This is old news, since the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES) book award ceremony took place on Halloween (October 31 for you non-revelers) but I only just saw it:
“In western academe, Arabic popular poetry is a very under-researched area, even though it is a living, vibrant tradition, and one which provides unique insights into the lives and thoughts of ordinary Arabs on the affairs of the day, both domestic and international. Reading it provides confirmation, if confirmation were needed, of Ibn Khaldun’s famous dictum that the language of poetry need not be ‘classical’ in order to artful, eloquent and pithy. We hope that our English verse translations will convey something of the flavour of the original Arabic poems to an English-speaking audience.”
I have not read the anthology, co-edited by Clive Holes and Said Salman Abu Athera, although chunks of it are available on Amazon. The BRISMES judges said that it the collection’s translations “work fabulously in English, showing a range of style, technique, sensitivity to the tone and historical context of the original. The work with rhyme schemes is nothing short of astounding!”
For instance (I can’t make the spacing work in this new iteration of WordPress, but:
“Son, you’ve wasted what you’ve got
and if I’d wit what now I wot,
You’d not have sucked at my breast;
but breathed your last so you could not,
Beatle-like, have gone to pot!”
I must admit that, as I scan through, rhyme seems a very difficult thing to pull off in English, and feels wearying after a while. And the occasional xenophobia (“Indian types, not Arab men”; “No pure-bred son of decent kin / Should contemplate a foreign wife”) and calls to return to traditional gender roles don’t much appeal to me. But, according to a review in The National,
the collection is all in all successful. And:
If anything, the common thread in this collection is the ambivalence of feeling – admiration for the country’s rulers, satisfaction with the comforts and opportunities they have brought, but also wistful memories of simpler days, and unease about newfangled customs and features. The poets often keep us guessing whether their reflections are meant to be taken serious or with a conniving wink, while other poems simply remodel conventional themes.
The BRISMES runner-up prize, awarded for the best scholarly work on the Middle East, brings its co-winners £1,500.