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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)

Ecclesiastes

Khaled Mattawa, 1964

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 keep the conversation going.

The rule is their parents were foolish,
their children are greedy or insane.

The rule is to make them feel they've come too late.
The trick is that you're willing to make exceptions.

The rule is to assume their parents abused them.
The trick is to sound like the one teacher they loved.

And when they say "too much,"
give them a plan.

And when they say "anger" or "rage" or "love,"
say "give me an example."

The rule is everyone is a gypsy now.
Everyone is searching for his tribe.

The rule is you don't care if they ever find it.
The trick is that they feel they can.

From Tocqueville by Khaled Mattawa. Copyright © 2010 by Khaled Mattawa. Used by permission of New Issues Press.

From Tocqueville by Khaled Mattawa. Copyright © 2010 by Khaled Mattawa. Used by permission of New Issues Press.

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

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
Will answers be found
like seeds
planted among rows of song?

Will mouths recognize
the hunger
in their voices, all mouths in unison,

the ah in harmony, the way words
of hope are more
than truth when whispered?

Will we turn to each other and ask,
how long
has it been...how long since?

A world now, a world
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