marie labrosse | The American University of Iraq Sulaimani

marie labrosse

A Trip to Translate Poetry

  Student blog by Shene Mohammed who visited former AUIS professor Marie Labrosse in Virginia, USA, on a project to translate classical Kurdish poetry into English.  We started our poetry-reading event with a big pot of Kurdish tea that was served in little Kurdish teacups and served to our audience in Virginia (United States) where we were all guests of Marie LaBrosse, a former professor at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) and a current PhD candidate at The University of Exeter. The cups were emptying up and getting refilled at a rapid pace. This was the first time we were publicly presenting the translations that we have been working so hard on for the past year. The night before the event, we practiced how to recite poetry while Marie was cooking dinner. She was telling us how the emphasis on one word alone can change the meaning of the verse, and how our decision about what to emphasize needs to be clear for the audience. Sitting down on a rug, with books of the poets we translated beside us, we felt close to our audience. Every time we read a poem, questions were asked and discussions started about poems, meaning, literature, and culture. We realized that Kurdish poetry was open to many different interpretations just like other works of world literature, but our audience felt the world was deprived of it, and that they were missing out on Kurdish literature. This amazing visit to America, and reading Kurdish poetry in such an event, was made possible for us because of  Marie. The first time I saw Marie was in a workshop about 'heroines' at AUIS. The discussions were about our own heroines and what characteristics set them apart to make them heroines to us. While talking about the distinction between “unique” and “different”, I got to know a unique woman, Marie, whom I have learned tremendous things from. We later talked about the beautiful work she does with translating classical poetry, and I knew I wanted to work with her on translations. I joined fellow students Mohammed Fatih and Srusht Barzan to form our first team of translators. We selected the poems we wanted to translate; we then made our own catalogs, and started literal translations of the poems. We enjoyed reading poetry together, and talking about all the possible meanings; we also laughed together about some of the mistakes we made, especially after checking each other’s work. What made the project a great experience for us was that we started out with one poet and then decided to expand and do more. This gave us a chance to study more of the great masters in classical poetry.   We first started translating Sheikh Raza Talabni’s poems, and translated a great part of the Kurdish catalog of his divan. Sheikh Raza was our poet. We wanted to get to know him more, so we decided to go to Kirkuk where he lived with his family in their main takya*. The Talabani Takya to this day is the greatest takya in Iraqi Kurdistan, and has branches all around Kurdistan. We were very interested to know how in this holy place, and amongst such a religious family, a poet known for his insolence came to be. How was he able to curse anyone he did not agree with or liked, and yet live and be part of a family that spiritually guided people? How did others view this man in such a family? To answer these questions we made trips to Kirkuk to see the takya, Talabani family, those scholars who have been studying his work, and Raza’s old house. One of the scholars who helped us significantly in Kirkuk was Amin Shwan, who has been studying Raza’s work for 20 years. With him, we talked about stories behind Raza’s poems, his choice of words and his unique language of cursing people without using any bad words, praising people with using curse words, or writing Sufi poems to God. The different parts of his character raised a lot of questions for us, and every time we visited Kirkuk, there was more to learn about. Amongst the members of the Talabani family that we talked to, was Sheikh Pirot, who runs the family house; Sheikh Nuri, who supervises a team that studies Raza; and Sheikh Usif, who runs the takya.   Another question that crossed Marie’s mind while we were translating Sheikh Raza’s work, was the literature during Raza’s time: whom did he look up to as a poet, and with whom he corresponded? We then started to read the poets who wrote in the 1800s. From each poet we chose 10 to 15 poems to translate. This was to explore language and poetry in the 1800s. When we started this and as the work was adding up, Lana Khalid, a graduate of AUIS, and Savan Ako, a student in Slemani University, joined us. We chose to translate Nali, Salm, Kurdi, Mahwi, Bekhod, Hamdi, Wafa’I, Jamil Zahawi, and Piramerd. When we added all these poets, we realized the amount of work we have put on our shoulders, that we needed to finish in a short time. This summer, for full time translation of these poets, Marie hosted Savan and I in her house in Virginia, in the beautiful small town of Crozet. We spent three weeks translating these poems in Marie’s library among her books. The house was full of books, records, and musical instruments of Marie and her husband, Sam, who is a professional singer and songwriter. We also watched sunsets from their living room, ate delicious dinners, listened to Marie and Sam’s favorite songs and exchanged our favorites, which we called 'The Game of Hits'. We enjoyed getting to know their friends, seeing this whole other part of the world, learning about American culture, and seeing Virginia’s beautiful old handmade things. Despite the hard work of getting all the poems done in such a short time, we enjoyed every bit of it. Reading the masterpieces on a clear early morning, on Marie’s porch that faces her colorful garden, while drinking Kurdish tea made the trip feel more like a vacation rather than a working trip.  *Takya is an Islamic shrine in which religious ceremonies are performed and food is offered for free. Usually, it is built upon graves of Sufi figures and it includes mosques and lodges for Ziyaret, religious pilgrimages. It is supervised by a Sheikh and his wife, and inside this place Murids, disciples, seek spiritual purification. "My Room" - Read one of the students' translations of a poem by Nali  

Poetry Reading of Kajal Ahmed's "Handful of Salt"

  On April 25, 2016 AUIS hosted a poetry-reading event that marked the release of the book Handful of Salt by Kurdish poet Kajal Ahmed. The book consists of a collection of poems that have been translated into English by former faculty member and chair of the AUIS English Department, Marie Labrosse, and AUIS alumnae Darya Ali and Mewan Nehro. Both Darya and Mewan were students of Marie Labrosse in a translation workshop taught at AUIS. Their journey started when the students had to submit projects for their class, and they found interest in translating Kajal Ahmed’s poems. “We were just talking about how important AUIS actually is, you start from something basic and before you know it, you have accomplished something really big, like this book,” said Mewan Nehro, who now studies at the Erasmus University at Rotterdam. The event brought together AUIS and the University of Sulaimani to celebrate women’s achievements. Outside the hall where the reading took place, was an art exhibition by Gasha Kamal, a student at University of Sulaimani. There was also a beautiful Kurdish choir performance by students from the University of Sulaimani prior to the reading that included one of Kajal Ahmed’s poems adapted into a song. The book was sold at AUIS after the event, with all the proceeds going to the Yazda organization, an NGO aimed at supporting the Yezidi minority. "Women and Kurdistan," Kajal Ahmed writes: "how similar we are, how/ strange"-- and how fortunate English-speaking readers are to have this selection of her poems, expertly translated and edited by Alana Marie Levinson-LaBrosse and her Kurdish students. Handful of Salt is a superb introduction to the work of an acclaimed Kurdish poet, whose chronicles of her walk in the sun mirror the complicated and tragic history of her people, in diverse forms and voices: "we're soil and soil, fire and fire,/ water and water, how heavy/ it is." But what a light these poems cast on everyone and everything. - Christopher Merrill, author of Boat.  The event was organized by the AUIS Center for Gender and Development Studies.  About Marie Labrosse Marie LaBrosse, poet, translator, and former AUIS faculty member, translates classical and contemporary Kurdish poetry, hosts readings with regional poets, and introduced the annual translation workshop at AUIS. She is a NonResident fellow with the Institute of Regional and International Studies (IRIS). She received her M.F.A. from Warren Wilson College and her M.Ed. in English Education and B.A. in Political and Social Thought from the University of Virginia. She was awarded the Richard A. Meade Award for Excellence in English Education, honored as a member of the Raven Society, and was an Echols Scholar. She has been published in The Iowa Review, Words Without Borders, The Fair Observer, and 91st Meridian. She compiled and edited SoJust: An International Art Festival, an anthology of translations and interviews from American and Iraqi artists. She is a PhD candidate in Kurdish Studies at Exeter University.  Article contributed by Communications Intern Lana Jabbar. Photos by student volunteers Rozhin Salah and Zhiwar Jawhar. 

Poetry Reading with Marie Labrosse and AUIS Alumni

AUIS is hosting a poetry reading of a selection from Kajal Ahmed's "A Handful of Salt" with poet, translator, and former AUIS faculty member, Marie Labrosse, and AUIS alums Darya Ali and Mewan Nahro. There will be a musical performance by Tawar Orchestra and an art exhibition by Gasha Kamal, a student at the University of Sulaimani at the event.  Marie Labrosse translates classical and contemporary Kurdish poetry, hosts readings with regional poets, and introduced the annual translation workshop at AUIS. Read more about her translation of Kajal Ahmed's poems.  Born in Kirkuk in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1967, Kajal Ahmad began publishing her remarkable poetry at the age of 21. SHe has published four books:  Benderî Bermoda (1999), Wutekanî Wutin (1999),Qaweyek le gel ev da, (2001) and Awênem şikand , (2004). She has gained a considerable reputation for her brave, poignant and challenging work throughout the Kurdish-speaking world. Her poems have been translated into Arabic, Turkish, Norwegian and now, for the first time, into English. 

Jamal Xembar Poetry Reading

Famous Kurdish poet Jamal Xembar read some of his poetry during the opening events of The Art of Social Justice Festival on Friday. Translations of his work were ready by Marie Labrosse, Chair of the English Department. Click below to see photos of the event on our Facebook page.

The Art of Social Justice

  For one week in April-May 2013, renowned artists from Iraq and the United States – from the disciplines of film, theatre, photography, literature, and poetry – came together in Sulaimani to address a single question: how can artistic expression help to foster social justice in Iraqi society? The groundbreaking arts festival - Art of Social Justice (SoJust) - was designed to encourage students to question and communicate to others how they see their world, in all its complexity.  The workshops, panels, lectures, performances, classroom visits and readings were to help the students of AUIS find new ways to develop as intellectuals and artists. Marie Labrosse, senior lecturer at AUIS, later published a book that chronicles the weeklong activities of the arts festival, backed by the US Department of Justice. A poem by Mewan Said and Mahmood Jaff, AUIS English literature students, serves as opening to a newly published book that celebrates the hard work of students, faculty, and visiting eminent artists from the United States who contributed to that event. This book compiles the products of the festival: interviews with the visiting artists, photo-essays, student writing and translation. See more photos of the Festival on our Facebook page.  Marie Labrosse talks about her book and the festival in recently published articles in the international journal The Fair Observer. 
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