On 'Refuge': 8 must-read poetry books in translation for National Poetry Day

It's National Poetry Day!

This year has the theme of 'Refuge', a topic close to many of the poets and translators that have worked with and been published by the Poetry Translation Centre.

We have compiled a reading list of some of the foremost books of poetry in translation from around the world.

A Friend's Kitchen by Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi (trs. Bryar Bajalan, Shook)

The poems in this World Poet Series book emerged in the aftermath of Al-Raddi’s arrival, when he was separated from his wife and children for nearly five years. During late, uncertain nights awake in a strange city, he would write brief, mystical, often stream-of-consciousness texts to post on Facebook, his primary means of communication with loved ones in Khartoum. These texts grew over time into A Friend’s Kitchen, a profound collection that deals with both the spiritual incomprehensibility and physical reality of exile. It is rendered into English by the translator Bryar Bajalan working with Al-Raddi’s friend and fellow poet Shook.

The Sea-Migrations by Asha Lul Mohamud Yusuf (trs. Clare Pollard, Said Jama Hussein, Maxamed Xasan ‘Alto’)

Asha Lul Mohamud Yusuf is fast emerging as one of the most outstanding Somali poets. Although she has lived in exile in the UK for twenty years, through recordings, TV and the internet her poems are well-known among Somalis both at home and abroad. A powerful woman poet in a literary tradition still largely dominated by men, she is a master of the major Somali poetic forms, including the prestigious gabay which presents compelling arguments with mesmerising feats of alliteration. The key to her international popularity is in her spirit and message: her poems are classical in construction but they are unmistakably contemporary, and they engage passionately with the themes of war and displacement, which have touched the lives of an entire generation of Somalis.

A Monkey at the Window by Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi (trs. Sarah Maguire, Mark Ford, Atef Alshaer, Rashid El Sheikh, Sabry Hafez, Hafiz Kheir)

A Monkey at the Window is a dual language collection made up of translations of Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi’s work by leading UK poets Mark Ford and Sarah Maguire. The volume incudes a translator’s introduction by Sabry Hafez illuminating the importance of Al-Raddi’s work within the Sudanese poetry tradition. A second essay ‘The Promise of Poetry’ by Sarah Maguire, founder the PTC, relates Al-Raddi’s life as a journalist and stadium filling poet superstar in Sudan under Omar al-Bashir’s regime.

Aulò! Aulò! Aulò! by Ribka Sibhatu (tr. André Naffis-Sahely)

Ribka Sibhatu is one of the foremost poets of the Eritrean diaspora and a prominent activist for refugee rights. The present selection captures the scale and range of her achievements to date, from recent poems of direct political intervention, through her decade-long effort to record the oral folklore and myths of Tigrinya tradition, back to her earliest taboo-breaking lyric poems. Sibhatu has devoted a considerable amount of her creative energies to the assemblage and recording of Eritrea’s folkloric canon, a body of oral literature which has been handed down through the ages in the form of ‘aulòs’, which literally means ‘Please give me permission! I have something to say publicly in rhyme!’.

Negative of a Group Photograph by Azita Ghahreman (trs. Maura Dooley, Elhum Shakerifar)

Negative of a Group Photograph brings together three decades of poems by the leading Iranian poet Azita Ghahreman. Born in Mashhad in 1962 and based in Sweden since 2006, Ghahreman is the author of five highly acclaimed collections. Her poems are lyrical and intimate, addressing themes of loss, exile and female desire, as well as the changing face of her country.

The Cartographer by Mohan Rana (trs. Lucy Rosenstein, Bernard O’Donoghue)

Mohan Rana’s intricate metaphysical poems are subtle, like water they define through transparency. His poems undertake the deceptively simple process of understanding things as they are, in their ordinary brilliance. This selection of profound, contemplative verse – so often concerned with memory and time – is an excellent introduction to one of Hindi poetry’s most enthralling voices, and includes an afterword by Alison Brackenbury.

Poems by Reza Mohammadi (trs. Nick Laird, Hamid Kabir)

This dual-language chapbook introduces the poetry of Afghan poet Reza Mohammadi, translated by Hamid Kabir and Nick Laird.

I Will Not Fold These Maps by Mona Kareem (tr. Sara Elkamel)

Mona Kareem is a stateless poet, born in Kuwait, whose work has been internationally acclaimed for its power and immediacy ever since she published her first collection at the age of 14. Her writing comes out of the experience of growing up with ‘Bidoon’ status (from ‘bidoon jinsiya’ or ‘without nationality’); an Arab minority denied Kuwaiti citizenship rights, who were categorised as ‘illegal residents’ and stripped of their access to employment, education, social welfare and official documentation a year before her birth.