The profession of translating: Silvia Moresi

This article is also available in: Italiano

Our interview with Silvia Moresi, Arabist and translator of Eleven Planets by Mahmoud Darwish and “My most beautiful poems by Nizar Qabbani”. Silvia is the mastermind behind Arabic Literary Atlas, Q Code Magazine’s Middle East-themed column, she also teaches Arabic language and literature in public and private schools.

K: Where did your passion for Arabic and the Middle East come from?

S: As with everything in my life, I came to the Arab world by a twisted road. When I was little, my father, as a geologist, collaborated with the University of Granada and so I happened to visit Andalusia several times. I was immediately fascinated, the scents, the horizons, the architecture, everything made me feel “at home”. I started to love Spain, but then, when I visited Barcelona, Madrid and other cities, I didn’t feel the same emotion. I went further south and realized that perhaps my “home” was elsewhere, in the Arabic language and culture.

Silvia Moresi
The Alhambra in Granada

This, together with my interest and my commitment to the Palestinian cause, prompted me to start studying Arabic between 2000 and 2001, just at the moment when there was most talk of the clash of civilizations, and Arabophobia and Islamophobia were at their peak. As usual against the tide, I was not satisfied with the story of the mainstream media, and I wanted to understand something by studying. It was an immediate love for language, literature, but also for Islamic philosophy, a subject in which I graduated but which I then abandoned. I arrived at the translation, however, following my passion for reading;
I wanted to give Italian readers the opportunity to learn about Arabic literature, a very rich literature, which has nothing to envy to European literature. To this motivation is added another more political one, because translation, for me, is often a political act. Through the “mediation” of translation, Arab writers and intellectuals can finally self-represent themselves, tell another story, or rather, tell the story from their point of view to the Italian public.

K: We recently had the pleasure of reading your work with Mahmoud Darwish’s “Eleven Planets”; what experience was it to translate what, to our taste, is one of the greatest poets of all?

Translating the verses of Mahmud Darwish was a great honor for me, as well as for his greatness as a poet, also because his thought is an important part of my cultural formation. Furthermore, after the bankruptcy of the Epoché publishing house, which had published many of his works, Darwish had almost completely disappeared from the shelves of Italian bookstores. And I believe that, instead, the lines of this great Palestinian poet are not only surprisingly beautiful, but also necessary; his words leave no way out, they dig into you and force you to reflect, the political one, but also the more strictly personal one.

Silvia Moresi
Nizar Qabbani

I must therefore thank the Jouvence publishing house which, for the second time, after the release of Nizar Qabbani’s poetry collection, had the “courage” to publish Arabic poetry in Italy. Courage, yes, because many publishing houses hesitate when they hear about poetry in general, let alone poetry translated from Arabic. Usually, one of the reasons given by publishing houses, regarding this indecision, is that poetry does not interest the public and therefore does not sell. Going around Italy to present the two books I have translated, I verified the exact opposite. Poetry, even that translated from Arabic, is of interest to the public and can sell, you just have to work a little harder, talk to people in bookstores, associations, finally get Arabic literature out of academies so that it does not remain, like usually, a read only for specialists in the sector. Darwish

As for Eleven Planets, its translation was preceded by a long study. This collection of Darwish, which is part of his epic-lyric phase, is perhaps one of the most complex but also the most complete works of the Palestinian poet, the one that best clarifies his thinking on many issues and addresses all the themes dear to him: the role of poetry, exile, identity, the concept of a foreigner and, of course, Palestine. The entire diwan is built on different temporal and spatial levels, in which the Palestinian tragedy expands its borders, becomes the tragedy of the human, mixing with the story of the exile of Arabs and Jews from Andalusia and the genocide of Native Americans. The “research” of the different stories that Darwish has hidden and intertwined in this text, and the attempt to re-emerge these stories simultaneously, were the greatest difficulties I encountered in the translation process.

The work I did on this work was very different from that done for the translation of the poetry collection “My most beautiful poems” by the Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani, released in 2016 also by the Jouvence publishing house.

Silvia Moresi
The themes and the language of Qabbani’s poems are more immediate, the words are there to say exactly what they mean, they almost never hide metaphors or other stories. Passion, love, and bodies are described with all their strength and power through a “transversal” language. As Qabbani himself stated, Arabic reads and writes in one language, sings and speaks in another. The poet then used a third poetic language for his verses that had the wisdom and gravity of classical Arabic, and the color, courage and openness of everyday language. This “simplicity” of language does not, however, correspond to a simplicity in translation. Describing in Italian, without falling into banality, simple and superbly reproduced images in this “third language”, was precisely the most tiring point of this work. Furthermore, if for Eleven Planets the pre-translation study was above all a historical study, for the collection of Nizar Qabbani it was instead necessary a thorough study of his biography, given that people and events in his life often become ideas or themes of poems by him.

K: We saw your “Atlante Letterario Arabo” and were literally mesmerized. Where does the initiative come from and what are its objectives?

S: “Atlante Letterario Arabo” is a project I care a lot about, born thanks to the Q Code Magazine which, for years, has been doing excellent journalistic work on the Middle East as well. Christian Elia, editor of the magazine, to whom we also owe the beautiful title of this literary column, asked me a couple of years ago if I wanted to collaborate with them by proposing an original project of mine. My idea of telling the history of some Arab countries through the pages of literature found its full support, and so the adventure of the Atlas began, which is now also translated into French and published in the magazine Orient XXI.

Silvia Moresi
Clarissa Veronico with Silvia Moresi during a presentation of “Eleven Planets”

This, for me, was not a new idea but it reflected the way in which I have always thought of literature which for me is a sublime pastime, but also a means of trying to understand history through the stories of others. Furthermore, as I wrote in one of the articles in the column, in a period like this, dominated by “post-truth”, literary fiction seems necessary because it proves to be the testimony that is closest to reality; I am thinking, for example, of the pro-regime propaganda work done by televisions and newspapers on the Syrian war.

Mahmoud Darwish

The literary narrative is then necessary for all those peoples who have undergone (and undergo) colonial rule, and who are therefore “told” by the usual racist rhetoric, which is the basis of every colonial enterprise, without ever having the possibility of counter. This, today, is particularly true and visible in Palestine. Darwish said that history is written by the victors, but it is literature that writes the stories of the victims; and it is these stories that interest me.

Therefore, “Arabic Literary Atlas” is a historical narration but made through literature, which also has the aim of perhaps providing good reading advice.

K: What work are you most proud of and the author you have always dreamed of translating?

S: For both questions I have only one answer. I have already realized my dream, and it was to be able to translate the verses of Mahmud Darwish. Therefore Eleven Planets is the work I am most fond of and of which I am most proud. I would like to continue working on the texts of the great Palestinian poet, also because there are still several works by him not translated into Italian.

We thank Silvia Moresi again for the wonderful interview and we can’t wait to read her new work; in the meantime you can find it on: Facebook, on the page of “Undici Pianeti” and on Q Code Magazine. Follow us on our facebook page, Spotify, YouTube,Twitter and Instagram, or on our Telegram channel. Any like, sharing or support is welcome and helps us to dedicate ourselves more and more to our passion: telling the Middle East ..

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