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October 29, 2010Tishman Auditorium, The New SchoolNew York, NYFrom the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

Khaled Mattawa was born in Benghazi, Libya, in 1964 and immigrated to the United States in his teens.

Mattawa received a BA in political science and economics from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga before earning an MA in English and an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University, as well as a PhD from Duke University in 2009.

His collections of poetry include Tocqueville (New Issues, 2010), Amorisco (Ausable, 2008), Zodiac of Echoes (Ausable, 2003), and Ismailia Eclipse (Sheep Meadow Press, 1995). He is also the author of Mahmoud Darwish: The Poet's Art and His Nation (Syracuse University Press, 2014).

Mattawa has also translated many volumes of contemporary Arabic poetry and coedited two anthologies of Arab American literature. His many books of translation include Adonis: Selected Poems (Yale University Press, 2010), Invitation to a Secret Feast (Tupelo Press, 2008) by Joumana Haddad, A Red Cherry on A White-Tile Floor (Copper Canyon Press, 2007) by Maram Al-Massri, Miracle Maker, Selected Poems of Fadhil Al-Azzawi (BOA Editions, 2004) and Without An Alphabet, Without A Face: Selected Poems of Saadi Youssef (Graywolf Press, 2002), among others.

The poet Yusef Komunyakaa has described Mattawa's work as "novelistic in its reach and depth" and the poet Marilyn Hacker writes that it "is politically astute, formally daring, grips the reader with an intelligence that spotlights, too, its sensual and emotional (and historical) accuracy."

Mattawa is the 2010 recipient of the Academy of American Poets Fellowship. He has received a Guggenheim fellowship, a translation grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Alfred Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, the PEN American Center Poetry Translation Prize, three Pushcart Prizes, and a MacArthur Fellowship.

In 2014, Mattawa was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Currently, Mattawa teaches in the graduate creative writing program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.


Selected Bibliography 

Poetry

Tocqueville (New Issues, 2010)
Amorisco (Ausable, 2008)
Zodiac of Echoes (Ausable, 2003)
Ismailia Eclipse (Sheep Meadow Press, 1995)

Translation

Adonis: Selected Poems (Yale University Press, 2010)
Invitation to a Secret Feast  by Joumana Haddad (Tupelo Press, 2008)
A Red Cherry on A White-Tile Floor by Maram Al-Massri (Copper Canyon Press, 2007)
Miracle Maker, Selected Poems of Fadhil Al-Azzawi (BOA Editions, 2004)
Without An Alphabet, Without A Face: Selected Poems of Saadi Youssef (Graywolf Press, 2002)

Before

Khaled Mattawa, 1964

Somewhere beyond faith and grace there is
the footprint of logic lost in the purest light. 

Not hidden at all, but a vehicle, a necessity, neither
mop nor bucket, but whatever gives the floor its shine.

The sun through the window pours on the floor,
and the wood glistens as if in praise.
As if a child breaking into a run. That is what I see

through the window now. A child breaking
into a run for the simple flame that must burn
and because there are such words.

Of course, I could be wailing.
Of course, the child is not a memory,
only a gesture on my part.

Yesterday, I fed a friend's cat and talked to her,
the town was emptied and filled with
snow embroidered with tire tracks. 

I fed a friend's cat and she rubbed her sides against my calves. 

The thing to say now is that I am in the middle of a life
in a house with the owners on holiday.

Or to say a car engine hums (the owner forgetting
the keys inside), and is on its way to a crystalline loss.

Here deduction is howling at an oncoming storm.

The thing is, I fed a friend's cat and later poured
a bowl of milk for her and she sniffed it,
barely licked it, and left.

The thought is. The life is.

I've visited graves—tombstones ten feet high.
I ran through the cemetery and laughed my Cairo laugh.
I wanted to be arrested by the police, wanted

someone to take down what I had to say.
Whatever I would have said then would have been the truth.

But there was no one there.
Only dust and a shitload of romance.

Only dust and the hum of the interstate.  Detroit,
Toledo, the hitchhiker hums a foreign song.

I feed the cat and talk to her.
I take the milk away and begin to forget
and the cat stares at the missing milk.

Billions of snowflakes in between,
and the befores that follow the first before. 

Copyright © by Khaled Mattawa. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Copyright © by Khaled Mattawa. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Khaled Mattawa

Khaled Mattawa

Born in Benghazi, Libya, in 1964, Khaled Mattawa is a poet and translator of contemporary Arabic poetry.

by this poet

poem
The trick is that you're willing to help them.
The rule is to sound like you're doing them a favor.

The rule is to create a commission system.
The trick is to get their number.

The trick is to make it personal:
No one in the world suffers like you.

The trick is that you're providing a service.
The rule is to
poem

Evening coffee, and my mother salts
her evening broth—not equanimity,
but the nick of her wrist—

and my mother bakes bread,
and my mother hobbles knees locked,
and my mother carries the soft stones of her years.

Fists balled in my pocket,
riding the century’s drift,
I carry

2
poem

Qader blew at a cigarette, stuck his head
out the window. Carol wondered why she left
was beginning to see living in peace
with Sandanistas in her father's ranch.
My brother and I up front wondered why
we hadn't killed each other all these years.
We were stuck on the Biloxi highway,

2