Keeping Faith with the Poem: Translating Faysal al-Qarqati


I’m part of the team of poets producing A Bird is Not A Stone, a new anthology of contemporary Palestinian poets translated into the languages of Scotland. I had the privilege of working on a new translation of a long Faysal al-Qarqati poem, presented in both English and Scots for the first time. Sarah Irving, one of the project editors, asked me to write a little about the experience; you can find the full blog here.

Teaching myself to write in Scots was about discovering new possibilities in language. I write in a syncretic Scots – a Scots that amalgamates dialects and resurrects words into a mongrel and magpie cornucopia – rather than a vernacular Scots, but doing so is also about diving into the archives of my vocabulary: remembering and relearning how to use the Orcadian words and grammatical forms with which I grew up. Writing in Scots makes me look at old ideas freshly, and makes me think harder about finding new expressions; I think of Scots as a contemporary, experimental poetic language rooted in history. I still write in English too, but I especially choose to write in Scots when I’m writing about home, or memory, or the land, or belonging, or longing, or when I’m dreaming, or when I’m raging.

For all those reasons, when I was asked to contribute to A Bird Is Not A Stone (a forthcoming anthology of contemporary Palestinian poets translated into the languages of Scotland), working in Scots felt like the obvious choice. The project involved working from a bridge translation in English – a literal rendering of the Arabic, often offering multiple options for each phrase – which meant that my work involved understanding, creating and recreating the poem in three different languages.

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