How Long Have You Been With Us? by Khaled Mattawa

How Long Have You Been With Us? Essays on Poetry by Khaled Mattawa has just been published by the University of Michigan Press.

“Khaled Mattawa, an American poet of Libyan origin, explores various dynamic developments shaping American poetry as it is being practiced today. Arising from an incredibly diverse range personal backgrounds, lyric traditions, and even languages, American poetry is transforming into a truly international form. Mattawa, who also translates Arabic poetry into American English and American poetry into Arabic, explores the poetics and politics of cross-cultural exchange and literary translation that fostered such transformation. The essays in this collection also shed light on Mattawa’s development as a poet and provide numerous portraits of the poets who helped shaped his poetry.”

Poetry of Khaled Mattawa | دواوين شعر خالد مطاوع

Khaled Mattawa is a renowned Libyan-American poet, in addition to being a prolific translator of Arabic poetry into English and scholar of Arabic literature. He is a member of the American Academy of Poets and was recently in the news for being named a recipient of the MacArthur “genius grant” fellowship. Mattawa has published four books of his poetry in English:

Tocqueville (2010)

Amorisco (2008)

Zodiac of Echoes (2003)

Ismailia Eclipse (1995)

In the aftermath of killing of Libya’s former dictator, he wrote the  poem, “After 42 Years”. You can listen to him reading it here.

A few verses by Ahmad Rafig al-Mahdawi

The ‘national poet’ of Libya, Ahmad Rafig al-Mahdawi (احمد رفيق المهدوي), wrote a poem entitled أنا ساكت “I am silent” during the de-colonization of Libya and the struggle for nationhood. A few verses from it have been going around Libya social media, since they are as applicable to the situation today as they were sixty-odd years ago. Such is great poetry, I suppose. Here are the verses and my attempt at a somewhat literal translation:

قلبي يحدّثني بان ممثلا     خلف الستائرللحقائق يمسخُ

اما الذي هو في الحقيقة واقع     وطن يباع و امة تتفسّخُ

ماذا اقول و ما تراني قائلا     انا ساكت لكن قلبي يصرخُ

ابكي على شعبٍ يسيّر امره     متزعّمون و جاهلون و افرخُ

My heart tells me that behind the curtains, an actor distorts truths,

But the reality is this: a country is sold and a nation broken apart.

What is there to say? I am silent, but my heart cries out;

I weep for a people whom false leaders, the ignorant, and the bastards guide about.