It was in the spring of 2010 that I got to know Moroccan poet Fatiha, when we were attending the Biyearly Pottery & Poetry exhibition in Huangshan. Before the conference, I had noticed her short and exquisite poems extremely outstanding from those by the foreign poets included in the collection. I read two of her poems in English consisting of seven and eight lines respectively translated into Chinese with very few words in eleven and nine lines. In modern Chinese poetry field, I claim myself to be one promoting brevity and refinement and well known for my selection of 300 Modern Short Poems. Therefore my eyes lighted up at her short poems that are similar to Chinese classical poems of truncated style or Japanese haiku. As I read more carefully, I was amazed at her sense of delicacy and sharp image, and can’t help imagining what this lady might look like, who strongly objects to “obesity” in poetry and admire “slim” and “precision” (Fatiha).
Of the four women poets invited to this conference, two were prevented by the cancellation of flights due to the volcano eruptions in Iceland. Thus Fatiha and Arundhathi are the only women representatives, whose extraordinary beauty added radiance to the poetry conference, both of whom are slenderly figured with deep set eyes and high noses and appeared so noble and elegant like goddess. While Arundhathi is more orientally conservative and undemonstrative, Fatiha tends to be in the Mediterranean way passionate and rosy, romantic and amicable, which left a deep and fine impression on everyone present. Fatiha and June Yang exchanged their ideas on a variety of topics apart from writing and found so much in common at that time so afterwards she invited June to Morocco for a two-week visit. June came back with her newly published collection Unspoken and translated it into Chinese, for which I feel pleased and obliged as well to write a preface.
I don’t know much about translation but from the translated works I have learned that quality of literature translation consists in not just translator’s competence in the target language but in source language as well. June is an excellent Chinese poet expert at the English language , who has been writing in Chinese for more than twenty years. I have read lots of poems translated by her and wonder at her adept recreation of foreign works. I am convinced that as far as poetry translation, those done by translators who are poets themselves will better preserve the original essence attaching them renewed poetics through resurrection.
Chinese version of Unspken by Fatiha may showcase June’s style wonderfully and provide readers with the chance to read effectively and appreciate the special poetic nature of a talented Arabian poet.
First of all, the title itself is quite meaningful, which in Chinese strikes home the secret of poetry writing in genetics: to write poems is to speak out the “unspoken” part in our common state of life and language, which exists in the depth of life and language source, understandable but unspeakable. These are rules poets have to observe when expressing what he or she feel obliged to. Poetics consists in brevity ----highly condensed form and life experience as well, rather less than more, stick to simplicity through complexity, to reveal the connotation by penetrating like a flash of lightening----how to convey the inside information of life and implication of soul with the fewest words in the simplest form is what all poets are to confront and solve.
I am not sure how Fatiha experiences this message of poetic aesthetics in Arabian language system and expresses the concept in her own way, yet undoubtedly it is masterly embodied in verses throughout her collection: there are only two exceptions of long poems which show anther style, mostly short poems of about ten lines, succinct and calm, tactful, condensed glow of sense of language and quality of sentiment and thought, rich and sincere, crystal clear but full. Compared with what is prevailing in Chinese poetry now the “colloquial ” and “narrative” trend, tendency to obesity, verbiage and even boredom, this Mediterranean Arabian poet sends us the message and evidence of brief and precise poetic nature, which is the essence of Chinese poetic anesthetics.
As Fatiha stated in her essay:” I fancy short poems with profound meaning like haiku. I am against obesity in poetry. Maybe my scientific vocational training made me promote simplicity and precision. So, I focus more on emotion emanated from the poem than vocabulary.”
Fatiha who writes poems is a pediatrician in profession; Fatiha in Arabic means open, what a fantastic metaphor! That is where her temperament lies: to understand the astray body with scientific gravity; sense reflected soul with artistic calmness, developing into her sensibility contact and inspiration source. “Both medical profession and writing are constantly confronted with pain and death. Medicine treats human bodies in the same way writing heals human souls.
As a paediatrician especially, I am closer to the world of children, which bring me back to my own childhood.” : “In my case, writing benefits my professional life and thus I became more sensitive and more understanding of human suffering. Meanwhile medical career enriches my writing; I can deeply feel the fragility and limits of life.”
Apparently, doctor poet in writing , paradox of separation flesh and soul, reality and ideal, in the wavy contradiction of shared, incarnated desire and non-shared poetics, divine sense of life, seek and reach a proper balance, which consists of the central part of her poetry : “Eyes catch sight of things they adore/Though the path of passion is not sure / Many times/We trampled/The monotony of days/With the lightness of a butterfly
And hid/In the shade/Of our future dreams/Coloring /The maps of the body
Such verses imply “medical” explicitness and “poetic” aptitude , tell us in a mild but persist way that as human with flesh and soul, for the ultimate harmony of life, we need to “We should be in love with our own body in order to be able to love others and be loved.”(Fatiha) and also learn to love our own soul, to “ untie the words/ from their pins/Hoping the words carry me high / Where/Feelings embrace meaning” and eventually , to “In the shade” “Color the maps of the body” From her poems, we will find a poet that is born to be poet.
As I always say, people who write poems can be divided into poets and poetry writers, in the times of planarity and entertainment , there are far more poetry writers than poets in the true sense. Their difference lies in that true poets have poetry in their lives, they are poets even when they are not writing, who edify us with their poetics and divinity. Once they start to write, their works will be extraordinarily radiant and acclaimed as perfect and highly impressive. Many mediocre poets write poems all their lives and remain unrecognized, the reason is that there is no poetry in their lives, they write as they like to and happen to that way.
In selecting poems for the recital collection, I was convinced and admired much this foreign poet, and when I saw her in person in Huangshan, I felt all the more amazed : she is a noble and verdant poem in herself! To her, writing is but a casual record (of her life with feelings and thinking) after a deep breath. From her works, we can also conclude that she is a poet with her own special sense of language and pursuit of form: Fatiha style based on “brevity and precision”, limpid and luxurious images, suggestive ideas , sharp and vigorous composition , calm and peaceful tone and intonation, lenient and thoroughly comprehensive state of mind as well as preverbal way of incisive expressions, romantic sentiments and meaningful, where we find few the commonly seen self-reproach self-pity and women’s poems. Instead, they touch the ultimate question of life common both to male and female--- truth and falsehood, love and hatred, flesh and soul, hope and despair, falling and rising, “both wounded and beaten”. The style and quality that others take great pains to seek appear in her poems so free and heartfelt, as natural as growth of plants, as it comes out of one who is self content with her being both as a human and as a poet.
Finally, we would like to extend our thanks to June Yang, who has introduced to us such an excellent poet, a breeze to refresh and brighten the mind. For me, to write preface for Fatiha’s collection, the title of which implies the true definition of poetry, for an Arabian poet who loves Chinese culture so much, is a great pleasure and relief! She once said: “ I am deeply impressed by Chinese culture, as it is so different and mysterious .” Hopefully her Chinese version will be published and known to more Chinese readers and leave her more fond memories of poetic China and cultural China, which will contribute to her future writing more motive, new elements and splendour------
I rise from under the ruins Climb my pride
And reach to the surface . . .
The zenith of pain
From memory I build up a fortress
. . . and from monotony.
I wrap myself in expectations from above
Before I resume . . .
Translated from Chinese by June Yang
Yinruo Suite, Xi’an