Synchronizing Ethiopian, French poetry wavelengths

Poetry has been in existence since time immemorial. As origins show, the word “poetry” itself comes from the Greek word poieo meaning “I create,” and create it does. Poetry is used to convey love, lyrics, anger, hate, magic… poetry is a method of creation and manifestation, a method of memory and preservation.

Poetry is an art form, one that predates literacy to which researchers believe that the earliest forms of poetry were sung and passed on as an oral history.

Fast forwarding to today’s world, this art has been used as an expressway for cultural exchange. This line of exchange has led the world of Bewketu Seyoum and Alain Sancerni to cross paths.

On one path, Bewketu Seyoum hails from Mankusa, Ethiopia and is a writer come poet, essayist as well as an entertainer. Honored as Ethiopia’s Best Novelist of the Year in 2008 and Best Young Author in 2009, he is widely regarded as one of the leading poets of his generation. He has published six books of stories, poetry novels, and collections of essays in English and his native language Amarhic. He is also well-known for his comedic writing and performing his short sketches.

On the other path, born in Bordeaux, man of culture and writing, poet, author in particular of Saturations du Masque et de la Nuit (editions of Club Zéro, 2001), Alain Sancerni is one of the founders of the magazine Riveneuve Continents and its director of publication. He is also an internationally recognized expert in the field of development cooperation, with a focus on education and culture aspects. He has held numerous positions in Africa (in Ethiopia, Syria, Zimbabwe, Guinea, and Ghana, Algeria), notably as Cultural Advisor in various French Embassies.

Capital got a hold of these two creative minds, following the International Translation Day, which saw the two collaborate to translate Ethiopian poetry to French vibrancy. The following were excerpts from the candid interview;

Capital: Can you tell us about the upcoming celebration as well the forth coming presentation in France and Belgium?

Alain Sancerni: We are preparing to showcase the exemplary writing of one Bewketu Seyoum in France. As part of the process, we will both take a trip to France, where we will be ushered to an evening event hosted by the Ethiopian Embassy in Paris to celebrate Bewketu, one of the leading poets of his generation.

As you know, this comes at the back of the International Translation Day, to which I had the pleasure of  having a Belgian French translation of Bewketu’s  collection of poems called, Let Mahlet /ćantique de la nuiť . This was of course published courtesy of a publishing house in France, Bernard de Mercier Edition.

So we will present this book in France, and Bewketu will meet writers and poets alike, and expand his network and wider audiences reach. As a matter of fact, he is the first Ethiopian poet to have his work translated into French. Of course some novelists have been translated, but not a poet. And Ethiopia has had a long, great tradition of modern classical poets. And after, we will go to present the same book and Bewketu also, both as an individual and poet to the Royal Academy of Brussels, in Belgium. So it will be a 15-day tour for Bewketu.

The first presentation will be on 2nd of November at the Ethiopian Embassy in Paris, and 6th November at the Royal Academy of Brussels, in Belgium.

Capital: What’s the significance of being acknowledged by the Royal Academy in Brussels?

Alain Sancerni: I think it’s of good exposure and of significant important because, the Royal Academy is a huge institution that gathers academicians, and great Belgian poets alike. There is a long tradition of poetry also of the French Belgians.  It’s a kind of recognition of the importance of, first, Bewketu and, secondly, of the Ethiopian literature. And it would be an opportunity to make a context and links, to organize maybe exchanges between the two literatures, the French-speaking Belgian literature or French literature and Ethiopian literature.

A lot of French writers’ works have already been translated into Amharic. La Fontaine, Molière, by the great writers like Michel or Solomon Kebede, some others, like Mangistu Lema, have also been translated. Moreover, the first text to have been translated is La Fontaine’s short stories, which have been played by Tekle Hawariat Tekle Mariyam in 1916.

There is a lack of translators, literature translators. The French poet, Arthur Rimbaud, work was translated a few years ago into Amharic, and now we have the Ethiopian Rimbaud version.

Capital: How do you feel about this recognition? What significance do you feel this will add to your career?

Bewketu Seyoum:  This is such a surreal moment. The deep cultural relationship between Ethiopia and France have spanned for the longest period of time. We have a few translations of French works, like French classic works like Victor Hugo, there are also famous writers like Sabahat G/Egzhabiher who went to France and wrote a novel about life in France. So I strongly believe think that my achievement and recognition thereof is the continuation of that tradition, which is a great honor in my book.

Capital: Do you have other poetic books underway for translation?

Bewketu: I have other translations, like a modern poetry translation in British English, but this is my first French translation.

Capital: How would you best describe the poems in your book?

Bewketu: I would describe my poems as a mash of everything. The poems depict my explored life in Ethiopia, the poverty, the dictatorship, the current country situation, and my personal sentiments, love stories and generally the condition of life in Ethiopia at my age, in my generation.

Capital: These days poetry books are not that much popular. So how are you going to tackle these problems when promoting your poetry books?

Alain Sancerni:  With regards to poetry, there is a huge difference among Ethiopia, Europe and especially France, where I’m from. I am very familiar with the French and Ethiopia situation as well. In Europe’s poetry scene, we have some big poets like Victor Hugo, who is universally renowned. Everybody reads Victor Hugo’s novels and poetry, but modern poetry is a little bit confidential, in France especially. When a poet has a public reach of 40%, he thinks he can get the Nobel Prize.

But in Ethiopia, I’ve been very, very surprised and attached to when I saw the popularity of poetry, where a poet may gather hundreds of people to listen and to participate. There are scenic stages for poetry where the public communicates with the poet here. So the poetry scene in this country will always gather poets, writers, critics, and I think they will be very interested by Bewketu’s poetry.

Bewketu’s art is a kind of existential poetry, like we have all over the world, such as suffering, but also with a language, a very rich language in the rhythm, in sonorities, in sound, in music which are not used in Europe; where the poetry is more a silent reading. Furthermore, I’ve already sent a book to different friends all over France and Belgium, and this is something very new, for them to hear with regards to new sound, the music with the poetry, the scenic aspect as well as the scenic appearance. The poetry of Bewketu is very close to the everyday realities and feelings of life, which resonates well with any audience.

Bewketu: To add onto that, compared to Ethiopia, Europe and America has had quite a diminishing interest in poetry. There is little interest in poetry, you know, compared to our country. Ethiopia has a strong tradition of poetry in many aspects of life, especially in funerals, weddings, and a lot of aspects of life are expressed in poetry. But when you go to America or Europe, I think, poetry is being replaced by other forms of art maybe the cinema or probably the effect of social media has also deemed poetry to some degree. So I would say, compared to the West, poetry is still alive in our country.

Alain Sancerni: To further compliment on this, in France, I can recall that there was lots of development of poetry during the huge historic crisis. The strong feeling during the World War, for instance the First World War, you had a lot of explosion of poetry. The poetical expressions because depicted the immediate conflict, immediate matter of life or death and so on. And when you have a society like we had in Europe, a little bit flat for a lot of years poetry then went down a little bit. I just remembered that.

Capital: What are you specifically doing in France at the Embassy of Ethiopia?

Alain Sancerni: There will be an evening event, we have been warmly invited. There will be a diverse group of people there including the Ethiopian French public who are active in the music and poetry scene. The ambassador has also invited institution representatives like UNESCO, cultural institutions, Maison de la Poésie, the House of Poetry and so on.

Capital: Do you have any new work coming up? Especially about some poets or poems?

Bewketu: Yeah, I have unpublished poems. I think one of my plans in this year is to collect them and to bring them into an anthology.

Capital: Do you two have a plan to publish some new work?

Bewketu: I do have some works in the pipeline; you should keep an eye for upcoming poems and selected short stories.

Alain Sancern: We have enjoyed a great friendship with Bewketu, hence we decided on the translation courtesy of the support of the French Alliance Institute. So I hope in the near future that there is a movement of translation, not only with French, but with Spanish, Portuguese, English, and all the languages, so as to have a kind of tradition of exchanges. We have not a specific project. Myself, I have my works. I publish books and he has his own works, but we equally look forward to collaborating together.

Capital: Do you have anything to add?

Bewketu: With regards to translating stories, it’s very difficult because the nature of the two languages, like the European language, including French, English, they are very different from Semitic languages, including Amharic.  So it’s very difficult to bring the music to the Amharic poetry, but you still can grasp the idea and the spirit and the theme of poetry into this language. So I think it was a challenge for me and for him also.

But we tried our best to make the translation better. And in the future, we’ll try, as I told you, to breathe more life to the stories and I think we’ll be even more successful someday.

Alain Sancern: Just let me say that for the translation bit, I didn’t add the academic translation. I tried my best to recreate, like an ephemeral ghost is poetry to the music, to give an idea of what it is as Ethiopian.

Like a gazette, it’s not easy to be recreated. This is what I tried to have, an isomorph translation, to give as a first translation, to give to the public the idea of what is with the music and sound are and so on. Everything gets better with time, so will this collaboration.

The post Synchronizing Ethiopian, French poetry wavelengths appeared first on Capital Newspaper .

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *