A bit of a life


NB In Arabic this poem has rhythm and some end of line rhymes.

*** The poet uses an adjective that usually is a human quality, being gentle, kind, refined, graceful, elegant, etc. She could be just referring to the delicacy that is the sandwich, or how fresh it is, how soft the bread. It’s an unusual way to say it though.

When the bridge translator Alice Guthrie asked her about this she said:

"Describing the sandwich as لطيفة is really strange, but note that the speaking voice is for an odd person, who is actually like a vagabond living in streets, sleeping in gardens, so also having a strange way to express feelings, a meat sandwich is a charming miracle for such a character who barely can get a piece of bread if any."

The poem that we eventually titled ‘A bit of a life’ is a dramatic monologue. It is
spoken from the point of view of a character Abdel Aziz herself describes as a
‘vagabond’. The original is much longer than the small section we were able to deal
with in the space of a two and a half hour workshop.

Perhaps the most difficult part of translating the poem was the punctuation. We
soon learnt that in Arabic punctuation is used in very different ways to those English
readers are used to, and with much more freedom. For instance, ellipses are
startlingly common and do not necessarily suggest a tailing off. This seemed to be
a poem of striking and complex imagery, where wonderful and weird depictions
come thick and fast, seeming to blend and blur into one another. The voice
appeared to be as errant as the persona.

As a result, we were limited by the amount we could do, but we wanted to shape the
small part of this ‘bit of a life’ into something that worked in isolation. So we
concentrated on these first few stanzas and maintaining the ambiguities and
complexities of the imagery. The process was slow, almost archaeological, as if we
were ‘sifting through piles of sand’. Did we feel we were successful? Not entirely,
but we did feel we uncovered enough to piece together a character and see the
world through their eyes for a moment.

- Emily Hasler, Poet Facilitator