti. Over the week there were workshops where each word’s poetic nuance was fiercely debated, and also times when the poets would pair off to translate each other’s work on cushions under the tree, in cool side rooms or on the hammock. When the gong sounded, delicious salad lunches were served, or pots of mint tea with honeyed cakes and prickly pears, but there was also a lot of hard work.
The focus of this issue, The Illuminated Paths, is the result, and it is a pleasure to present such a varied and exhilarating selection of poems, which stand testimony to the friendships that developed. They are also, notably, often about the power of words. These poems are haunted by things unsaid – forbidden speech, black boxes in the dust, that sense, in Mohammed Rafik Taibi’s ‘The Lover’ that: ‘My heart is burning | but no one can smell the smoke.’ They also brim with the belief that poetry matters enough to wound, transform, memorialise, seduce, and even heal. In Zouleikha Elhamed’s gorgeous lines, translated by Martha Sprackland: ‘I melted like snow inside its song | and the glory of it rose up in my life | with its honey-scent.’
Thanks must go to everyone from the British Council, but particularly Jim Hinks and Tony Calderbank for guiding the project, John Peate who provided all the literal texts which gave such a vital starting point for the UK poets, and the other translators who helped during the process: Mohamed Khatel, Sana El Kadhi and Noureddine Fekir. MPT is always a collaborative effort, but this issue felt particularly so. Many thanks too to Gopika Jadeja for curating a feature on Dalit poetry in these pages which is similarly about the power of words, exploring what it means to labelled ‘an untouchable’.
Our next issue will have an Extinction focus. As we recognise that we are in the midst of the Sixth Mass Extinction, with endangered ecosystems finally making the headlines, it feels important to listen to poet-activists around the world who are both protecting their land and grieving for it. We welcome translated poems from any language that deal with environmental issues, and are particularly keen to give a platform to writers in indigenous and endangered languages. Please get involved, and help us to continue ensuring important global voices can be heard. Times are dark, but, like the speaker in Fatma Krouma’s poem ‘Other Banks’, we must continue to plant roses in ‘the illuminated paths’.
– Clare Pollard