Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Book of Gaza: A City in Short Fiction

Last month the Gazan fiction writer and political scientist Atef Abu Saif toured Britain to promote a short story anthology he edited and contributed to: The Book of Gaza: A City in Short Fiction, published by Comma Press. He discussed the anthology at the Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts, the Mosaic Rooms in London, the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester and – as part of the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival – the Bluecoat Arts Centre.

Today Abu Saif and other contributors to the anthology are among the 1.8 million Gazans caught up in the hellish Israeli onslaught on Gaza by air, sea and land. His publisher Ra Page, Founder and Editorial Manager of Manchester-based not-for-profit Comma Press, has managed to keep in sporadic contact with him and some other contributors to the book.

Atef Abu Saif (L) and Ra Page at the Mosaic Rooms in London

On 19th July Atef emailed: "Ciao Ra, we are ok. waiting the unknown. it is hard to feel helpless and unable to predict what is coming even in little things which relates to ur existence. this feeling makes ur life unbearable. though u have to bear it. two nights ago the strikes destroyed the house of my good friend the poet Othman Hussain in Rafah. Othman spent his 30 years of saving in building this 2 stories house in a rural area east of Rafah. i remember that night 3 years ago when we celebrated the new house.. we grilled fish and ate and drank and sang until the down. now even my memories of the moments are broken images amid the destruction."

On 21 July Atef was in touch again:
"hi, i am sorry for late response. we have electricity for few hours. max 4 hours. i have to move from my place as a friend of mine was under tank attack in Beit Hanoun and we performed a miracle to get him out with his family, phonecalls to the red cross. we finally managed today at 5pm to get all the family in two ambulances and hosted them in my flat. thus i have to move to the little room in my father in law's house in Jabalia camp so we give them a space. now there are some 50 persons in my flat."

On the same day Nayrouz Qarmout, a contributor to The Book of Gaza, told Ra via email:
"I try to be okay, but I feel tired due to lack of sleep, and the increased pace of the bombing; every time we get near to achieving calm the parties on either side try to impose new conditions; ultimately it's the ordinary humans who die... But we are trying to hold out to the end; The warplanes' try to bomb us out of our humanity, to unbalance us; you know the number of Palestinian martyrs increases constantly, but I will continue to write and share the sorrows of others. The number of hours for using electricity has become less than before. I do not feel reassured, anxiety is on each side. I draw my strength from the far reaches of my imagination, not from here."

Najlaa Ataalah, another contributor, emailed Page on 20 July:
"The situation in Gaza is worse than ever... Now we just have electricity for a few hours and some areas just have it for [only] 2 hours per day, the sounds of shelling and bombing rip the ear drum and that's if you are lucky and live little way off the targeted place; if you are any closer the bombing may harvest your beloved friends or family members. “Please Ra sends my regards to all who are thinking of Gaza in during nightmare; tell them that we Gazans feel fear and horror just like anyone else in the world, but we don’t have any choice except to bear it till this nightmare is finished."

two awards from English PEN for translation and promotion
The significance and quality of The Book of Gaza was recognised by English PEN which has given it two awards:  one for translation, under the PEN Translates programme, the other for promotion via PEN Promotes which supported Abu Saif’s UK tour. Abu Saif was to have been accompanied on the tour by a contributor to the anthology, Abdallah Tayeh, but Tayeh was unable to get out of Gaza. He did however record a message which was played at tour events. (The message and a video of Abu Saif talking at the Manchester event can be accessed on the Comma website).

 Abdallah Tayeh

In the message Tayeh introduced himself as “a Palestinian writer, refugee, who lives in Jabalia camp in the besieged Gaza Strip. I am 60 years old, I have been writing novels, short stories, and articles since 1975. I have lived all my live in the miserable camp and I have never lost the hope of being free from occupation.”

Tayeh added: “This is the hardest time in the Gaza Strip that I have ever lived. I really wanted to be with you, enjoying these nice meetings, but the only border between Gaza Strip and the world has been closed for over a month, till now. Therefore I could not travel to be with you today although the organisers made a lot of efforts. I did not lose the dream to live in the independent state of Palestine and to be free to travel whenever I want and to see my family live a normal life.”

Tayeh said he hoped readers would enjoy his short story “Two Men”, translated by Adam Talib. He described the story as an allegory that makes the reader think its two main characters, a bald man and a security guard, have transported a girl against her will in a large cardboard box. “Events and the language indicate that a crime has occurred and that the girl is dead or sleeping under the influence of drugs.” The reader is surprised when the box is transported to the bald man’s house and its contents are revealed. Tayeh succeeds in creating a sinister atmosphere full of foreboding, and in overturning readers' assumptions. 

 a richer more nuanced picture of Gaza and its people

During the current Israeli assault on Gaza the media images of the Gaza Strip and its people are dominated by violence and destruction. The inhabitants tend to be seen as either militants, or victims. The ten stories in The Book of Gaza provide a much richer and more nuanced picture of the Gaza Strip and its people. The stories were contributed by five men and five women. Abu Saif is highly appreciative of the storytelling gifts of Gazan females. At the Mosaic Rooms he said his grandmother, who lived in Jaffa until 1948, was “the greatest storyteller...she was very talented in telling all this sadness, all the joy and happiness she had in her youth back home before she was exiled or forced to leave. This is where I learned my first narration skills, and from my neighbours in the refugee camp I grew up in, Jabalia"

In bringing the work of ten Gazan short story writers to an English-language readership, The Book of Gaza also highlights the skills of 11 literary Arabic translators, mostly from the younger generation. Each story, and the Abu Saif's introduction, was rendered into English by a different translator.

The book has the high production standards characteristic of Comma's output, and includes biographies of all the contributing writers and translators.  The book is part of Comma’s Reading the City series; the Gaza cityscape cover was designed by David Eckersall..

One recurring theme in the stories is of the sense of being trapped and wishing to escape. Gaza has been under a blockade for seven years. In 2000 Israel banned most Gaza residents from using the Erez checkpoint into Israel, and the Rafah crossing into Egypt has been virtually closed for a year due to the bad relations between Hamas and the Egyptian regime.

Abu Saif reads his story in Arabic at the Mosaic Rooms

The opening story in the anthology, Abu Saif’s “A Journey in the Opposite Direction”, translated by Thomas Apin, is set near the Rafah crossing. A young man named Ramzi has been waiting to meet his brother who, after three decades living in Italy has returned to live in Gaza. The brother has been held up for three days on the Egyptian side of the crossing.

At the cafe Ramzi encounters Samir, a friend who has returned to Gaza after ten years working in Dubai. Ramzi and Samir are joined by two young women carrying suitcases who have been trying in vain to leave Gaza through the Rafah exit. Nadia, divorced from a violent husband, has a bursary to study in Greece. Samah is being transferred to the Beirut branch of the international organisation for which she works in Gaza. “Gaza was hard on her. It was surprising how quickly her long hair had managed to become a family issue – the key to her honour – after she refused to imprison it under a head cover.” 

We learn that Samah’s only true romance, lasting four years, had been with Ramzi but her father had refused to allow her to marry this poor young man from al-Shati refugee camp. As for Samir, he had been smitten with Nadia in their university days, but the pair had not progressed beyond exchanging looks and smiles. The four young people set off by car to chase the moon.

three generations of Gaza writers

In his introduction to the anthology, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette, Abu Saif divides Gazan writers in the period since 1967 into three generations. In the first phase of Israeli occupation most writers left Gaza, many of them heading for Cairo. The short story became increasingly popular, its brevity and symbolism providing a way to overcome Israeli printing and publishing restrictions. “Copying and transporting a story to publishing houses in Jerusalem to be printed was no easy task, and so its short length helped facilitate publication. Gaza, as was said in Palestinian circles abroad, became ‘the exporter of oranges and short stories'.”

Many of the meanings and themes of short stories at that time were intended to provoke national feeling, and steadfastness, Abu Saif said at the Mosaic Rooms. Writers described the miserable lives in refugee camps, and “much of this literature told of how the people in the occupied territories are living.”

The three writers from this first generation included in the anthology are Abdallah Tayeh, Zaki al‘Ela and Ghareeb Asqalani, the pen name of Ibrahim al-Zand. Asqalani’s short story “A White Flower for David”, translated by John Peate, is bold in its portrayal of the possibility of a friendship between two men from opposite sides of the Palestinian-Israeli divide. The friendship comes under violent strain during a time of intifada: can the human rapport survive?

Zaki al ‘Ela, who was born in 1950 and died in 2008 is seen as a father of the Gazan short story. His powerful and poetic story “Abu Jaber Returns to the Woods”, translated by Max Weiss, conveys the brutality and humiliation to which the Israeli military occupation subjects Palestinians in a refugee camp. Taxi driver Abu Jaber is ordered by a group of armed fedayeen to drive them covertly out of the camp during a night curfew. Israeli soldiers interrogate him on his return, but he gives nothing away. After gunfire erupts outside the camp during the night all people between 16 and 60 are ordered by soldiers with megaphones to go into a cold rainswept pit. Soldiers subject Abu Jaber to a savage beating to try to force him to confess that he drove the fighters but he resists. “The rifle branch is flowering”, a line from a popular revolutionary song, is cited in the story. It suggests that to subject a people to such prolonged oppression was bound to lead to armed struggle.

The second generation of Gazan writers includes Abu Saif, Talal Abu Shawish and Yusra al Khatib. At the Mosaic Rooms event Abu Saif recalled writing a short story at the age of 19 during Ramadan in winter 1991 while imprisoned in an Israeli jail, “as most of my generation was”. His generation of writers was  “in a kind of limbo between the occupation era and the PNA (Palestinian National Authority).” In the second generation "the space took shape and the characters became more vivid. You find the streets of Gaza, the buildings."

In “Red Lights” by Talal Abu Shawish, translated by Alice Guthrie, the first-person narrator takes a taxi ride with a hard-pressed driver. The story presents a slice of Gaza life in just two and a half pages. For the beautiful-faced young boys selling chewing gum and sweets in the street, red lights and stopped cars are opportunities. Despite his own problems the driver treats the young sellers generously.  During his ride the narrator sees “two young men trail along behind a gaggle of careless, coquettish young women, who are wandering around the place in circles. All of them are looking for an escape”. The story ends:  "More red lights await  us".

A man agonises over calling a telephone number from long ago in Yusra al Khatib's story "Dead Numbers", translated by Emily Danby. The number is written on a piece of paper which he at one point  tears up, only then to piece it together again. The story reflects the fragility of the links between people. Could dialling the number hail a new beginning, and can one go back when all may have changed? 

 Nayrouz Qarmout

The third, youngest, generation is represented in the book through stories by four women. “Mona Abu Sharekh and Nayrouz Qarmout’s writings offer a critical – and one might say, frustrated – engagement with social reality, particularly with regards to the perspectives of women,” says Abu Saif.  “Najlaa Ataallah’s story deals with a harsh reaction to society’s constraints, a tale marked by her own personal word, while Asmaa al Ghul explores love that seeks to be freed from the dominance of men and society alike.”

In “The Sea Cloak” by Nayrouz Qarmout, translated by Charis Bredin, a young woman has been hemmed in by her family since the age of ten when her brother reported her to his parents for flirting with the neighbour's son. She goes with family members to Gaza beach, which is delightfully described by Qarmout. The sea seems to cast a spell on her "making her invisible to those around her and carrying her like a bride on her wedding day." She swims out to sea in her headscarf and black dress and headscarf: “panic and desire gripped her”. 

“The Whore of Gaza” by Najlaa Ataallah, translated by Sarah Irving is steeped in sexuality. A woman in her early thirties sprawled alone on a bed caresses herself  in a fever of frustration, then revels in the beauty of her body. Her mind is full of conflict as she considers male-female relations in Gaza. She goes to meet her older married lover of seven years;  their relationship, which was never fully consummated in order to preserve her hymen. While she waits for him she flicks through her many text messages from men. She decides "in all her anger that she will be whatever Gaza wants her to be, and how it wants her to be."

 Mona Abu Sharekh

In Mona Abu Sharekh’s “When I Cut Off Gaza’s Head”, translated by Katharine Halls, a woman receives over the course of a week mysterious daily letters from an unknown artist named Salwa. The woman who receives the letters is the only one in neighbourhood who doesn’t wear a headscarf, and who lets her daughter travel round Europe. Salwa is a kind of alter ego. “Where has Salwa come from? Who has sent her to dig deep into my soul’s wrinkles and my heart's vaulted cellars, opening doors I closed years ago?" As Salwa reveals her love affair through her letters, the narractor discloses things about herself.

Asmaa al Ghul

The first-person narrator of Asmaa al Ghul's story "You and I”, translated by Alexa Firat, engages in compulsive counting of objects, which seems to be a form of obsesssive compulsive disorder (OCD). The counting and repetitions give the story a rhythm. She is remembering a lost friend, but as she counts she "dissolves into forgetfulness. I forget your face, your features, your eyes bound to my soul like a white moth drawn to the beam of a candle." Towards the end of the story her counting moves from objects such as cars to the counting of graves.

Atef Abu Saif concludes his introduction to The Book of Gaza with the observation that people in Gaza "live on a remorseless stretch of land in a reality that tries to kill their desire to live, yet they do not tire of loving life, as long as there is a way to do so." Words that may offer some slight glimmer of hope in these terrible times.
by Susannah Tarbush

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

anthology of futuristic Iraqi stories wins English PEN translation grant

An anthology of futuristic short stories by Iraqi authors edited by Hassan Blasim - winner of this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (IFFP) - has been awarded an English PEN grant for translation, through the PEN Translates programme. Manchester-based not-for-profit Comma Press is to publish the anthology  Iraq + 100: Stories from Another Iraq in March 2015, as an Arabic eBook, and as an eBook and paperback in English translation.

"English PEN is proud to support award-winning Iraqi author Hassan Blasim's anthology of short stories Iraq + 100" said a statement from the organisation. "The collection asks ten contemporary Iraqi writers to reflect on what their home city might look like in the year 2103, 100 years after the British/US invasion of the country. The writers will consider the legacy of the war in Iraq, and how it has affected its identity, politics, religion, language and culture."

Hassan Blasim

Blasim and his translator from Arabic Jonathan Wright won IFFP 2014 for Blasim's short story collection The Iraqi Christ, published by Comma. The collection won an English PEN Award. 

Entries for Iraq + 100 are invited by the 1 August deadline. Hassan Blasim will be contributing a story, and other confirmed writers include Ali Bader (Kut), Khaled Kaki (Kirkuk), and Jalal Naim Hasan (Najaf). Further authors are in the pipeline.

The rules for submission of stories for consideration for inclusion in Iraq + 100 stipulate that authors should be Iraqi, and currently based in Iraq. Comma will pay £200 for each story published in the book. The stories set in 2103 must present visions of how the authors imagine life in particular Iraqi cities in 90 years time.

"Each story must tell a stand-alone drama, a complete human story, in less than 6000 words," Comma says (the ideal length is 1250 to 3500 words). "The culture, politics, technology, architecture, and most importantly the language must all be set firmly in the future however, as well as tied to one particular real-life city."

The ten stories in the anthology will be set in ten different Iraqi cities. The rules name 24 Iraqi cities in which stories might be set, 10 of them in Kurdish Iraq, but they add that other cities can be picked. The cities taken by authors so far according to the website are Kirkuk, Najaf, Tikrit, Kut and Nasiriya.

Comma Press hopes that the futuristic setting will give Iraqi authors one of three possible opportunities. The first is to escape completely the political/religious context of Iraq today, and write about a totally different society/environment. The second is to write allegorically about the present (or the recent past, eg the invasion) through the prism of the future; in other words, to project current issues onto an ostensibly otherworldly or unconnected setting, using the future to write about now. The third possibility is to write literally about the influence of the invasion 100 years down the line.

"We invite Iraqi authors from all genres, not just science fiction, and feel that it's just as interesting to ask literary writers to try their  hand at something they've never considered before," say the organisers. "We are interested in stories about relationships, comedies, existential narratives - everything! Not just science fiction and politics!" For writers who would like tips on writing science fiction stories, Comma provides this webpage. The tips are "based on things we’ve noticed over the years and are designed to help avoid some of the common clichés in sci-fi writing."

 Iraq + 100 is supported by the British Institute for the Study of Iraq (Gertrude Bell Memorial).
Authors who would like to write for the Iraq + 100 project are asked to contact both the organisers via email, both to express interest and to check that the city they have in mind has not yet been taken.
Hassan Blasim is at   Ra Page is at

The Book of Gaza

Iraq + 100 is among 14 books to have won a 2014 English PEN grant for translation. Another Comma short story anthology, The Book of Gaza edited by Atef Abu Saif,  is also on the list. The Book of Gaza is in addition one of the eight titles to win a 2014 English PEN award for promotion, via the PEN Promotes programme. The Book of Gaza was promoted through a UK tour by Abu Saif on 1-11 June. (Abdallah Tayeh, a contributor to the collection, was due to accompany Abu Saif on the tour but he had visa problems and was unable to travel from Gaza to the UK. He participated in tour events via a recording).

Comma Press is working to develop a special translation Arabic Imprint working with Arabic short story writers, with the support of the Centre for the Advanced Study of the Arab World (CASAW)Iraq + 100
is the latest addition to Comma's growing list of works translated from Arabic. Previous titles on the list are Madinah: City Stories from the Middle East, edited by Joumana Haddad; Hassan Blasim's two collections  The Madman of Freedom Square and The Iraqi Christ; and The Book of Gaza. 
report by Susannah Tarbush, London

Friday, June 27, 2014

John McHugo's A Concise History of the Arabs now out in paperback

At a time like this, when events in the Arab world dominate the headlines, there must be many news followers who would like to be able to stretch out a hand and reach for a book that would explain the history and  background of the complex conflicts raging in the Middle East. A Concise History of the Arabs  by British lawyer, Arabic linguist and Middle East specialist John McHugo might be just the book for them, and for those with some knowledge of the Arab world who need a refresher course or detailed reference source.

The publication by London-based Saqi Books of a paperback, updated, edition of A Concise History of the Arabs is timely, when news bulletins are routinely studded with references to such matters as the roots of the Sunni-Shia divide; the days of the Ottoman Empire; Sykes-Picot Agreement; Balfour Declaration; the Kurds; Christian minorities; Arab Spring, and so on.

It is often more challenging to write a concise account than a lengthier record. In 368 pages McHugo succeeds in producing a clear, elegant and fully-sourced account of the sweep of Arab history from the birth of Muhammad in around 570 AD to the military coup in July 2013 that overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi.

Saqi first published A Concise History of the Arabs in hardback last year. It met with a highly-favourable reception, and the cover and inside page of the paperback carry accolades from leading specialists in Arab history, politics and journalism.

The late Patrick Seale dubbed the book "brilliant and erudite", while author David Gardner of the Financial Times says it is "brilliant and effortless read". Charles Tripp, SOAS Professor of Politics with reference to the Middle East, finds it "a lucid and highly-readable history of the Arab peoples up to the present day."

John McHugo

McHugo is an international lawyer and Arabic linguist, with over forty years’ experience of the Arab region. He has a BA in Oriental Studies from Oxford University, an MA in Arabic Studies from the American University in Cairo and an MLitt in medieval Sufi thought from Oxford University.

He has worked as a lawyer in several Arab countries, notably Egypt, Bahrain and Oman. He is a board member of the Council for Arab British Understanding (CAABU) and of the British Egyptian Society. McHugo, who lives in London, also chairs Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine.

The titles of his chapters point to the broad themes he tackles. Chapter Four is aptly titled "Sharing an Indigestible Cake". It covers the First Word War and the carving up of Arab-speaking provinces of the Ottoman Empire: "Britain and France had sliced up the cake and shared it out, but it was indigestible." In the chapter McHugo provides an admirably succinct account of events whose repercussions are felt some hundred years later in Syria, Iraq and Palestine/Israel.

The final chapter is "Something Snaps: The Arab Spring and Beyond." Although the Arab revolutions have seen a swing from initial euphoria to turmoil and sometimes conflict, McHugo assesses the process within a wider historical framework.

He draws comparisons with the French Revolution, which "could not be rolled back" and the 1848 "Springtime of the Peoples" with various uncoordinated uprisings in different European locations. Over the following decades, rulers increasingly acknowledged that they needed to government by consent "and that it was better from their own point of view to make concessions to  popular demands than to be engaged in a cycle of endless, and fruitless, repression." McHugo considers that "a similar process has started with the Arab Spring. It has only just begun."

The value of McHugo's book is enhanced by the richness of its references and fullness of its bibliography. He also has a section for those who are new to the history of the Arabs, giving pointers as to how they can begin to explore further the matters covered by his book.

As well as publishing A Concise History of the Arabs, Saqi Books is publisher of McHugo's latest book Syria: From the Great War to Civil War. On 3 July at 7 pm the book will be launched at an event at The Mosaic Rooms in London. McHugo will be in discussion with Jonathan Fryer, freelance writer, lecturer and broadcaster on international affairs and part-time SOAS lecturer. His publications include histories of Iraqi Kurdistan and Kuwait. McHugo and Fryer will talk about the history of Syria from the First World War to today, and how this relates to the greatest political and humanitarian tragedy of the 21st century so far, in which an estimated 190,000 people have died and nine million have fled their homes.

Susannah Tarbush, London

Thursday, June 19, 2014

announcement on Funeral and Condolences day of Palestinian Judge Eugene Cotran

Judge Eugene Cotran, one of the most loved and eminent members of the Palestinian community in the UK and far beyond, died on 7 June. Please find below the details of his funeral on 20th June and of the open day of Condolences on 21st June, plus a request for any donations to go go Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP).

Judge Cotran, born on 6th August 1938, grew up in Jerusalem and was a circuit judge in England. He wrote this fascinating piece on his life for This Week in Palestine, under the headline A Day in the Life of Eugene Cotran.

 from Palestinian Mission UK

Funeral of our beloved Judge Eugene Cotran
The Funeral of our beloved Judge Eugene Cotran will take place on
Friday 20th of June at St Joseph Church at 11.00am
St Joseph Church
Cookham Road
Berkshire SL6 7EG

وتدعو عائلة قطران الأهل والأصدقاء لمشاركتهم الصلاة وستقبل التعازي بعد مراسم الدفن في فندق
Condolences after funeral on Friday will be held at

The Oakley Court Hotel
Windsor Road,
Water Oakley
Windsor SL4 5UR
In accordance with our beloved Eugene’s wish, his family is asking those who wish to send flowers, to donate the money to
Medical Aid for Palestine)MAP)
to be sent to:
W. Sherry & Sons
227 Acton Lane
London W4 5DD
Tel: 020 8994 5474

The Association of the Palestinian Community in the UK and Cotran family 
Are holding an open day of Condolences
On Saturday 21st June 17.00-20.00
AT Capthorne Tara hotel
Scarsdale Place
London W8 5SR

Saturday, June 07, 2014

'Translating the Syrian News': a prelude to UK tour of 'Syria Speaks'

(L to R): Malu Halasa, Paul Mason, Armand Hurault
At the Translating the Syrian News event held at the Free Word Centre in London on the eveing of Thursday of last week, a panel discussed how events in Syria are reported by the international and Syrian media and how the contrast between what is presented to a domestic and global audience can be mediated.

The event was chaired by Malu Halasa, who began by saying: "What is the news telling us about Syria, or rather what are we not getting from the news from Syria, and how is this information, or lack of information, forming our perceptions about the country?" The panel would also look at "the knock-on effect: how these perceptions affect government policy towards Syria."

Halasa is  co-editor of Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline, published recently by Saqi Books of London.

Syria Speaks is a unique showcase of the work of more than 50 artists and writers challenging the culture of violence in Syria. "Their literature, poems and songs, cartoons, political posters and photographs document and interpret the momentous changes that have shifted the frame of reality so drastically in Syria," declares the book's cover.

The Free Word event was a fitting prelude to the UK tour of Syria Speaks, organised by Reel Festivals, from 11 to 16 June. Reel Festivals is presenting the events in partnership with English PEN, Saqi Books, British Council, LIFT Festival, Prince Claus Fund, CKU the Danish Centre for Culture and Development and the Arab British Centre. The project is supported with public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

The tour begins on 11 June at the Rich Mix in London, and takes in Bristol Festival of Ideas (12 June), Oxford (Ashmolean Museum, 13 June), Liverpool Arab Arts Festival (14 June), Bradford (Fuse Art Space,15 June) and Durham University School of Government and International Affairs (16 June). The visiting authors will also take part in workshops with English PEN at schools, refugee community centres and a prison. In addition there is an event at Waterstones bookshop in Piccadilly, central London, on 17 June at 7pm.

The packed-out Free Word event was presented jointly by Free Word and by English PEN: Syria Speaks has a 2013 English PEN Award for promotion within PEN's Writers in Translation programme. The event was Part of Free Word’s Translators in Residence Programme and the Islington Word Festival 2014.

The evening was introduced by Alice Guthrie, one of Free Word Centre's two translators in residence for 2014. Guthrie is one of the five translators who worked on the Syria Speaks book.

Malu Halasa is a London-based writer, editor and curator of arts events and the author of several books including The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie: Intimacy and Design (Chronicle Books, 2008) with Rana Salam. She co-curated three exhibitions of Syria's art of resistance in 2012-13 in Amsterdam, Copenhagen and London.

Halasa's co-panellists were Paul Mason, Armand Hurault, and Zaher Omareen who is like Halasa a co-editor of Syria Speaks: the third co-editor is Nawara Mahfoud. In addition to co-editing the book, Omareen has contributed to it an essay: "The Symbol and Counter-Symbols in Syria: Power and propaganda from the era of the two Assads to the Revolution of Freedom and Dignity".

Omareen is a Syrian researcher and writer who has published articles and short stories in the Arab and English press. His short story "First Safety Manoeuvre’ won prizes awarded by the Danish Institute in Damascus and the 2012 Copenhagen Festival of Literature. He has worked on independent cultural initiatives in Syria and Europe, and co-curated exhibitions on the art of the Syrian uprising. He is a PhD candidate in Contemporary Documentary Cinema and New Media at Goldsmiths College, London University.

Paul Mason is the Culture and Digital Editor of Channel 4 News and has worked extensively as a journalist and broadcaster for a number of productions including BBC2′s Newsnight. He is the author of three books: Live Working or Die Fighting: How the Working Class Went Global (Harvill Secker, 2007), Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions (Verso, 2012) and Meltdown – The End of the Age of Greed (Verso, 2012).

Armand Hurault is deputy coordinator at ASML, a Syro-French organisation supporting the emergence of an alternative and professional media landscape in Syria. At the start of the uprising in 2011 he provided regular Skype training sessions to Syrian citizen journalists inside the country as  part of his work as former coordinator of the ‘Syrian Voices Initiative’ (2011-2013) at Transnational Crisis Project in London, a project that was funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

A major focus of the event was the striking growth in citizen journalism in Syria over the past three years. Halasa noted that Syria Speaks includes critical essays by free speech proponents and interviews about news gathering and the rise of a citizens journalist movement inside the country.When the killings started in Syrian "the regime had a very well-oiled media machine; ordinary Syrians felt that they had to take matters into their own hands," Halasa said.  

Zaher Omareen, who  was a freelancer and a  journalist working in Damascus at the time the uprising began, set the scene.  "To be honest the revolution in Syria surprised us as it surprised the outsider or the Western media," he said. Soon after the uprising started in March 2011 the government took action against and arresting journalists. The regime asked international journalists to leave the coutnry immediately.

As for Syrian journalists many of them, especially the professioinal ones, spent weeks or months in prison for dealing with Al-Jazeera, the BBC or other news providers.  "So we found ourselves without any professional media coverage and we started trying to find alternatives to tell others what happened inside Syria."
Susannah Tarbush, London

Friday, June 06, 2014

BQFP publishes English translation of Lebanese novelist Jabbour Douaihy's June Rain

... A shootout in a church in a northern Lebanese village on 16 June 1957 in which some two dozen people are killed. The tearing apart of the community into two bitterly divided clans. Neighbour turning against neighbour; husbands and wives forced to choose between their loyalty to one another and clan loyalty...

This is the loosely fact-based scenario of  Lebanese academic, novelist and short story writer Jabbour Douaihy's novel June Rain  newly published by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP) in English translation by Paula Haydar. The Arabic original of the novel, Matar Hzayran, was published by Dar Al-Nahar in Beirut in 2006. It was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) in 2008 - the prize's inaugural year.

Douaihy was born in the northern Lebanese town of Zgharta in 1949. On 16 June 1957 there was a massacre during a requiem mass in the village of Miziara near Zgharta, when the Franjieh family, allegedly led by future president of Lebanon Suleiman Franjieh, attacked the competing Douaihy clan.

Jabbour Douaihy
Douaihy dedicates June Rain  to the Lebanese journalist, historian, author and publisher Samir Kassir who was assassinated in Beirut in 2005. In an interview with NOW Lebanon Jabbour pays tribute to Kassir's vital role in inspiring and encouraging the writing of the novel. It was Kassir who "gave me the idea of writing a literary novel about the background of the massacre of Meziara, which took place in our area in 1957. And that is precisely why I dedicated the novel to him, knowing that the murderers didn’t allow him to read more than two chapters of this novel; he had asked me to send him every chapter I finished writing.

"The idea as it crystallized in our discussions is that the Zawiya area in Zghorta underwent a period of civil violence that could easily be considered as a rehearsal for the civil war that stormed Lebanon in 1975. I lived these events at an early age, and I experienced the trauma that you can’t erase, as did a whole generation. All the details are hearsay, as two parties would tell a tale in a completely contradictory fashion and justify it as defense, no more" 

June Rain depicts the return to the village of Eliyya, twenty years after he emigrated to the USA. Eliyya is intent on learning about his father, who was shot through the heart in the church massacre, and whom he never knew. Eliyya had been conceived shortly before the church killings. Through his novel Douaihy evokes the horrors of internal division in Lebanon through the prism of observations of daily life in a village where revenge is the prevailing system of justice.

Prior to its publication in English by BQFP, June Rain was published in French (by Sindbad, Actes Sud), Italian (Feltrinelli) and German (Hanser). The world translation rights are with RAYA Agency for Arabic literature.

Paula Haydar
The translator to English of June Rain Paula Haydar is Instructor of Arabic Language in the Department of Foreign Languages at the King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies, University of Arkansas. Haydar has translated various works of Arabic literature to English including novels by Lebanese writers Elias Khoury and Rachid Al-Daif, and by Palestinian writers Sahar Khalifeh and Adania Shibli. She has also translated short stories and poems that have appeared in international and national journals, and is a regular contributor to Banipal magazine of modern Arab literature.

Jabbour has a PhD degree in Comparative Literature from the Sorbonne and is a professor of French literature at the Lebanese University in Beirut. He is the acclaimed author of many novels and short story collections. He was shortlisted for IPAF a second time in 2012 for his novel Charid al-Manazil (journalist Anwar Hamed outlines the novel on the IPAF website here.). IPAF renders the title in English as The Vagrant: RAYA has it as Chased Away.

In all RAYA represents six titles by Jabbour.  In addition to June Rain and Chased Away. they are Hayy Al Amerkan (American Neighborhood, Dar al-Saqi 2014); Ayn Warda (Rose Fountain, 2002); Rayya an-nahr (Rayya-of-the-river, Dar an-Nahar -Beirut);  Iitidal al-kharif (Autumn Equinox),  Dar an-Nahar). The English translation of Autumn Equinox, by Nay Hannawi, was published in 2001 by the University of Arkansas Press. French rights to Ayn Warda were acquired by Sindbad, Actes Sud which  published it in 2009 as Rose Fountain Motel in translation by Emmanuel Varlet.

The latest title, Hayy Al Amerkan, is a highly topical novel set in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, in a quarter that is a cradle of salafism in Lebanon. Fighters are trained there to fight in Iraq. RAYA says: "As always, Douaihy offers a minute description of a city he knows well, Tripoli. With tenderness, and sarcasm, he introduces the reader to the complex world of the “American neighborhood”, a poor area of Tripoli where religious extremism has drastically increased in recent years.

American Neighborhood published by Dar al-Saqi
Susannah Tarbush, London

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

an evening of memories, insights and readings: Seamus Heaney Tribute at Kings Place

In March 2012 I was fortunate enough be present when Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney read his poetry at Kings Place in London during an evening celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Forward Prizes for Poetry.

Heaney won the Forward Prize for Best Collection in 2010 for Human Chain (reviewed in the Guardian by Colm Toibin). He shared the Kings Place stage with Forward’s creator and long-time supporter William Sieghart,  novelist Sebastian Faulks (a Forward Prize judge in 2006) and three poets who had won Forward Prizes: Jackie Kay, winner of the best single poem prize in 1992 for "Black Bottom", and Hilary Menos and Rachael Boast, winners of the Forward Prize for Best First Collection in 2010 and 2011 for Berg and Sidereal (the latter collection also won the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Poetry). 

On Monday of last week I again sat in the Kings Place balcony, this time for an evening of tribute to  Heaney, who died on 30 August at the age of 74 (among the many obituaries was this by Neil Corcoran in the Guardian)..

Like the Forward 20th anniversary celebration, Seanus Heaney: A Tribute was hosted by Poet in the City. This venture philanthropy charity is committed to attracting new audiences to poetry, making new connections for poetry and raising money to support poetry education. The evening was introduced and concluded by Poet in the City's Interim Chief Executive Isobel Colchester, and supported by Arts Council England.

Seats for the tribute were so much in demand that after all the tickets for Kings Place's Hall One were sold out Kings Place made 200 additional tickets available for live digital streaming in Hall Two. 

 Bernard O'Donoghue
The tribute evening featured on stage four people with special connections to the much-missed  Heaney: the Irish poet and Emeritus Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford Bernard O'Donoghue; Northern Irish poet and Emeritus Fellow at Hertford College, Oxford Tom Paulin; Irish film and stage actor Stephen Rea, and, from the younger generation, the Northern Irish poet Leontia Flynn who is Research Fellow at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry and Seamus Heaney poet in residence at the Bloomsbury Hotel in London.

Each of the four brought their own memories and insights on Heaney and his work. Bernard O'Donoghue, whose books include Seamus Heaney and the Language of Poetry (Routledge, 1994), reminded the audience of Heaney's Nobel citation: "The Nobel Prize in Literature 1995 was awarded to Seamus Heaney for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past".

O'Donoghue related Heaney's poetry to the changes within and around him, including the impact of the Northern Ireland "Troubles" on poems in his 1975 collection North.  The poems include "Punishment", relating an ancient bog woman to the barbaric punishments inflicted by the IRA. After North Heaney said he wanted to escape back to more social kind of writing and produced Field Work (1979). O'Donoghue read from it the poem "Badgers", which ends: The unquestionable houseboy's shoulders / that could have been my own.

Among the other poems he read were "The Underground", the first poem from Station Island (1984), and the  fourth of the eight-sonnet "Clearances" sonnet sequence in memory of his mother, from The Haw Lantern (1987): "Fear of affectation made her affect / Inadequacy whenever it came to/ Pronouncing words 'beyond her'. Bertold Brek."

He noted that Heaney was a great translator from many languages, and read from his translation of the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf (Faber, 1999). (He quoted from the Woody Allen film Annie Hall: "Just don't take any course where they make you read Beowulf!")

 Tom Paulin
Paulin recalled the impact of Heaney's collection Death of a Naturalist when it burst onto the then uneventful province of Northern Ireland in 1966: "I was overwhelmed as a schoolboy sixth former". The title poem has frogspawn hatching into tadpoles which then turn into frogs: "Some sat ? Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting. / I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings / Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew / That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it."

Paulin and Heaney were among the six writers, three of them Catholic and three Protestant, invited to become  directors of the Field Day Theatre Company which was started in Derry as a collaboration by playwright Brian Friel and Stephen Rea in 1980. The company aimed to be inclusive of all Ireland. In 1991 it published the first three volumes of  Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing with Heaney contributing to the section on W B Yeats.

One of Paulim's anecdotes had the then Northern Ireland Secretary of State Patrick Mayhew. who "seemed to have read 'Digging'", presented the poet with a spade - in response to which Heaney joked that he looked forward to putting it in the spade rack.

 Paulin read  "Sunlight" from North (1975), "Mint" from The Spirit Level (1996) with its hints of a prison yard: Let the smells of mint go heady and defenceless / Like inmates liberated in that yard. He also read "Perch" from Electric Light (2001) and "Casualty" from Field Work. The  IRA had called a curfew after the killing of 13 on Bloody Sunday but a Catholic drinker went to a Protestant pub which was bombed. There are parallels between "Casualty" and W B Yeats' "Easter, 1916".  Paulin made a quip on the lines of  "Yeats is like garlic: you can always tell his influence."

Stephen Rea
Stephen Rea paid particular attention to Heaney's plays. He read in his inimitable fashion from The Cure at Troy: a Version of Sophocles' Philoctetes and The Burial at Thebes: A Version of Sophocles' Antigone.(A main pleasure of BBC Radio 4's output this year has been Rea's beautiful reading of all the stories from James Joyce's Dubliners in the Book at Bedtime slot, in 20 15-minute episodes over four weeks).

 Leontia Flynn in her role as Seamus Heaney poet in residence at the Bloomsbury Hotel
Leontia Flynn, born in 1974, was the youngest on stage by a long way. (Poet in the City, in collaboration with Lavender Hill Studios  has Leontia as the subject of this  'Poetry Portrait' in which she reads from, and talks about her poetry, and about Heaney while having her portrait painted by Phoebe Dickinson). 

From the perspective of a young Northern Irish poet from a similar rural background to Heaney, she spoke of her changing attitude to Heaney, who had at first been too big, too close, overshadowing.  She came round to him like the stages of grief, starting with denial, anger, acceptance..She read  his poem "High Summer" from Field Work. The evening concluded with Rea's reading of "The Tollund Man" from Wintering Out and "Exposure" from North.
Susannah Tarbush, London

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Philip Larkin Society takes the train to celebrate 50th anniversary of The Whitsun Weddings

at Hull station: Philip Larkin statue by sculptor Martin Jennings

The Philip Larkin Society has organised two special  events to mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of the poet's collection The Whitsun Weddings! (the title poem is read by Larkin himself in this recording at the Poetry Archive).

In the first event, on Friday June 6th, dubbed "the performance train", the Hull-based theatre company Ensemble 52 will bring the poem to life on rail platforms and on a First Hull Trains journey from Hull to London King’s Cross. 'The Whitsun Weddings' has been described as ‘one of the best poems of our time’ (in the Times Literary Supplement) and this unique performance piece will cover 200 miles, eight towns and cities, and 50 years in three hours.

Bill Nighy

At several stations - Hull, Brough, Doncaster, Retford and Grantham - brides and grooms will board the train, waved off by family and friends dressed in the ‘parodies of fashion’ from 1964. Once on board each couple will share stories of life and love, marriages and heartbreak from the last 50 years. The stories will last the period of time between stations and be interspersed with other poems from the collection relayed over the tannoy. The journey will also feature a soundtrack of Larkin’s beloved jazz music. (In addition to being a poet and Hull University librarian, Larkin was jazz critic for the Telegraph newspaper.

Audiences on board two dedicated carriages for the unique journey will also be able to hear exclusive one-off recordings of Larkin poems by British Hollywood star Bill Nighy.

Theatre producer Ensemble 52 has worked with the Larkin Society and Larkin 25 (which created the incredibly successful Toads installation throughout Hull) to create and oversee the project, and also with theatre-makers and companies along the route. People’s stories and memories from five of the rail destinations from the last 50 years will be collected, collated and distilled to produce a powerful look at life’s highs and lows, joys and woes.

Andrew Pearson

E52's Andrew Pearson, who is directing this very mobile production and keeping it on the rails, said: ‘This will be a unique event and is a really rare opportunity to experience theatre on board a train and at the various locations en route. We're delighted that Bill Nighy has got involved. This will be the only opportunity to hear Bill reading these poems as they will not be commercially available. ‘This will be one of those events that will forever stay in the minds of those that join us on board. It will be a very special journey and is a chance to celebrate the anniversary of a truly great collection and a poet whose life and work is intertwined with Hull, the UK City of Culture.”

The Whitsun Weddings – on board First Hull Trains Hull to London Kings Cross service. June 6th, 2014. From 12.30pm from Hull Interchange. Tickets £65, £60 and £55 (includes travel to London King’s Cross) in advance from and – price depends on station of departure.

For further information and updates visit the website or follow the company on twitter @ensemble52

The second event marking the 50th anniversary of "The Whitsun Weddings', is the unveiling of a Larkin slate ellipse on King’s Cross Station in London, at 12.30 p.m. on Saturday June 7th (Whit Saturday). The unveiling will be carried out by Baroness Virginia Bottomley, High Sheriff of Hull, with other dignitaries present.

The ellipse will be mounted on a wall next to the First Class Lounge on the main station concourse. Carved by the sculptor Martin Jennings, it will display the final lines of the poem and will complete the sequence of installations which began in 2010 with Martin’s famous statue of Larkin and the associated poetry roundels (2011) and the Larkin bench seat (2012) on Hull Paragon Interchange. These all link neatly with the statue and roundels of Larkin’s friend and fellow poet, John Betjeman, also by Martin Jennings, sited on the next door station, St. Pancras.

Philip Larkin poetry roundel by Martin Jennings at Hull station
into which is carved the  first line of "The Whitsun Weddings":
That Whitsun, I was late getting away,

Susannah Tarbush, London

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

This Room is Waiting: a groundbreaking anthology of Iraqi-UK poetry collaborations

report by Susannah Tarbush, London

“'What’s the Arabic for aphrodisiac?’ someone shouted in the conference room of Kurdistan’s Swedish Village, home to the eight poets of Reel Iraq 2013. Cue a twenty minute debate on what gets people going in the Middle East and whether broccoli is as exciting as oysters.”

Thus begins Lauren Pyott's introduction to the ground-breaking anthology This Room is Waiting, newly out from Freight Books of Glasgow. The anthology is the fruit of a remarkable collaboration between four Iraqi poets, and four UK poets with strong Scottish connections. The initiative was part of Reel Iraq 2013, a programme of events marking 10 years since the US and UK-led invasion of Iraq.

Pyott, who has a degree in Arabic from the University of Edinburgh, has since 2010 been Literature Coordinator and Arabic translator for Reel Festivals which collaborates with artists working in areas in conflict. She co-edited This Room is Waiting with the Literature Director of Reel Festivals, American poet Ryan Van Winkle. Reel Festivals was co-founded by Dan Gorman, the coordinator of Reel Festivals and director of UK-based NGO Firefly International. Reel Festivals aims to celebrate diversity, build solidarity and create dialogue with audiences internationally. 

Lauren Pyott 

Ryan Van Winkle
The Iraqi poets in This Room is Waiting are  Baghdad-based poet and English language teacher Zaher Mousa; Ghareeb Iskander, author of the 2009 collection Chariot of Illusion; Kurdish poet and women’s rights activist Awezan Nouri Hakeem, and Baghdad-based poet and journalist Sabreen Kadhim.

Their UK counterparts are John Glenday (shortlisted in 2010 for the international Griffin Prize and for the Ted Hughes Prize for Excellence in New Poetry); Jen Hadfield (youngest-ever winner of the T S Eliot Prize, in 2008, for her collection No-Nigh-Place); William Letford (a roofer by profession, whose first collection is Bevel) and US-raised Edinburgh-dwelling Krystelle Bamford (winner of the Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award 2010).

the poets and others involved in the poetry workshops in Shaqlawa, Kurdistan
Each of the 32 poems in the anthology is displayed in English side by side with the Arabic or Kurdish original or other langauge "version". Though those involved in the collaboration try to avoid using the word "translations". Pyott explains: "As each poet spoke little or none of the other's language, and as they all brought their own style and sensibilities to the verse we consider these 'literary outcomes' as 'versions' rather than pure translations. The new works produced – in Arabic, Kurdish and English – not only share the essence of the original poem, but also convey new cultural resonances in the corresponding language.”

In addition to the poems the anthology contains four striking newly-commissioned pieces of Kufic calligraphy by Samir Sumaida’ie. They incorporate phrases from some of the poems. In Pyott's words they "stand not only as beautiful works of art in themselves, but also as a testament to the link between the visual and the literary in both Iraq and the UK."

one of Samir Sumaida'ie's Kufic calligraphy-inspired works
The four Iraqi and four UK poets were brought together for the first time in the Kurdish village of Shaqlawa in January 2013. As the basis for their workshop collaborations they were first given literal “bridge” translations of the poems. Pyott had prepared the Arabic to English, and English-Arabic bridge translations, while the bridge translations between Kurdish and English were provided by Erbil-based poet and journalist Hoshang Waziri. Actress Dina Mousawi was also involved in Arabic interpretation.

Pyott describes how the poets sat in pairs with an interpreter on hand, and chatted about each other’s work. “Can you swear in Arabic poetry? Should you translate a Scots word into Modern Standard Arabic or a dialect and if so, which one? Which register of speech is more engaging, more poetic? And that golden question which everyone wants to ask but doesn’t really dare: what to you actually mean by that?”

 Sabreen Kadhim in Kurdistan
The poems were first presented at the British Council’s second Erbil Festival of Literature, which took place while the poets were in Shaqlawa. Reel Festivals then toured the poets in the UK in March 2013 as part of Reel Iraq 2013. Sarah Zakzouk wrote for about their appearance at the Reel Words evening in London. Sabreen Kadhim was unable to be present: Sarah Irving noted in a post on the Arablit blog about the Edinburgh leg of the tour that Sabreen had had her visa denied by the British authorities. Happily, Sabreen was at the Edinburgh International Book Fair and Reel Iraq events in August, as shown in this report with video.

 (L to R): John Glenday, Awezan Nouri Hakeem, Ghareeb Iskander, Jen Hadfield, William Letford, Krystelle Bamford, Zaher Mousa during their March 2013 UK tour 
photo courtesy Michael Brydon / Reel Festivals

Several of the participating poets wrote of their experiences of working with the other poets. William Letford wrote vividly about the poets' collaboration on the blog of his publisher Carcanet. And Krystelle Bamford wrote on the poetry workshops and Erbil Literature festival in an article for The Scotsman newspaper. She begins: "'IRAQ?' friends repeated, eyebrows raised, as if hoping my American accent had mangled the Gaelic name of some lovely Highland town."

Zaher Mousa wrote a detailed article on the poetry workshops for Al Sabah Al Jadid newspaper, which appeared in English translation on the Reel Festivals website under the title “Dialogue through Poetry”. Zaher writes of being paired with the different poets, including working with Krystelle Bamford on versions of her poem “Cancer” and his poem “And You?”

When working with Jen Hadfield, he swapped two of her poems, including “Lichen”, with one of his long poems. “She gathers photographic images of Scotland’s nature to give her an imaginary life and internal motion,” Mousa writes. “Her poems centre around 'Lichen', which listens to an isolated person and gulls which are considered part of the furniture of Scotland’s cities.”

His longer poem translated by Hadfield is the intensely moving "Born to Die",  which  is “about a dead baby who send messages to God.” It includes the lines:

Tell him, Baghdad plucks its people like grey hairs from its streets
and that all of a sudden,

like a family throwing its possessions into a couple of hastily packed bags,
Iraq doesn’t know where it’s going.

Reel Festivals commissioned Alastair Cook and Marc Neys to each make a video of this poem for Reel Iraq 2013, using footage shot in Iraq by Ryan Van Winkle. In the first video Zaher Mousa reads his poem in Arabic; in the second Jen Hadfield reads her English version. The videos are posted at Moving Poems.
Other powerful poems by Zaher Mousa include "The Iraqi Elements" and "The House and the Family".

Ghareeb Iskander
From Ghareeb Iskander we have "Gilgamesh's Snake" and "Three Poems"- both rendered into English by John Glenday - and "On Whitman" in a version by Jen Hadfield. This video shows Iskander and Glenday reading together at the Rich Mix in London in March 2013. Glenday said: "I love the way that he uses the ancient legends, the legend of Gilgamesh, a four-and-a-half-thousand-year-old story, to talk about the way Baghdad is today, it's very moving." The two poets read in Arabic and English "Gilgamesh's Snake", a poem in three acts: Song, Gilgamesh and Conclusion.

Sabreen Kadhim's "Water My Heart with a Jonquil", translated by Krystelle Bamford, is suffused with spirituality, tenderness and everyday details as a woman yearns for her love  amidst uncertainty. the poem ends:

So, has the wick blackened to its end
or was it simply never lit?
Are you with me? Are you with me?
Don't you dare ask me back...I'm here
clutching my match in the darkness.

In a few cases there are footnotes to poems. In her translation of Krystelle Bamford’s “My Mama, Baba Yaga” Sabreen Kadhim transliterates into Arabic, and explains in footnotes, "Baba Yaga" and two words associated with Christmas decorations: “tinsel” and “festoon”.

With their strong links to Scotland, the UK writers sometimes used Scots words in their own poetry or their translations of the Iraqi poet. In his arresting rendering of Awezan Nouri Hakeem’s Kurdish poem “He's not Like Me” John Glenday uses the Scots word “guddle”:

He's hard as a pebble when he hurls himself at me
to guddle meaning from the pool of my dreams
and inspiration from the shingles of the sea.

and also uses the word “swithering":

He's the swithering wave; he wants to flail his arms and swim through Time;
drag me behind him towards whatever fate I've earned;
grant me a fine death.

Jen Hadfield uses Scots words in her poems; "bigging" meaning building, "smoored" meaning smothered in her poem "The Session".

The experience of reading the poems and their renderings in This Room is Waiting will vary from reader to reader, depending on among other things their fluency and depth of knowledge of the three languages  and their particular sensibility and wider cultural background.

It is a testament to the success of this first Reel Festivals experiment in Iraqi-UK poetry collaboration that that a second round of workshops, with a different set of poets, was held recently held in Shaqlawa, as  reported by Nia Davies on Literature across Frontiers. S (Steven) J Fowler also wrote this  blogpost about the event. The four UK poets are Nia Davies, Kei Miller, Vicki Feaver and SJ Fowler. The counterpart Iraqi poets are Ahmad Abdul Hussein, Zhwen Shalai, Ali Wajeeh, and Mariem Maythem Qasem Al-Attar.