The Speaking Hour


We first translated poems by Abdullah al Ryami in 2005 and it was a real pleasure to return to his work. As you'll see reading the poem, he works by moving from image to image; often the 'connective tissue' between these images is unclear, a lack of clarity that is enhanced by the absence of punctuation. In other words, sometimes it was difficult to tell whether a line 'belonged' to the one preceeding it or that which followed.
When I was typing up the poem after the workshop (me being Sarah Maguire), I was tempted to capitalise the first letter of lines which seemed to act as new sentences, or new thoughts. (This is something I often do in my own poems and translations: I won't use full-stops as they feel too strong, so I'll indicate the start of a new sentence with a capital letter.) However, on reflection I decided that to do this to this poem would be an intrusion as, clearly, al Ryami wanted this 'drifting' ambiguity in how the images fitted together. And so I decided to capitalise the beginning of every line, which of course is a traditional format in English poetry, but not necessarily in modern poetry in English. These are the kind of minute details that poets obsess about constantly.

We arrived at 'the grapes of fault' after a long discussion. It was clear from the Arabic that al Ryami was playing on that Biblical phrase (most famously appropriated by John Steinbeck for the title of his novel) 'the grapes of wrath', but that 'wrath' here was 'mistake', which was why we went with the one-syllable 'fault'.

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