Pavilion Author Q&A: Marilyn Hacker

Always international in its reach, Pavilion Poetry is poetry that takes a risk. Whether by new or established and award-winning writers, this is poetry sure to challenge and delight.

Throughout June, we are putting a spotlight on our books, journals, and digital collections which focus on language and translation, offering 30% off selected eBook and print books across the LUP website, including our Pavilion titles. To take advantage of this offer, use code CROSSING30 at the checkout*.

Coinciding with our spotlight in June is the eighth year of Pavilion Poetry, and we’re taking the opportunity to look back at our brilliant collections with a series of author Q&As. For the latest interview in the series, we chatted to Marilyn Hacker, translator of Poems by Vénus Khoury-Ghata in A Handful of Blue Earth (2017) to discuss the collection and her work on translation more widely.

A Handful of Blue Earth by Vénus Khoury-Ghata, translated by Marilyn Hacker

What sort of things are you thinking about at the moment?

Like everyone else, the Russian war waged on Ukraine. How the Syrian people suffered much the same thing when Putin came to Assad’s aid to extinguish the revolution.

How might this have changed since the publication of A Handful of Blue Earth?

Only the Syrians were under siege then….

Have your thoughts about poetry shifted at all?

They change each time I read a book that particularly moves or strikes me. For the next day, it seems to me that everyone ought to write like Louis MacNeice, or Marie Ponsot, beginning with myself, of course.

What literary works are you particularly enjoying at the moment?

George Szirtes’ Fresh Out of the Sky, Mimi Khalvati’s Afterwardness , Fady Joudah’s Tethered to Stars, Evie Shockley’s The New Black, Khaled Mattawa’s Fugitive Atlas. Rereading Mahmoud Darwish, both in Fady Joudah’s translation and, as well as I can, in Arabic. Rereading Muriel Rukeyser as well.

What are the most enjoyable aspects of the translation process for you?

Writing, or in any case recreating, a poem that does not come out of my own experiences, knowledge or preoccupations.

Did anything surprise you about translating A Handful of Blue Earth?

I continue to thoroughly enjoy and appreciate Vénus Khoury-Ghata’s poetry. She incredibly prolific, and I have translated several books of hers. The voice and the settings are always similar: a remembered or thoroughly mythologized Lebanon, yet each collection has modulations that “make it new”.

Has the process or experience of translation changed for you since the publication of the collection?

I had begun to do some translation of poetry from Arabic as well as from French, much more of a challenge since I “live” much of my life in French, whereas Arabic is an ongoing and difficult enterprise. There is perhaps little need of more translations of Darwish, but there were poems that reverberated enough in my mind that I wanted to and did translate them. But also, and especially, younger poets, like the Syrian Kurdish poet Golan Haji, now living in France, and my friend, and the Syrian poet Fadwa Suleiman, also a friend, who died here, young, a dissident in exile in 2017. And Sania Saleh, also Syrian, who died of cancer in 1985, whom I never knew, and whose work (see the essay Iman Mersal wrote about her in 2016!) deserves to live in other languages.

Has your approach to writing and translation changed?

I’m trying to complete one, or possibly two, sequences for my own next book—and always trying not to do the same thing over again, while not betraying the poem for the sake of novelty.

You can purchase A Handful of Blue Earth by Vénus Khoury-Ghata and translated by Marilyn Hacker, via the Liverpool University Press website.

*(30% deducted at checkout. Duties and customs taxes charged by the courier may apply when ordering a print book within the EU.) US and Canada customers can use code ADISTA5 at checkout at global.oup.com/academic


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