Translator's notes

Shakespeare, Enough

By Reesom Haile

Reesom Haile (1946–2003) believed that his country, Eritrea, was best known through its languages – in his case, Tigrinya – and specifically through Eritrea’s literature. From the first moment I heard him performing his poetry at the Expo cultural festival in Asmara to an audience of thousands in August 1998, I knew he was right. I’ve known it ever since. But all too often Eritrea is discussed, like many African nations, as if it has no literature: as if, especially for readers of poetry, Eritrea has no poetry that reveals ‘the best that has been thought and said’ about Eritrea, as is the case, especially for readers of poetry, in all nations. For two decades, therefore, the recognition of the power of Eritrean literature, particularly its poetry, has been my passion, as my new book, Where War Was – Poems and Translations of Poems from Eritrea (Mkuki na Nyota, 2016), confirms, yet as the following translations reinforce. To know Eritrea is to read – to witness – the poetry Reesom Haile wrote in Tigrinya over five years like one long annus mirabilis. For example, he published ‘Teshewano’ or ‘To My Graceful People’ in 1996, 1998, and 2002, yet the internal and intense Eritrean politics it highlights – ‘We can cultivate the art to unite, | Or fight each other and fall apart’ – could be as much an issue now, as Eritrea celebrates its Silver Jubilee, as when the nation was in its romantic infancy. Reesom emailed ‘Shakespeare, Enough’ to me in February 2002, roughly a year after ‘Teshewano’ – a year in which he emailed me hundreds of poems, new poems, several a day sometimes, for possible inclusion in our forthcoming second collection, We Invented the Wheel. He often wrote a gloss for any poem he sent, but all he said about this one is ‘Shakespear did it. A little conceit.’ England; Eritrea. I say it again. What nation can be known, without its literature being known? Still, the literature of Eritrea, like the poetry of Reesom Haile, is all too often unheard.

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