Tuesday, October 25, 2005

literary and literal giants

Above: Sarah Maguire with (L to R) Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi, Maxamed Xaashi Dhamac 'Gaarriye' and Partaw Naderi

The three-week ‘World Poets’ Tour’, which has been taking place this month, is the first tour of its kind in the UK. The tour was organised by the Poetry Translation Centre (PTC) of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London University. It has visited ten cities in England, Scotland and Wales and ends tomorrow with a reading in Edinburgh, Scotland, by Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi of Sudan and Partaw Naderi of Afghanistan.

A reading held in the Brunei Gallery at SOAS a few evenings ago featured Al-Raddi and Naderi together with Maxamed Xaashi Dhamac ‘Gaarriye’ from Somaliland. The other poets brought to Britain for the tour are women: Coral Bracho from Mexico, Gagan Gill from India and Toeti Heraty from Indonesia.

The tour by the six poets is striking evidence of the PTC’s valuable work in making the work of non-European poets accessible to an English-reading audience through high-quality translations.

The PTC was launched last year, and its founder and director is poet Sarah Maguire. Poems are translated literally by a first translator. The translations are then transformed through workshops into poems that ‘work’ in English while remaining true to the originals. A number of eminent poets in Britain have translated PTC poets, and the tour included six of these poet-translators, among them Maguire herself.

At the Brunei Gallery evening, Al-Raddi’s work was read by him in Arabic and by his poet-translator Mark Ford in English translation. His work has also been translated by Maguire, who is the translator of Nadari’s poetry and appeared on stage with the Afghan poet.

David Harsent, who read alongside Gaarriye as his poet-translator, this month won the prestigious Forward prize for the best poetry collection for his collection “Legion”. Gaarriye’s work was introduced by Dr Martin Orwin, SOAS lecturer in Somali and Amharic, who explained that Gaarriye was “the first person to work out how the Somali metrical system works.”

Maguire told the audience that she was particularly delighted to welcome poets “from three regions of the world which have been very troubled and which have suffered, and are suffering, enormously. All of those countries have very long histories with Britain and with British meddling in their affairs which British people like me feel deep regret for.”

Maguire noted that people from the Sudanese, Somali and Afghan communities, who have fled terrible conditions, are often made to feel unwelcome in Britain. “I feel again an enormous sense of regret about that because, as far as I’m concerned, the best thing about living in London is the fact that there are 300 languages spoken here and there are more and more people coming to live here from countries such as your own.” The evening gave “the opportunity to indicate to people a glimpse of the extraordinarily rich literary heritage and traditions of poetry of the three countries.”

The audience reacted to the readings with obvious enjoyment and enthusiasm. Gaarriye’s performance gained an extra dimension when he invited “the tallest man in the world”, fellow Somali Hussein Bissad, to join him. Hussein, who is eight feet one inch tall, stood on stage throughout Gaarriye’s readings.

Gaarriye greets Hussein Bissad

Susannah Tarbush

Saudi Gazette, 25 October 2005

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

miskin theatre's palestine play

The play “Iman: Walled in Walled out” has a good claim to being one of the most powerful pieces of Palestinian-related theatre ever staged in Britain. The play, written and directed by Robbie McGovan, Neil Maskell, Dominic Power and Lucy Flack, was staged earlier this month at the Miskin Theatre in the town of Dartford, not far from London. Its cast of young British actors, mostly still in their teens, brought energy, commitment and passion to their performances.

The play consists of scenes and stories woven around the notorious killing by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) of 13-year-old Iman al-Hams in Gaza in October 2004. Iman was deliberately shot despite it being obvious that she was a schoolgirl, and Israeli soldiers later described how their commander emptied his entire magazine into her body.

The play had a direct visceral impact, intensified by the musical soundtrack performed by five talented and versatile young musicians. Their line-up of instruments included several with a Middle Eastern sound - dulcimer, mandolin and bazooki. When Leonie Evans sang, the effect was ethereal.

The play opened with the black-clad cast rushing and darting on to the stage in all directions, clutching eerie white masks. This dynamism and physicality was maintained throughout the drama.

The stage was at the centre of the auditorium, with rows of seats on either side. At times a muslin screen was suspended across the stage on which were projected images of Palestinian crowds and funerals, which mingled with the actors on stage.

Some of the scenes had an absurdist, dark humour, such as “The Toilet is Another Country” in which the IDF prevent a boy from using a latrine. The situation escalates to draw in more and more characters. In another confrontation, an old lady shot in the ankle by the IDF has a sarcastic exchange with a soldier who tells her to get up and hurry. Death is ever present, and in one visually eloquent scene girls wind a funeral sheet around a killed girl.

The play was developed through the Theatre in Education (TIE) process. Neil Maskell explains in the play’s published programme: “We start with around forty actors, a small group of musicians, a design, lighting and sound team along with no script, no story and no notion of where we will end up.”

As part of the research into music for the play, the singer and musician Reem Kelani, the leading authority on Palestinian music in Britain, conducted a one-day workshop with the cast and directors.

Dr Rosemary Hollis of the think tank Chatham House was consulted for her knowledge of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The visual arts input came from Palestinian artist Leila Shawa, much of whose work is inspired by the children of her native Gaza.

The play had its first run in the early summer. In its latest run the play was updated to take account of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, while pointing out that Israel still controls Gaza’s borders.
It would be interesting to see what young people in Palestine make of this work performed by Britons of their age. But taking the play and its cast to Palestine will probably have to wait for more peaceful times.

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette October 19 2005

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

british muslim magazine 'emel' goes mainstream

The launch of a glossy new lifestyle magazine is a not uncommon event in Britain, where newsagents’ shelves are crammed with a vast array of publications. But what makes the launch of Emel exceptional is that it is a Muslim magazine hoping to expand its readership to include non-Muslims.

Emel arrived in mainstream outlets such as W H Smith, Tesco, Asda and Waterstones last Thursday. Its name is derived from the initials “M” and “L”, standing for Muslim Life, and it is also close to the Arabic for “hope".

The magazine’s editor Sarah Joseph is a British convert to Islam. With her intelligence, calmness and good humour, she is one of the most effective Muslim commentators to appear regularly on British television.

Emel was founded two years ago as a quarterly available only at specialist Muslim bookshops. It has now gone monthly and entered the British mainstream market in response to a growing interest among some sectors of the British public in learning more about Islam and Muslims.

The cover picture is of singer Sami Yusuf who, according to Emel’s profile of him, has “revolutionized the English nasheed landscape, especially with his quality music videos”, and is “truly blazing a trial in the international Muslim music scene”. His latest album “My Ummah” has just been released.

Emel covers many aspects of the lives of Muslims in Britain, with a mixture of comment, features, real life stories, finance, health, food, interiors, garden, fashion, travel and art. Several articles mark the holy month of Ramadan, including a thoughtful piece by scholar Tariq Ramadan. There are articles on seclusion and additional prayers during Ramadan, on “moonsighting” and on Ramadan fitness. There is also an interview with three Pakistani cricketers on their experiences of Ramadan.

On the political front, the magazine examines the reaction to the London attacks of 7/7 and has an article on “how to stop the preachers of hate.” The arts section takes an in-depth look at the work of the famous London-based Egyptian artist Ahmed Moustafa, who is inspired by Islamic calligraphy and geometry.

Sarah Joseph and her team have succeeded in producing a magazine that is fresh, lively and thought-provoking, with high standards of writing and design. It lives up its aim, which Joseph describes as being “a positive voice that celebrates the value of being a Muslim in today’s Britain.” She identifies a nascent British Muslim culture that is emerging, “far away from the anger violence and rhetoric of the theologically unsound; far away from the sensationalised media clich├ęs of extremism and alienation.”

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette October 4

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Philip Larkin early muse Penelope Scott Stokes

photo © estate of Penelope Evans
Article in The Times today:

Larkin's tomboy first love is revealed in lost sonnet