Khalil Hawi, Naked in Exile (The Threshing Floors of Hunger) (trans. Adnan Haydar and Michael Beard) (Washington DC: Three Continents Press, 1985).
Part of the legacy of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 is the suicide of the Lebanese poet Khalil Hawi. In their introduction to Naked in Exile, Haydar and Beard situate his death within the context of the poet’s personal history. Hawi, born in 1925, was a major figure in modern Arabic poetry, with a prophetic reputation which emerged out of his six collections of poetry and numerous other poems, articles and critical studies. Naked in Exile is a translation and interpretation of one of those collections, The Threshing Floors of Hunger (Bayadir al-jaw‘, 1965). This work consists of three long poems each followed by a probing literary analysis.
As Beard and Haydar point out in their reading of the first poem, “The Cave,” “every translation is an interpretation” and their translations of Hawi’s dense, allusive and elliptical verse freely transform the Arabic original into poetry in English. The bilingual text, together with readings of the poems, illuminate both the task of poetic creation and the process of translation. Haydar and Beard are concerned to exhibit the poet’s own vision of poetry as rendered in his writing. Each interpretation emphasizes the elements of Hawi’s symbolic universe: the eternal themes of life, death and exile, and the images which embody them, such as the cave, the genie, the gypsy and Lazarus. The volume concludes with one of Hawi’s last poems, “Young Woman,” written in April 1981.
Naked in Exile, which also contains a substantial bibliography of Hawi’s work and secondary literature on the poet, differs from much of what is currently available in English of modern Arabic poetry. Whereas Arabic poetry tends to be represented in anthologies and critical surveys, Beard and Haydar have provided a critically detailed edition of a specific work. Their translations and commentary suggest the possibility for developing the English-language critical idiom through close attention to the Arabic poetic corpus now being made available in translation.