The Babtain Program for Arabic Literature and Language has enabled the University of Michigan’s Department of Near Eastern Studies to offer content-based courses, taught completely in Arabic, with an emphasis on Arabic cultural expression. Following is a description of the courses we offered during the fall 2012 and winter 2013 semesters.
Translating Arabic Poetry
This course covered a variety of issues related to the concept and practice of translation. Its main focus was on the rich, vital, and rapidly-changing poetical production of the present time. During fall 2012, the College of Literature, Science and the Arts featured a theme semester focused on Translation. Faculty and students were encouraged to explore topics such as: where do we encounter translation on campus, in our community, and in the world at large? What is translation? Who translates? Why translate? How can we make translation more visible?
What students are saying
Following is the reaction from of students who took Translating Arabic Poetry during the fall term:
Modern Arabic poetry and translation presents two challenges: 1) understanding the history of modern Arabic poetry and its major schools and figures; and 2) acquiring the necessary tools for reading and translating poetry. In terms of understanding the history of modern Arabic poetry, we discussed and examined the major poetic schools such as Madrasat al-ba’th and al-ahya’, madrasat al-diwan, madrasat Apollo, madrasat al-mahjar, harakat al-shi’r al-hurr. Additionally, students prepared presentations about the key figures, their lives and work. These figures include: Ahmed Shawqi, Abbas Mahmoud al-‘Aqad, Abu al-Qasim As-Shabi, Ilia Abu Madi, Ibrahim Naji, and Nizar Qabani. During in-class 2/19/2013 presentations we analyzed poems and talked about the many ways the poems reflected each poet’s historical and personal circumstances.
In addition to learning about poets, we contacted a number of poets and translators via Skype. They included Jaafar Hamza, Reem Qays Quba, Zaynab Laith, and Musa Hawamda. During our Skype sessions we asked the poets about the meaning of their poems, their view on the role of poetry in modern society, their inspirations, and how they overcome the difficulties of translation. Outside of the classroom we participated in a number of poetry workshops. We attended a creative writing workshop taught by Dr. Sabri. The workshop covered how to write tafa’iliyya poety, how to identify different types of poems, and how to recite a poem in rhythm and melody. Additionally, we attended a conference given by Mahjar poets during which we learned about their experiences living in the United States. Last month we attended a concert where we listened to traditional Iraqi music and learned about the history of Iraqi music.
In terms of translation theory, our course work consisted of analyzing the varying challenges of translation and poetry. There has been a long and vicious debate about whether poetry is even translatable. We were determined to apply the theories we learned from Dr. Shihab Ghanam. Since meter and rhyme are integral to the aesthetic and artistic value of poetry, our discussions often revolved around the debate between prose translation and poetic translation. That is, in prose translation we translated structured poetry (amudiyya), and then translated it to the target language without maintaining its original structure, focusing instead on maintaining the poet’s original meaning and intent. The argument can be made that the prose translation helps to maintain the original meaning, but the aesthetic value is lost.
Our final project consisted of two parts. The first was the translation of an English article into Arabic and the second was the translation and presentation of an Arabic poem into English.
Masculinity and Femininity in Contemporary Arab Poetry (North Africa, the Levant, and Arab Gulf state)
In this course we are analyzing contemporary Arabic poetry, focusing on how it deals with taboos and gender by employing different styles, genres, and strategies. The selected texts include different genres of poetry ranging from classical poems to prose poems. We examine how political and social issues are expressed, with a particular interest in opposition to political dictatorships and social injustice, corruption, poverty and war, but also love, and how gender plays a role in the articulation of these issues. We consider how contemporary Arab poetry plays a unifying role in the liberal movement all over the Arab world by providing a platform for activism and human rights. Poets and guest speakers from all over the Arab world join us via Skype, and in person to add enrichment to our perspectives and debates.
Immediate access to language training opportunities that take place outside the classroom contribute greatly to the high proficiency level required of our students. High-level proficiency is necessary so that students are able to fully grasp the cultural nuances of the Arabic poetry and literature being studied. The Babtain Program provides our students opportunities to activate new vocabulary, iron out grammatical points and increasingly improve their fluency in the Arabic language through conversation hours with more advanced students and native speakers.