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Alphabets of Sand
Translated by Marilyn Hacker
ISBN: 978 1 857549 77 5
Categories: 21st Century, Arabic, French, Women
Imprint: Carcanet Poetry
Published: May 2009
216 x 135 mm
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Where do words come from?
from what rubbing of sounds are they born
on what flint do they light their wicks
what winds brought them into our mouths
from 'Words' by Venus Khoury-Ghata
Translated by notable American poet Marilyn Hacker, Lebanese-French poet and novelist Venus Khoury-Ghata explores the formal and mythic attractions, congruencies and incompatibilities of the French and Arabic imaginations and poetic traditions in poems that open like 'a suitcase filled with alphabets.' Sex, barrenness, exile, grief, and death - the backdrop of a war-ravaged country - are always at the edges, made increasingly urgent in lines varying from sinuous length to jagged and spare, their music unfettered, their metaphors lively, multilayered and unpredictable. But humour, the demotic voice, the storyteller's enchantments and an anecdotal sense of quotidian life are also omnipresent. Khoury-Ghata's is a vital voice in French and Francophone literature.
'Venus Khoury-Ghata's poems are striking for their combined innocence and wisdom. In Marilyn Hacker's pristine translations, the poems are dreamlike and real, mysterious and utterly true. Here Khoury-Ghata envisions the beginnings of the world and modern tragedy simultaneously and with a heightened clarity. Language shines in a new light as she searches for its origin: 'How to find the name of the fisherman who hooked the first word / of the woman who warmed it in her armpit / or of the one who mistook it for a pebble and threw it at a stray dog. 'And she takes us to a time when 'Everything that frequented water had a soul / clay jug, gourd, basin 'buckets fished out the ones stagnating in the wells' indifference.' I am enchanted.' - Grace Schulman
'Hacker opens for English-language readers a veritable 'suitcase filled with alphabets' - the perfectly blended French and Arabic imagination of Lebanese native and French emigree writer Venus Khoury-Ghata, who evokes in sinuous lines and multivalent imagery the richness of her experiences of a multi-ethnic traditional culture.' - The Women's Review of Books
The Darkened Ones
The Seven Honeysuckle Sprigs of Wisdom
from Early Childhood
The Cherry Tree's Journey
I was very fortunate to grow up in New Mexico, a place still learning to navigate its cultural and political heritage as a former Spanish colony, where Spanish remains a dominant language and the imposition of English as lingua franca marks the latest incursion into the cultural landscape. read more
More stylistically dissimilar poets than Venus Khoury-Ghata and Marilyn Hakcer, her translator, would be hard to imagine. read more
In the translator's preface, Marilyn Hacker observes that 'Khoury-Ghata's work bridges the anti-lyrical surrealist tradition which has informed modern French poetry since Baudelaire, and the parabolic and communal narrative with its (we might say Homeric) repetitions of metaphors and semi-mythic tropes of Arabic poetry.' read more
Alphabets of Sand - Venus Khoury-Ghata, trans. read more
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