The Dream of a Dual-language Poem

This piece is from Egypt Sourceas part of their “Faces of Egypt” series. Below is leftover material, some of which probably deserves follow-up and its own piece, but instead I just present the cuttings. But first, from the profile:

Maged Zaher.

Maged Zaher.

“I dream of writing a dual language poem,” Maged Zaher says. “But it needs to be for a reason – it can’t be just a gimmick.” The Egyptian poet, who published his first collection just a few years ago, has been attracting wider attention in English-language circles since the release of his third book, Thank You for the Window Office (2012). The collection, which was warmly reviewed in the L.A. Timesinvestigates cross-sections of place, time, and identity. It follows Zaher’s debut, Portrait of the Poet as an Engineer (2009) and his postcard-shapedThe Revolution Happened and You Didn’t Call Me (2012), written mostly in Cairo in 2011.

Zaher, who is a software engineer by trade and a poet by vocation, crafts his work from the materials of two languages and overlapping cultures.

It was 1995 when Zaher moved from his native Cairo to Seattle, where he works as a software engineer. For the first five years, he says, he continued to write creatively in Arabic. But then, by chance, Zaher shifted to writing poetry in English. Despite this, Zaher still calls himself a “hybrid poet.” He explains, “The rhythm in my body is mostly Arabic language” while “the words and thoughts are English.”

He began writing poetry while attending high school in Cairo. “I had an Arabic language teacher, his name was Mustafa Ghoneim, he understood poetry well and he didn’t treat [it] like a precious thing as most high school Arabic teachers did and do. His passion was contagious, and I picked it [up].” Keep reading at Egypt Source.

And now, additional material that didn’t quite fit.

On similarities between Egyptian & US poetic “scenes”:

 Anyway, I always wanted to write a critical essay comparing the different movements in both countries avant-garde traditions, as I think there was an interesting point in the seventies where LANGUAGE poets in the US and the seventies generation in Egypt (Edaea and Aswat) had lots of similarities between them, as both groups employed and developed radical formalism as their approach to poetry and its politics. I guess this wasn’t a coincidence, this probably was under heavy effect of structuralism and post-structuralism. Inevitably newer generations in both countries revolted on that, the US scene had lots of return to lyricism going on, the Egyptian scene had developed the “prose poem” and its focus on the daily and aversion to metaphor. Eventually the scenes became too complex.

More on the “scenes”:

What is in common is that they are both neglected scenes – I mean poetry is a lost cause for mainstream culture in most countries (all?) – although it has absolutely no reason to be – I think in both languages – there are exciting poems being written –brilliant and wonderful poets laboring and devoting a fair amount of their life to create poems that negotiate the world and its artifacts – you can’t ask for more – actually you can, you want this to reach everywhere maybe – or you want support for it from institutions and stuff, etc…

Poetry as a “tool for friendship”:

Seattle is a fragmented space, and I am not part of any group by now – I have friends though all over the US and Egypt (and Australia) who I have an intense dialog with about poetry – in a way, poetry is a tool for friendship.



Categories: Egypt, poetry

2 replies

  1. I dream of a bilingual short story collection too! There will be no reason except the the muse chose to come in two languages!

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