Translator's notes

The End of Days

By Golan Haji

Golan Haji is a Kurdish Syrian poet who writes in Arabic and presently lives in Paris. We met in Syria at the al-Mallajeh Festival in August 2010 and began translating each other’s work. Subsequently we’ve been able to meet in London and Paris and have continued our translating. This present gathering of poems was commissioned by Shubbak (the one exception being ‘The Feather and The Mirror’ which was written earlier) in time for the July 2017 Festival.

Many of the poems hark back to early memories, from the poet’s Kurdish childhood, but also to his readings and experiences as a young man in the 1990s (for instance in the poem ‘The End Of Days’). In fact strong elements of Kurdish mythology, imagery, folklore and village life run right through the poems, especially in the presence of the snake, which in his grandmother’s remembered words, is as much guardian, mentor and friend, as enemy or threat; and which, with the ouroboros, makes of beginning and end a simultaneity or continuity. Painful recent histories are thus being read in the light of memories that preceded them, and his Arabic is being written through a Kurdish lens.

Mystic Islamic references also abound, particularly to al-Tabari’s History Of Nations and Kings, and also to the saying that in the belly of every snake is an image of the devil. The snake image is seen through an awareness of the Ragnarok of Norse mythology, and of Ezequiel Martínez Estrada’s ‘Ouroboros’ and Osamu Dazai’s The Setting Sun as well. The preoccupation with something painfully ended, but acting as a starting point, as a point of change, a strong cycle-circle of new beginnings runs through the poems and through life beyond them. Other markers include paintings seen in Paris and elsewhere: works by Pierre Bonnard and Anselm Kiefer among them. Thus the poet believes the visual power of words ma ers as much as their music and logic. Dream and invention are at the heart of the poems – as the poet said to me: ‘When I remember I dream and invent at the same time.’ The Arabic of these poems is infused with the poet’s Kurdish memory: we have tried to bring these aspects and qualities over into the English translation.

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