Michael Karam on translating Nizar Qabbani

Michael Karam

on translating Nizar Qabbani

The gendered nature of the Arabic language makes clear in the original that the speaker is a woman. Qabbani exploits that nature in Arabic to draw parallels between the newspaper (which is feminine) and the speaker herself. In translating this poem, I make the conscious decision to not add any details in English that would indicate the speaker’s gender.

about the author

Nizar Qabbani (1923–1998) was an iconic Arab poet who wrote of romantic and political despair and advocated for Arab nationalism and social freedoms for women. Qabbani utilized the gendered nature of Arabic to write poetry in both female and male voices, subverting the problematic aspects of love poetry about women by writing love poetry as women. People, young and old, in Lebanon – he lived in Beirut for a while – and in Syria, his home country, all know the familiar tunes which have popularized his work. Poetry by Qabbani is also a reminder that the people suffering from the war in Syria are humans who have the right to live and love too.

about the translator

Michael Karam is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania studying economics and international relations with a math minor. He is passionate about languages and bringing communities together. Michael loved memorizing and reciting Qabbani’s poetry when he was in elementary school in Lebanon.