16 January 12 | Chad W. Post

This morning, Banipal announced that Khaled Mattawa has won of the sixth annual Saif Gobash-Banipal Prize for Arabic Literature for his translation of the Selected Poems of Adonis, published by Yale University Press.

They also named Barbara Romaine as the runner-up for her translation of Spectres by Radwa Ashour (published by Interlink), and “commended” Maia Tabet for her translation of White Masks by Elias Khoury (Archipelago).

The press release contains a ton of info about all these books and translators, so rather than crib from this, I’m just going to post it all below:

The Judges’ Announcement


Khaled Mattawa for his translation of Adonis: Selected Poems

Khaled Mattawa’s translation of this selection of Adonis’s poetry is destined to become a classic. It is a monumental piece of work, a long-overdue compendium of works by one of the most important poets of our time, a contribution to world literature that demonstrates the lyricism and full range of Adonis’s poetry. The translations are supple and fluent, flexible yet accurate, consistently sensitive to the poet’s nuances, and beautifully render into English Adonis’s modernist sensibilities. Anglophone readers will gain a new appreciation of why Adonis has so often been likened to TS Eliot and Ezra Pound, with the freshness of his lines and imagination liberated from the self-conscious archaism of other translations, and allowing his unique reworking of the legends of East and West, the arcs of love and death, to spring forth. This book should ensure that Western readers recognize the significance of Adonis’s contribution to world poetry.

Adonis is internationally known as a poet, theoretician of poetics and thinker, a patriarch of modern Arabic literature whose poetry resonates with universal dimensions. Known for his biting criticism of the dominating influence of Islamic ideology on modern Arabic literature, his influential, daring and experimental works of poetry enjoin the present with the past while giving perspectives into the future. Adonis’s poems in their original Arabic are not easy, in fact they are difficult and complex. They are multi-layered with history, myths and ideas, rooted in metaphors, symbols and surrealist images, and wide-ranging in genre and styles – all woven within a fine and concise language.

It was an immense challenge that faced the talented poet-translator Khaled Mattawa in translating Adonis’s poems to English or, as is often said in the Arab world, to the “language of Shakespeare”, and he has succeeded most eminently. Adonis: Selected Poems is a substantial and comprehensive volume covering over half a century of Adonis’s works from 1957 to 2008. Khaled Mattawa has brought Adonis’s poems to the English language with a musicality and aesthetic sensitivity that echo their innovative, conceptual and stylistic complexities – and in doing so he has created an original, powerful and lyrical poetic work in English. In a word: stunning.

On learning the news director of Yale University Press John Donatich commented: “It is very gratifying to see Adonis and his wonderful translator Khaled Mattawa receive this prestigious award. I know from personal experience how many readers have been so moved by these Selected Poems; it is so important that other people discover the work.”


Barbara Romaine for her translation of Spectres by Radwa Ashour

Radwa Ashour’s Spectres is an ambitious and moving blend of autobiography, history, politics and fiction telling the story of Egypt since the 1950s through the experiences of two women who are each other’s ghostly doubles. This experimental novel, which is political in the best sense, needs a confident translator, and has found one in Barbara Romaine. Her impressive translation renders the metaphorical power of Ashour’s story with grace and subtlety, skillfully reflecting the shifts in time and the different voices and registers. Fluent and refreshing, Romaine has done a brilliant job.


Maia Tabet for her translation of White Masks by Elias Khoury

First published in Arabic in 1981, White Masks was one of the first novels that dared to address the civil war in Lebanon, the terrible atrocities, and the war’s reflection in the daily lives of the people. Bringing home the dreadful reality of civil war, it is a fascinating investigation into investigation itself, telling the story of the murder of one man during the Lebanese Civil War, and showing the chaos and incoherence of history as it emerges, and the importance of personal stories to counteract and contain the messiness of history. Elias Khoury’s language is smooth and poetic, and finds its parallel in the masterful translation of Maia Tabet which brings the immediacy of the story to life, without sacrificing the nuances of Khoury’s moral and philosophical questions, transposing the colour and originality of the Arabic into wonderfully lucid prose.

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