Fady Joudah on Translating Mahmoud Darwish
The incomparable Palestinian poet and author Mahmoud Darwish passed away in 2008, but English-speaking readers continue to be introduced to new work as more of his poetry comes into translation. Last November, FSG published If I Were Another, the second collection of Darwish's poetry translated by Joudah. The Butterfly's Burden (Copper Canyon Press, 2006), won the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize from the Society of Authors in the UK.
Beloved by critics and readers alike, Mahmoud Darwish won numerous awards and is considered one of the greatest poets of his generation.
Upon the release of If I Were Another, BOMB magazine spoke with Joudah about his lifelong connection with Darwish's legendary work, from hearing it read as a child in Libya to meeting with the man himself only five days before his death. The full interview, from which the following was excerpted, can be read on BOMB's website.
Susie DeFord: What was your first introduction to Mahmoud Darwish’s work?
Fady Joudah: I must have been six or seven years old, in Benghazi, Libya, listening to my father or uncle recite Darwish’s newly published poems in Palestinian Affairs and memorizing them to recite them back, sometimes for pocket change.
SD: Why is Darwish’s work significant to you?
FJ: In a simple sense his is one of the first poetic cadences I heard. So he resided in me from such a young age as a memory I could only recognize many years later as my bond with poetry took hold. He is also a unique phenomenon in Arab and world poetry. It’s an amazing experience to have been his contemporary, this poet who has already defeated death and achieved artistic immortality, without needing the usual test of time. And of course there is his lifelong dialogue with identity, with self and other, with place as passion and as exile, as time and as ruse.
SD: You mention meeting Darwish in your introduction to If I Were Another. What was that like?
FJ: It was certainly packed with the anxiety of knowing, as he put it, "this could be the last time." But it was a pleasant morning and afternoon. We had a good lunch, good wine, and talked for hours in a place at the edge of the mall, where he would not venture deeper, because he thought it resembled a chicken coop. He was brilliant with satire, loved humor. I think he knew all along that those were his last days. He said goodbye in such a beautiful way to almost all those who were part of his life. I had the added strangeness of being a physician, and knowing the extremity of the situation.