From Tunisia with tenderness: Arabic love poetry finds its echo in London

The poems feature in the latest issue of the Modern Poetry in Translation magazine, entitled: “The Illuminated Paths: Focuses on poets of the Maghreb."
Thursday 03/10/2019
Tunisian poet Fatma Krouma (L) and British poet-translator Victoria Adukwei Bulley recite poetry at Waterstones bookshop, London, September 30. (Mamoon Alabbasi)
Tunisian poet Fatma Krouma (L) and British poet-translator Victoria Adukwei Bulley recite poetry at Waterstones bookshop, London, September 30. (Mamoon Alabbasi)

LONDON - Tunisian poet Fatma Krouma did not understate the main the theme of her poetry, love. Instead, she wore it on her sleeve as she recited her poems in Arabic before a mainly British audience in London.

An English translation of each of the recited poems were read out by their translator, British poet-translator Victoria Adukwei Bulley.

Krouma and Bulley were taking part in an event organised by Modern Poetry in Translation (MPT) magazine, which included the participation of fellow poets from North African countries as well as poet-translators from Britain.

The poets were first brought together in Tunisia last year by a cultural initiative of the British Council. The Maghreb poets wrote in Arabic as well as Tamazight.

The Maghreb poets were selected following consultation with experts in the field and “in accordance with the British Council's criteria,” Jim Hinks, a literature programme manager at the British Council, told The Arab Weekly.

Some of the poets were reunited in Britain in September this year to take part in a tour promoting their work.

They included fellow Tunisian poet Ashref Kerkeni, Moroccan poets Nassima Raoui and Adil Latefi; and Algerian poets Fadhila Bechar and Mohamed Rafik Taibi. In addition to Bulley, British poet-translators included Vidyan Ravinthiran, Martha Sprackland, Stewart Sanderson, and Adham Smart.

Their translated poems were the main focus of the summer issue of MPT magazine, entitled: “The Illuminated Paths: Focus on Poets of the Maghreb."

The phrase “Illuminated Paths” came from Krouma’s poem “Other Banks." Part of the poem reads:

We plant roses in the illuminated paths

and cultivate kisses on the trains arriving

from the happy cities;

we pick them fresh from the rain dampening

our footsteps, yet our footsteps remain light

and the paths remain lit

and the trains arrive on time

and you love me more

and you do not delay, or forget

the name of the flower I love.

In her introduction to the poem in MPT magazine, Bulley wrote: “Fatma Krouma’s poetry leans headfirst into love. Although she writes of flowers and kisses, it is not a sterile, lightweight love that she is concerned with. It is the type that’s apt to leave the heart riven, the self irrevocably transformed, and throughout Krouma’s poetry there is an urgency to let us know this.”

Bulley added: “I was, and remain, in awe of Fatma Krouma’s poems for the tenderness they exhibit – the ways that their brave vulnerability holds a mirror up to what breaks most irreparably in us.”

Born and raised in the Tunisian Sahel (coast) region, Krouma said an abundance of books and art were present at her home since her early childhood.

A mother of two and currently doing a PhD in law, Krouma won the Tahar Haddad Cultural Club’s Award for Women’s Literature for her poetry collection “Fatal Mistakes” in 2018.

“The theme of love featured heavily in my first poetry collection but in the next one I hope to write about the environment too,” Krouma told The Arab Weekly. “I also hope to touch on the theme of discrimination,” the topic of her current law studies, she added.  

Krouma said the experience with other poets has made her think of becoming a literary translator herself.

“I was really happy to see my poems in English but I’m now thinking about translating poems myself from other languages into Arabic," she said. 

Tunisian poet Fatma Krouma poses for a photo at Waterstones bookshop, London, September 30. (Mamoon Alabbasi)
Tunisian poet Fatma Krouma poses for a photo at Waterstones bookshop, London, September 30. (Mamoon Alabbasi)