NEA Literature Fellowships

Nancy Naomi Carlson

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(2014 - Translation)

Untitled by Abdourahman Waberi

[translated from the French]

I tickle the silence on memory’s strands
an angel above my shoulder peeks
at my silky book
words hide in the pages’ folds
fearing that I might shake out sheets
by the white window sash
and amorous secrets
might fly away in a single wingbeat
my moistened tongue
delighting the nadir of leaf
where my semen is dying in silence
suddenly old

Excerpt in French

About Abdourahman Waberi

Abdourahman Waberi is a prize-winning writer from Djibouti, a tiny country in the Horn of Africa about the size of Massachusetts, squeezed between Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. Les Nomades, mes frères, vont boire à la grande ourse (The Nomads, My Brothers, Will Drink from the Big Dipper) is his only collection of poetry. Muslim by birth, Waberi’s themes include the nomadic life, colonial and postcolonial hardships, exile, and Djibouti’s harsh climate. Most importantly, these poems, like his novels, short stories, and essays, carry the important message of tolerance—something on which the world’s future depends.

Nancy Naomi Carlson is the author of Stone Lyre: Poems of René Char (Tupelo Press, 2010), as well as Imperfect Seal of Lips, winner of the Tennessee Chapbook Prize (Middle Tennessee State University, 2005); Complications of the Heart, winner of the Texas Review Press’ Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook Prize (2003); and Kings Highway, co-winner of the Washington Writers’ Publishing House competition (1997). Her work has appeared in such journals as AGNI, Crazyhorse, Denver Quarterly, Inventory, Poetry, Prairie Schooner, and Shenandoah, and is forthcoming in The Georgia Review and The Iowa Review. Recipient of grants from the Maryland State Arts Commission and the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County, she is an instructor at the Bethesda Writer’s Center and a senior translation editor for Tupelo Quarterly  and Blue Lyra Review.

Photo by Rachel Carlson

Literature's Invisible Art: A Look at Literary Translation

Translator's Statement

The day before I was to travel to Sydney, Australia, I received the phone call that let me know I was a recipient of an NEA fellowship. I had assumed I would have to wait several more weeks to learn the outcome, and that the 14-hour flight across the Pacific Ocean would be filled with worries about word choices in my work sample, which poems to include, and whether I had truly been able to get across the importance of the project. Melatonin was already packed in my bags! Instead, I was able to truly relax, and hope that no one noticed how much I was smiling.

I am extremely grateful to the NEA for their belief in my work, as well as for this generous grant that will permit me to dedicate next summer to completing the project. Translating Waberi is very labor-intensive. In order to maintain the music of each line, while staying as close as possible to the meaning of the original text, I draw what I call a “sound map” of the major sound patterns (alliteration, assonance, rhythm) for each poem. Honoring these patterns requires me to look up each word in multiple dictionaries (French-English, French-French, English-English), as well as a thesaurus, in order to find the best choice. Thank you, NEA panel, for this gift of time.