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Alphabets of Sand

Selected Poems

Venus Khoury-Ghata

Translated by Marilyn Hacker

Alphabets of Sand by Vénus Khouri-Ghata
Categories: 21st Century, Arabic, French, LGBTQ+, Translation, Women
Imprint: Carcanet Poetry
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Available as:
Paperback (232 pages)
(Pub. May 2009)
Out of Stock
  • Description
  • Excerpt
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  • Awards
  • Reviews
  • 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.


    Translator's Preface

    The Darkened Ones
    The Seven Honeysuckle Sprigs of Wisdom
    from Early Childhood
    The Cherry Tree's Journey
    Venus Khoury-Ghata
    Venus Khoury Ghata is a Lebanese poet and novelist, resident in France since 1973, the author of sixteen collections of poems and twenty novels. She received the Prix Mallarme in 1987 for Monologue du mort, and the Grand Prix de la Societe des Gens de Lettres for Fables pour un ... read more
    Marilyn Hacker
    Marilyn Hacker is the author of fourteen books of poems, including Blazons (Carcanet 2019), A Stranger’s Mirror (Norton, 2015) and Names (Norton, 2010), and an essay collection, Unauthorized Voices ( Michigan, 2010). Her sixteen translations of French and Francophone poets include Vénus Khoury-Ghata’s A Handful of Blue Earth (Liverpool, 2017) and ... read more
    Awards won by Marilyn Hacker Commended, 2019 Poetry Book Society Special Commendation
    'Alphabets of Sand is a surprising and ambitious collection, combining traditional storytelling style with mythic treatment of people and environment.'

    Katherine Wootton, Literateur 

    '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
    '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
    Praise for Marilyn Hacker 'Translated forms give rise to the morphic quality of Hacker's language, whilst still maintaining the truth of her subject.'
    Elizabeth Ridout, Agenda
    'The literal translation of images and sources from French, Francophone and Arabic poets serves Hacker's elegant fusion of the contemporary, the colloquial and the precise, spare form, to create new communication of the experiences of the refugee and the bilingual, the world citizen.'
    Elizabeth Ridout, Agenda
    'Witness Blazons filled with poems using form and formal devices with apparent ease and joy. Her discipline is also reflected in language and syntax that are rich and syncopated....While Hacker's mastery of form and language continue to delight, her discipline as a translator, as a poet equally committed to other poets and with political implications, also inspires.... If poetry is a practice, a discipline, Hacker is one of the greatest masters and Blazons is one of her achievements from her practice and discipline.'

    Julie R Enszer, The Rumpus

     'This unadorned empathy and Hacker's formal accomplishment establish an imprint on the page; an imprint which is never heavy or cloying but beds the poems on the page, makes them sit with solidity and a kind of inevitability. Hacker is a poet for whom the trajectory of the poem is patiently, but intensely controlled.'

    Ian Pople, The Manchester Review

    'There is no poet writing in English with a better claim for the Nobel Prize in Literature than Marilyn Hacker. Indeed, I view Blazons: New and Selected Poems, 2000-2018 as a brief for that case.'
    A.M. Juster, L.A. Review of Books
    'Very fine poetry... her translations were lovely'
    Leah Fritz, Acumen
    'The ghazal form is tailor made for Hacker's poetic gifts: poignant wit,precision handled with dash, aplomb, and a raised eyebrow, the dance on the fine line between too little and too much'
    Annie Finch, New Letters
    'Her forms are invariably generous, inviting the reader in as a participant which entrains our emotions like a melody... Marilyn Hacker has style'
    Norbert Hirschhorn, London Grip
    'She has rendered these forms supple, natural, and substantial and has filled them with energy both intellectual and emotional... her poems are works of heroic reportage from the front delivered in a crisp hard bitten New York colloquial style that is counterpoise to the architecture of the form.'
    George Szirtles, The Poetry Review, Summer 2019
     'It is difficult to think of a poet writing today who could surpass Marilyn Hacker's combined formal, sonic and linguistic dexterity... Hacker's poems reach with both hands towards an intimacy of place, language, knowledge and more. Even towards the lyric self, where there is sometimes a wry sensibility, there is also very often an acknowledgement of an in-betweenness. Relating perhaps to Hacker's own life as a Jewish American now living in Paris - the poet-traveller raises her shield, forms her report, hoists the herald, all of these in English and French types of blazons, in order to correspond with her reader, another, the self.'
    Sandeep Parmar, PBS Spring Bulletin 2019
     'Combining toughness with tenderness, uniting the personal with the political, using traditional forms for new and urgent purposes, reaching out to others and otherness, taking the poem into divided and often terrifying circumstances, Hacker's Blazons confirms just how uncompromising, lucid and lyrical her poetry is.'
     'Marilyn Hacker's text is masterly and authoritative, in the same way as is Auden's, Rich's, Fenton's and the best of Brodsky's... she convinces us of the authenticity of a world as it exists in language, through mastery, delight, desire, passion and wit. The wit is sexual and rakish, the passion humane and dense, the delight is in the mastery that is both formal yet acrobatically flexible and free-spirited, often breathtaking.'
    George Szirtes, The Guardian
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