Translator's notes

A Light In Water

By Golan Haji

Golan Haji wrote the first notes for ‘A Light in Winter’ at the Grand Palais retrospective of Bill Viola’s work in Paris in Spring 2014. A few months later he reworked them into this poem in half-remembrance of the exhibition and halfway between the dream processes that perhaps video art and poetry share. These distances and ambiguities reflect quite naturally on the complex experiences of mirrored absence: both Viola’s art and Golan’s poem lend themselves to language on the edge of deflection and to the ability to meditate on the nature of ‘exile’ (a word incidentally that Golan Haji is very wary of being pigeonholed into).

I travelled to Paris in February 2016 expressly to co-translate more of his poetry, and ‘A Light in Water’ is one of the results of that happy journey. I’d met Golan at the Al-Sendian (Al-Mallajeh) Festival in Syria in 2010, a beautiful gathering of poets, artists, photographers, children and villagers, and the last of its kind before the appalling years of rupture exploded in 2011. Golan managed to leave Syria in 2011, first for Jordan and then to Paris, where he has lived since. We’ve translated his poems across the intervening years whenever there was an opportunity to snatch time to sit, or walk, together – this shared space being vital because it gives us the scope to directly test and coax the fluency, physicality, verve and edge of Golan’s poetry into something not too dissimilar in English. When it works (and intuitively we feel it sometimes does) then ‘a happy journey’ is perhaps the most appropriate description of this dialogue of translation.

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