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Charis Bredin reviews
Nostalgia, My Enemy
by Saadi Youssef
Translated by Sinan Antoon and Peter Money.
Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, 2012, pbk, 82pp. ISBN: 9781555976293.
Nostalgia, My Enemy presents the English translations of 50 poems by great Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef. In their introduction, translators Sinan Antoon and Peter Money describe the huge influence Youssef has had on the trajectory of modern Arabic poetry, both through his original work and through his translations into Arabic of poets such as Whitman, Cavafy and Ritsos. As they observe, his poetry is inseparable from Iraq’s recent turbulent history but it also captures the eternal and ephemeral moments of existence. In exile in London, Youssef’s response to the atrocities suffered by his country has ranged from angry political invectives in essay form to tender poems, recuperating his fractured memories of Iraq. In his “Prologue: On Poetry”, Youssef writes that, “If science and politics struggle, promise and prepare for another time, poetry is current, direct and immediate . . . Poetry is transformative. Poetry transforms in that intimate moment combining the current and the eternal in a wondrous embrace.”
The poems in this collection do indeed capture both the fleeting and the eternal, many are devoted to scenes from nature in which every word is, in Youssef’s words, “delicate like a taut string”: “On the door/ the spider weaves/ what has disappeared:/ it weaves the meaning of the garment . . .” Antoon and Money’s translations capture the tender, ephemeral quality of the original, receptive to every nuance of the Arabic. The book’s frontispiece displays the original Arabic of the poem “Fulfilment” in Youssef’s own handwriting. Several poems, including “Nature”, “The Evening the Game was Over” and “Andes Butterflies” were previously published in Banipal 43
– Celebrating Denys Johnson-Davies (2012).
Published in Banipal 46 - 80 New Poems
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