From Astarte’s Facebook page, article by Astarte editorial staff, published on 16 March, 2021.
In Morocco, as in the Arab world in general, poetry has always held a privileged position among the arts. Poetry enables writers to fully express the musicality of contemporary Arabic language, which draws from everyday life as well as from Western languages that have contributed to modernization of poetry and its language.
Like the rest of Arabic language poetry, Moroccan poetry is historically linked to classical meter and rhyme and to traditional forms. However, it began to modernize in the 1960s thanks to a deep process of critical rethinking and a strong desire for experimentation stemming from two influences: that of other Arab literatures to the East (Iraq, Syria and Egypt) and that of Western literature, especially from France. It is important to underscore modern Moroccan poetry commitment not forget its past, but to use it in its renewal together with other poetic traditions.
For historical reasons, the French language plays a complex role in Morocco’s linguistic landscape: it it was the language of power during the years of colonization, and continues to maintain an undisputed importance for literature. For Moroccan authors, Francophonie is intertwined with other linguistic influences: classical Arabic, middle Arabic, dialectal Arabic and Tamazigh, all of them constituting a polyphony necessary for poetic expression. This is the complex linguistic context in which we must place the new phenomenon of young Moroccan poets – both in the country and diasporic- who choose to express themselves in other Western languages.
Due to increased opportunities for promoting “other” cultures, today Italy has a greater exposure to foreign literary production and many foreign works are translated and acclaimed by the public.
Although Arabic poetry has fascinated great Western poets, it is only since the 1960s that Italy has begun to approach the poetic production of the the southern shores of the Mediterranean. Especially in recent years, Moroccan and Arabic poetry in general have found increasingly fertile ground in Italy. Numerous authors have been translated, from Tahar Ben Jelloun, the most widely translated French-speaking writer in the world, to more recent authors such as Mohammed Bennis, Mohammed Al Aachaâri, Hassan Najmi , and Abdellatif Laâbi .
We talk about these topics with Sana Darghmouni, translator and Professor of Arabic Literature and Language at the Universities of Venice and Bologna. She is also editor and translator of a recently released Italian translation of Hassan Najimi’s poetry collection titled “In disparte e altre poesie”, Astarte 2021.
Astarte: How does Moroccan literature and poetry differ from those of neighboring countries? What are its main peculiarities?
S.D. The contemporary Moroccan literary scene is very rich, varied and complex, due to the wide variety of developments, the multiplicity of currents and trends it draws from, and, foremost, the peculiarity of the country’s own multilingualism. In fact, literature in Morocco is written in various languages – in standard Arabic, in various Moroccan dialects, in the Amazigh language, in French and in many other European languages, such as Spanish, Dutch, English, etc. In this scenario, the strong presence of women and their active participation in the fields of writing and poetry or literary production in general is particularly noteworthy. Without forgetting the cultural role played by poetry festivals, official institutions and universities, cultural associations and organizations to promote art and culture in the country.
The richness and variety of languages and styles of Moroccan poetry are the result of a process of renewal that Morocco has been undergoing since the 1930s when authors began to question the classical meter and the form of the qasida and open up to influences from the Middle East and Europe. Then since the sixties, in the phase that followed independence, Moroccan poetry acquired its maturity, it began to cast off its conservative or romantic guise, influenced in its development by the lessons of the Iraqi school. The seventies witnessed the emergence of a generation with new experiences marked by certain ideological influences and intellectual awareness. Some members of this generation followed the path of direct engagement in the political, civil and social strife that the country went through, while others chose to engage in the project of modernizing poetry and its language, regardless of whether they participated directly in the struggles of society or not. In the eighties, in an atmosphere dense with ideological disappointment, Moroccan poetry begins to look outside its closest horizons. The poets of this decade were well acquainted with international poetry and its languages and began to approach the task of writing by discarding ideologies, freeing themselves from the chains of the previous phase. In their work, they tried to describe the little things of life, to grasp the detail, the simple, the unspoken. The next generation, that of the nineties, reinforced the choice of the previous one by giving precedence to aesthetics, preferring it to slogans and ideologies. It must be noted that the current poetic scene is dominated by prose poetry, a choice adopted by most contemporary poets.
Astarte: What was the importance of poetry in the Maghreb (for an Italian who does not really know its history?)
It is the same importance that it has all over the world. First of all, poetry has an aesthetic importance: it is an artistic expression that conveys a certain mood and contributes to enriching the human imagination, as do other forms of art, such as cinema, theater and visual arts. Poetry accompanies all human stages and important moments of life and describes tragedies, death, life, victory, defeats, pain, joy …
So poetry plays an essential role, it’s the guardian of language, it develops it, it enriches its vocabulary, this applies any culture. The poet develops his/her personal languages within the common language and enriches the metaphors and lexicon with new words that people do not use in their daily speech. Poetry is an act, a spiritual exercise that blossoms from within, from the ego but unites the inside and the outside; thus it is problematic to relegate the role of poetry to simply a role of political or religious discourse. Poetic discourse is an essential, human, individual, non-institutional, not a mass product, it is an individual discourse, it has no pedagogical or moralistic function, it is a symbolic, reflective discourse.
But if it is to have an effect or leave a trace, let it be the butterfly effect.
Astarte: Do you think that in order to enhance the appreciation of Moroccan literature one must necessarily attach it to a valorisation of North African / Arab literature as an organic whole?
S.D. Moroccan poetry has no intrinsic need to be linked to poetry produced elsewhere. It has its own specificity and a cartography characterized by its own historical depth, drawn from the culture and inhabitants of Morocco through time and space. The country’s poetry current has created a particular path among those of Arabic language poetry, distinguishing itself for its specificity and uniqueness. Moroccan poetry does not resemble Iraqi or Saudi poetry for example. There are also differences within Moroccan poetry itself, differences in styles, generations, sources, coordinates, choices. Moroccan poetry is self-sufficient. However, the choice to compare or link it to North African or Arabic literature depends on the reader and the type of reader, whoever reads it can enjoy it as an autonomous production, a singular experience or see it in the light of other Arab experiences.
Astarte: Why is the dissemination of Moroccan literature important in Italy?
S.D. The spread of Moroccan literature in Italy is very important because the two countries have strong historical ties. There is a cultural, human, social and civic closeness between the two countries, not to mention the economic and geopolitical dimensions. There is a common history between Italy and Morocco, Morocco had many links with the Italian pre-unification states and with the Vatican. There were commercial exchanges, diplomatic exchanges, and exchanges of prisoners held by pirates or privateers, just think of Leo the African. The two countries share a sense of belonging to the Mediterranean, a Mediterranean mood, a Mediterranean soul. Present day Italy needs to translate Moroccan poetry but also novels, plays and theater, Moroccan thought in general.
Another aspect that makes the translation of Moroccan literature important in Italy is the presence of a large community of Moroccan immigrants. Some aspects of immigration are amplified in a negative way and exploited by some political parties to disparage Morocco and its inhabitants, reflecting a distorted image, which is why I believe that the dissemination of literature can help Italians understand the wealth of Morocco’s culture and people. If presented properly, translation can bring the two countries closer together and strengthen ties. Italy still has problems keeping up with translation of international literatures in all languages, there are few translations and I think the time has come to develop a real translation strategy. Italy must feel the need to get the world’s literatures to its readers and this will enrich Italy itself, help the Italian language to open up and not remain just a local language.
Astarte: With what kind of vision should the Italian reader approach Moroccan literature?
S.D. First of all, the Italian reader should read Moroccan poetry with respect, from the literary point of view; abandon a developed countries vs backward countries lens, whether they latter may be considered such if observed from the economic point of view. The strength of literature does not consist in economic or technological supremacy but rather lies in its is authenticity and ability to express human imagination, an identity complete with its foundation and pillars. Literature also provides dimensions of opening onto the universe. For the readers, access to the Moroccan literary experience helps them to understand the country and its history, context and society. It helps understand the people of Morocco in their historical depth, in order not to synthesize Morocco in a few individuals or in the distorted messages coming from rightwing political parties. The reader must also feel pleasure of literature, must discover what dialogues and exchanges alternate within Moroccan literature, between the Moroccan poet and the Italian poets, between Moroccan and Italian thought. In Moroccan poetry, Italian influence is a strong through poets like Ungaretti, Montale, Alda Merini; whereas Croce, Gramsci, Eco and others are very important for political and philosophical thought.
Astarte: As a translator, what are the main difficulties in transporting an Arabic text into the Italian language? How much is lost and what is gained?
S.D. There are obviously technical and other problems related to the loss of sound, but the true translator knows what to leave out and what to transmit, they know how to convey the poetic sense of the text by not adopting a literal translation. Capable translators are concerned with returning an integral, true and authentic text. Translators performs a civic function, establish a dialogue between two cultures and two peoples, must know the source language and master the target language into which they translate to ensure that the Italian language can properly host the work. Translation is a hospitality operation and I believe that the Italian language has the wherewithal, techniques and tools to do it, and has a sort of genius that facilitates the operation of translating. All of this stimulates me to aspire to the larger project of translating more Moroccan poets and present them to the Italian readers and critics. Italy needs a dose of courage and a national strategy to translate Arabic poetry, a clearer and broader cultural vision to understand the Arab world in all its manifestations, novelties and innovations so as to avoid misunderstandings, clichés and wrong ideas.
Translation is not a mechanical or technical operation but has a cognitive depth, it is a bridge between two great friendly peoples, who listen to each other, who get closer, who share projects for the future. We are all children of the Mediterranean, this is a vision that must be restored to its historical value. There are strategies in place to marginalize the Mediterranean, this geographical and cultural area is no longer the heart of the world as it was in the past. Continental Europe has marginalized the Mediterranean because it sees it as a source of threat, as the gateway to political Islam or crime. The time has come for Italy to play an essential role in the Mediterranean and translation could be a first step .