Thursday, June 30, 2016

Translation: Poem: Mustafa Stitou

© Pieter van der Meer /
Tineke de Lange
I'd originally planned to post this poem 5--yes, five--years ago, but like the 75+ other draft posts in my queue, some from almost 10 years ago, time to do so eluded me. As a result, it's been waiting to be completed, so here goes. It's by Mustafa Stitou (1974-), a Dutch poet of Moroccan birth. I first came across his work when I picked up a copy of his second book Mijn gedichten (My Poems, 1998) at a little Amsterdam poetry store during a trip to the Netherlands in the late 1990s.

I'd taught myself basic Dutch--enough, in fact, to fool a postal worker there, but with such a heavy German accent that she thought I might be from that country--and was convinced that I might be able to read, if not translate Stitou, Astrid Roemer (1947-), and other Dutch-language writers of color, especially immigrants from the global South, but of course, learning the basics of a language to be able to read street signs and order food and be fluent enough to read, let alone translate, are two different things. And this is true even for languages like Dutch and English, which are linguistically quite close. When I think of the current immigration and refugee crises in Europe, the failures of integration and the ongoing social and political marginalization of black and brown Europeans, it strikes me that hearing their voices is even more important now than ever.

All of which is to say that I nevertheless decided to try to translate at least a few of Stitou's poems, whose linguistic inventiveness and play intrigued me. He has won a number of major Dutch poetry prizes, and continued to publish, with his most recent book, Tempel (Temple), appearing in 2013. Below is a poem about teenage love from Mijn gedichten; such is my Dutch that any infelicities are mine, but I think you get a sense, however imperfect, of his artistry. (When I return to JC I will look for the original Dutch, which isn't online, to recheck it.) You can find more of his work in the original and translation if you click on his name above.




  transparent and immaculate
     little sight

  in puberty

through the present moment

laughed at me
one time
 or five

by all the swarming voices
 that besieged me
  --my pooljourneydaydreaminess

even with
 the lightning feeling
  while my humor grew

Going bald from the world to drift
without party kilos
 my life's evening complete?

In the Almere Music District you stepped off

But I definitely didn't see you
that spring
 among the talk show

Train nymph
 are you writing my life?
I can really cook

Copyright © 1998, 2016, from Mustafa Stitou, Mijn gedichten. 
Translation © copyright John Keene, 2011, 2016.

1 comment:

  1. Mustafa and I went to the same high school in the Dutch town Lelystad; he was a kind, thoughtful and warm young man. It was clear to many teachers that he was gifted in the use of language. Many moons ago, as a 20-something New Yorker I bought his first collection of poems; I am so proud of him...

    Xerxes Croes - Los Angeles, CA