Translator's notes

African Anthem, Eritrea’s Daughter and Poverty

By Reesom Haile

Readers should notice that these three poems by Reesom Haile in the online MPT are center-justified. In the print copy they appear left-justified, which is an error. Reesom never left-justified in his poetry. Accordingly, my translations have not. I should add that in their original forms, in Ge'ez or in Latin script, Reesom always center-justified, too. Eritrean poetry, regardless, has no more a tendency to center-justify than most other languages. Moreover, Reesom stands all but alone among Eritrean poets who do and do it well. He has imitators, but they are, for the most part, amateurish and don’t come close to the quality of his work. And why did he center-justify? Unfortunately, I never asked him before he died. While I have no especial desire to see center-justified poetry in Tigrinya, which Reesom wrote in, or in other languages, including English, I simply took Reesom’s center-justifying as a given. His choice – his way, his right – for his translator to follow. Thinking more about it now, I see his center-justifying, if a pun may be excused here, as central to his poetry in print. Yet more than simply his preference might support this. Contemporary poets in Eritrea who are widely recognized as the most accomplished – whether they write in Tigrinya, Tigre, Arabic, or other Eritrean languages – were more attracted to and praiseworthy of his reading or performance style than his poems themselves. It electrified his local audiences, drew large crowds, and filled stadiums, as I have never seen any other poet do before. On one level, therefore, center-justifying his lines signifies his unique voice in the history of Eritrean poetry. Center-justifying is like a trace element of his inimitable performative power.

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