Golan Haji — Every Writing is a Translation5′ di lettura

Prai­rie Schoo­ner | Dome­ni­ca 16 giu­gno 2013 |

Photo of Golan Haji; Photo Credit: Mikel KruminsA patho­lo­gi­st and doc­tor, Golan Haji’s lite­ra­ry career inclu­des seve­ral col­lec­tions of poe­try; an Ara­bic trans­la­tion of Robert Louis Stevenson’s clas­sic, The Stran­ge Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde; and nume­rous appea­ran­ces at festi­vals world­wi­de. His fir­st col­lec­tion won the al-Maghut pri­ze and his late­st, A Cold Fara­way Home, will be publi­shed soon in Bei­rut. He lived in Dama­scus until he had to flee his coun­try in 2011. He set­tled in Fran­ce.

It is hard to belie­ve that I met this Syrian/Kurdish poet two years ago in May 2011 as the cri­sis in Syria was only just begin­ning. It sad­dens me that it has con­ti­nued to be so bloo­dy for so long. When I met Golan we were in Bei­rut with Reel Festi­vals and he had no idea if he would be able to go back to his home as the bor­ders were often clo­sed and the road was dan­ge­rous. It was a stres­sful time to be in the region wor­king on trans­la­tions with the­se gene­rous and embat­tled poe­ts. Despi­te the stri­fe, we mana­ged to crea­te a free e-book of new Syrian and Leba­ne­se poe­try in trans­la­tion. Golan’s poe­tic gra­ce and thought­ful­ness con­ti­nues to be rele­vant.

Golan Haji: I think that eve­ry wri­ting is a trans­la­tion. For me as a Kurd, I talk in Kur­dish but I wri­te in Ara­bic. But it’s not as sim­ple as that, and I think that’s what’s going on in the poet’s head. Some­thing is lost, and the wri­ting is always incom­ple­te. When you try to find the right word or the right ima­ge, and it’s not always pos­si­ble, the poem takes its beau­ty from this pro­cess of imper­fec­tion. It’s always imper­fect, and that’s why the wri­ting never ends. Just as the idea of iden­ti­ty ends in death, when one is dead, that’s his final iden­ti­ty. One is always loo­king for others in other pla­ces and lan­gua­ges.

Trans­la­tion is a pro­cess of chan­ging pla­ces whi­le you are in the same pla­ce. It’s not rein­car­na­tion, or just to imi­ta­te the others. It’s the stran­ger who comes to your hou­se, is wel­co­med, is invi­ted, and you know that he will chan­ge you in a very secret way, even throu­gh silen­ce. And this deep, slow chan­ge that trans­la­tion gives is very impor­tant. I think that wri­ting, throu­gh the histo­ry of lite­ra­tu­re, was always influen­ced by trans­la­tions. I can­not see the modern poe­try of any pla­ce in the world [without] trans­la­tions;  that’s impos­si­ble. Modern Arab poe­try is influen­ced by English, Ame­ri­can, French, Japa­ne­se, and Ger­man poe­try, and I think in Ger­ma­ny and England it’s the same. This trans­la­tion makes poe­try more pre­ci­se to work with.

To trans­la­te poe­try well, you need to know what’s going on in the world, and that your roo­ts are eve­ry­whe­re, in all con­ti­nen­ts. Trans­la­tion is not just moving the words from lan­gua­ge to lan­gua­ge; it’s also the move­ment of the sha­dow of mea­ning, how you must be pre­ci­se to cap­tu­re the sen­sa­tions, the ima­ges. You are una­ware when you have chan­ged, and you don’t know how.

RVW: You can trans­la­te eve­ry word in a poem and still not have a poem. I like the notion that you’re trans­la­ting your­self. As a Syrian poet in the cur­rent cli­ma­te , you’ve said befo­re that “being ali­ve is a poe­tic act,” and I’m just won­de­ring how the even­ts in Syria are affec­ting your work?

GH: I think that poe­try in gene­ral is a poli­ti­cal act, anti-poli­tics. When you wri­te any poem, when you’re tal­king about any­thing, it’s a poli­ti­cal act. But what’s been going on in Syria in the past two mon­ths is very new for the Syrian peo­ple. For the fir­st time in four or five deca­des, peo­ple are in the street demon­stra­ting. That is very beau­ti­ful and ter­ri­fy­ing at the same time. You are in the street and afraid of being kil­led… I was ama­zed by such cou­ra­geous young peo­ple in the stree­ts.

And when I see the death of a young man, when I see that beau­ty pass away, I feel com­ple­te­ly hel­pless. I’m una­ble to do any­thing, and that’s why my mind stop­ped for a who­le month, wat­ching tele­vi­sion, the Inter­net, I was una­ble to wri­te. I tried to arran­ge my ideas, just to con­trol this big con­fu­sion, but some­ti­mes I feel asha­med to be using words when such beau­ti­ful peo­ple are kil­led and you can­not do any­thing for them. Many friends and I who are wri­ters, poe­ts, and pain­ters suf­fer from the same cir­cum­stan­ces. Peo­ple in the street do not know us; I wri­te for them, but they do not read me. I wri­te for some peo­ple who I dream of, and I know them like they are my bro­thers and friends. And they chan­ged me.

It’s just two mon­ths but it feels like two years.  I look at my own coun­try in a dif­fe­rent way:  I know that Syria is going to chan­ge, and my only hope is not to see any more blood­shed, any more peo­ple thro­wn in jail, peo­ple who are afraid to talk, afraid to wri­te. Actual­ly fear is a great chain in the histo­ry of man. If you want to descri­be some­thing that is unu­sual psy­cho­lo­gi­cal­ly, it’s very impres­si­ve and at the same moment sad and cheer­ful; the­re are mixed fee­lings. Many peo­ple need time to see. Now, the situa­tion in Syria is com­ple­te­ly blur­red and con­fu­sed, but some­thing beau­ti­ful is coming out, and coming out soon, I hope.

For the com­ple­te inter­view, you can listen to the ori­gi­nal pod­ca­st at the Scot­tish Poe­try Libra­ry.

Watch “Road to Dama­scus,” a short film by Roxan­na Vilk fea­tu­ring Golan Haji.

Ryan Van Win­kle is a poet, per­for­mer, and cri­tic living in Edin­bur­gh. The­se inter­views are from his Scot­tish Poe­try Libra­ry pod­casts pro­du­ced and edi­ted by Colin Fra­ser. This team also pro­du­ces the arts pod­ca­st The Mul­ti-Colou­red Cul­tu­re Laser. He was awar­ded a Robert Louis Ste­ven­son fel­lo­w­ship for wri­ting in 2012.