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Tablet and Pen: Writing from the Modern Middle East

November 2010

This month we celebrate the publication of our fifth WWB anthology, Tablet and Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East, edited by Reza Aslan. The aim of this book, and of this complementary issue, is to provide a different, more authentic perception of this complex region, an image not fashioned by the descriptions of invaders, but rather one that arises from the diverse literatures of its most acclaimed poets and writers. These translations from Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Urdu display the rich poetic tradition of the region and provide a new paradigm for viewing the mosaic that is the modern Middle East. We hope that the writing presented here and in the anthology may help move our consciousness of the region away from the ubiquitous images of terrorists and fanatics and toward a new, more constructive set of ideas and metaphors—wrought by the region’s own artists, poets, and writers—with which to understand the struggles and aspirations of this restless and multifaceted part of the world.

In an essay appearing here for the first time in English, the great Khalil Gibran frames the discussion with an eloquent argument for the revolutionary power of language. Shahriar Mandanipour, of Censoring an Iranian Love Story fame, snakes inside a family compound turned viper’s nest.  Famed female Persian poet Forugh Farrokhzad contributes a ravishing hymn to desire.  Fouad Laroui recalls the advent of television in Morocco and the dawning of his life’s calling. In work from two Turkish masters, novelist Sait Faik Abasiyanik asks if all things come to those who wait, and poet Murathan Mungan seeks a desert assassin. Azra Abbas considers time and beauty, while her fellow Urdu poets Akhtar ul-Iman and Makhdum Moinuddin offer two views from (and of) the city. Shams Langeroody receives a cargo of sorrow, and Granaz Moussavi searches for hidden sunshine.

From “The Future of the Arabic Language”
By Khalil Gibran
Let your national zeal spur you to depict the mysteries of pain and the miracles of joy that characterize life in the East.
Translated from Arabic by Adnan Haydar
Mummy and Honey
By Shahriar Mandanipour
She had seen a rope in the middle of her room and when she bent down to pick it up, the rope had with insolent reluctance slithered into the folds of the bedding.
Translated from Persian by Sara Khalili
By Forugh Farrokhzad
I sensed my skin crack from love’s dilating joy.
Translated from Persian by Sholeh Wolpé
My Father’s Antenna
By Fouad Laroui
Grandmother watched from afar, hidden behind the door, curious as a cat but fearing the devil and the jinns that hide inside European machines.
Translated from French by Lydia Beyoud
Desert Lights
By Murathan Mungan
Before winter arrives you must / hire a handsome assassin
Translated from Turkish by Aron Aji
From “23”
By Shams Langeroody
The sky is torn in shreds, and song and light / gush from its heart.
Translated from Persian by Zara Houshmand
The Waiter
By Sait Faik Abasiyanik
There, in a corner of the deck over the water, she sits like a ghost, facing away from the sea, silently smoking her cigarette.
Translated from Turkish by Aron Aji
Sunshine in the Closet
By Granaz Moussavi
They become little stars and screech at the night
Translated from Persian by Zara Houshmand
Our City
By Makhdum Moinuddin
In its houses, corpses have stayed for years / renting.
Translated from Urdu by M. A. R. Habib
By Akhtar Ul-Iman
In this teeming city, is there none / Who might recognize me?
Translated from Urdu by M. A. R. Habib
You’re Where You’ve Always Been
By Azra Abbas
Standing before a poster of Marilyn Monroe / Unbidden I salute her beauty.
Translated from Urdu by Muhammad Umar Memon