Romarin et autres caprices published in Algiers

Romarin et autres caprices at the international book festival of Algiers in March 2022

At the book festival of Algiers held at the end of March 2022, Salon International du Livre d’Alger, or SILA 2022, the publishing house based in Algiers APIC Editions presented six new books of poetry in French in its series Poèmes du Monde, or Poems of the World, curated by the well-known Algerian novelist and poet Habib Tengour. One of those books is my collection Klin u Kapriċċi Oħra translated into French by the Paris based poet and translator Elizabeth Grech.

In an article about this series published on Qantara.de, Regina Keil-Sagawe interviewed Habib Tengour about this series that “has grown over the past four years to include 23 titles, with a current total of 16 male and seven female voices, representing a broad poetic panorama.” The series editor spoke about this series as “an absolute first” for the Maghreb. “Of course, foreign poetry is published in Morocco or Tunisia as well, but as far as I know, nowhere else has used the principle of a series of dual-language editions. Each features an introduction and 7 questions about the author’s biography, their self-image as a poet and the importance they attach to literary translation – after all, the authors in the series are all simultaneously poets and poetry translators.”

In this bilingual edition, Romarin et autres caprices includes French versions of thirty six of the poems that appeared in Klin u Kapriċċi Oħra (Klabb Kotba Maltin 2015). The translations by Elizabeth Grech were supported by the Translation Grant that at the time was administered by the Arts Council Malta. Philippe Parizot-Clerico also contributed to the final versions of the poems in French.

From left: Mourad Yelles, Adrian Grima and Habib Tengour in Paris in March 2022

In her Preface, Elizabeth Grech immediately establishes literary translation as an act of creation, rather than simply an act of imitation. “La traduction est un acte de création à part entière.” Translating poetry means facing a good deal of challenges and making subjective choices. It couldn’t be otherwise. She describes her translations of my poetry as a “very personal version of the poetry of Adrian Grima.”

Traduire la poésie est un acte éminemment subjectif. Tout dépend de la sensibilité, de la musicalité, du choix du traducteur à l’instant où il travaille. Les poèmes qui suivent traduits vers le français sont par conséquent une version très personnelle de la poésie d’Adrian Grima.

Elizabeth grech

The book also includes a perceptive and poetic ten-page “Postface” or Afterword titled “De la Méditerranée poétique et autres caprices maltais” (About the Poetic Mediterranean and other Maltese caprices”) by the eminent French-Algerian writer and academic Mourad Yelles, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Arabic Studies at INALCO, Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales in Paris.

Au premier abord, le titre du recueil d’Adrian Grima pourrait se lire comme une invite à la légèreté. Après tout, il y est bien question de romarin et de caprices ! Mais, au cas où nous aurions oublié le sens premier du caprice, au fur et à mesure que nous nous immergeons dans l’univers du poète, les repères familiers de l’enchantement poétique – tant dans l’ordre de la composition que de la tonalité – s’estompent un à un. Et c’est ainsi que sous le sourire volontiers espiègle transparaît peu à peu une sorte de tristesse, comme une inquiétude latente. Peut-être même une angoisse profonde.

Mourad Yelles

The title of the book, writes Mourad Yelles, with its mention of rosemary and caprices, might give the impression that this is a collection of light poems, but this is certainly not the case. The word “caprice” refers to a “a sudden change or turn of the mind without apparent or adequate motive; a desire or opinion arbitrarily or fantastically formed; a freak, whim, mere fancy.” But it is also used in the domain of music to refer to “capriccio,” “a piece of music constructed either on original subjects, and frequently in a modified sonata- or rondo-form or to a brilliant transcription of one or more subjects by other composers” (OED). This double meaning sets the tone for the whole collection. “And that’s how,” writes Yelles, “under the deliberately mischievous smile, there gradually emerges a kind of sadness, like a latent concern. Perhaps even deep angst.”

Mourad Yelles describes Romarin et autres caprices as “cette belle traversée des espaces, des mémoires et des couleurs de la Méditerranée,” a beautiful voyage across the spaces, memories and colours of the Mediterranean.

In the last section of the book I answer seven short questions which are put to all the poets in the series. They deal with defining the nature of poetry, whether it makes sense to try and distinguish between poetry and prose, whether poetry has a future, the role of prosody in the writing of poetry, and the place of translation in the writing of poetry.


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