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The Atlas is proud to be partnering with the Hay Festival's Beirut39 contest, celebrating Beirut's year as UNESCO World Book Capital, to find the hottest authors under 40 of Arabic origin. Nominations are open until August 24th, 2009.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fatena al-Gharra: The Lost Button and Woman of Mint

Two final poems from Fatena al-Gharra, as translated by Sarah Maguire, Anna Murison and Sarah Vaghefian in their workshop at the Poetry Translation Centre: The Lost Button, a sensual moment snatched on a hurried pavement (I can't help but hear an allusion to Gertrude Stein's lovely and loving Tender Buttons in the title); and Woman of Mint. The poem is divided into two stanzas, a She stanza and a He stanza, with the person of the opposite gender only appearing in the final two lines of each stanza, creating an erotic tension from the (mandated) separation of the genders in observant Islamic societies. In her notes, Sarah comments that
It's fascinating to witness a woman poet writing in Arabic using a 'feminine' mint plant and a 'masculine' nettle to express her feelings about gender.
The play with the natural world and the switch of point-of-view in the poem is reminiscent of the Song of Songs, in which the female speaker may be the Queen of Sheba and aligned with the Arabic world, and the male speaker Solomon and aligned with the Israelites. So here the male figure is a nettle, a plant that spreads and takes over land. Within the erotic tension is (perhaps) a biting national allegory, controlled by the female voice.

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