Saadi Youssef on the freedom of Arabic

The September edition of Wild River Review is up, and it contains a long, illuminating interview with Saadi Youssef, the Iraqi poet who left his native country in 1978 and "lived in many countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe before settling in the U.K. in 1999." The interview was conducted during the PEN World Voices festival by Wild River Review founder Joy E. Stocke, who asks Youssef about the Arabic language, and gets this reply:
Well it is a very free language. I mean you can create new words in Arabic. So, you can say that it is an open language, a language that a poet can always renew. If you know Arabic well with a classical formation, in a way you will be more free because you will see more things. You can work within the language to create a new word and it will be understood. It will not be considered strange.

For example, when you hear the church bell toll, or ring. In Arabic, if you take the past tense for the sound of a bell ringing — the bell rang — I can extend the sense of time that it takes for a bell to ring. Instead of saying rang, I can use the language to create a new word that shows the extended way a bell rings, how the sound moves through the air. I create a new word because I need to do so, and a reader of Arabic will understand. In fact a reader of Arabic will expect it.
We printed a selection from Youssef’s first major English collection, Without an Alphabet, Without a Face, in PEN America 5: Silences. The collection was translated by Khaled Mattawa and published by Graywolf in 2002. It won the 2003 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation.

More about Youssef, who was born near Basra in 1934, here.


Jassim said...

A New Book in English On Saadi Youssef:


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