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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)

Now That We Have Tasted Hope

Now that we have come out of hiding,
Why would we live again in the tombs we’d made out of our     souls?

And the sundered bodies that we’ve reassembled
With prayers and consolations,
What would their torn parts be, other than flesh?

Now that we have tasted hope
And dressed each other’s wounds with the legends of our
     oneness
Would we not prefer to close our mouths forever shut
On the wine that swilled inside them?

Having dreamed the same dream,
Having found the water behind a thousand mirages,
Why would we hide from the sun again
Or fear the night sky after we’ve reached the ends of
     darkness,
Live in death again after all the life our dead have given         us?

Listen to me Zow’ya, Beida, Ajdabya, Tobruk, Nalut,
Listen to me Derna, Musrata, Benghazi, Zintan,
Listen to me houses, alleys, courtyards, and streets that
     throng my veins,
Some day soon, in your freed light, in the shade of your
     proud trees,
Your excavated heroes will return to their thrones in your
     martyrs’ squares,
Lovers will hold each other’s hands.

I need not look far to imagine the nerves dying,
Rejecting the life that blood sends them.
I need not look deep into my past to seek a thousand         hopeless vistas.
But now that I have tasted hope
I have fallen into the embrace of my own rugged          innocence.

How long were my ancient days?
I no longer care to count.
I no longer care to measure.
How bitter was the bread of bitterness?
I no longer care to recall.

Now that we have tasted hope, this hard-earned crust,
We would sooner die than seek any other taste to life,
Any other way of being human.

Copyright © 2012 by Khaled Mattawa. From Beloit Poetry Journal, Split This Rock Edition. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

Copyright © 2012 by Khaled Mattawa. From Beloit Poetry Journal, Split This Rock Edition. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

Khaled Mattawa

Khaled Mattawa

Born in Benghazi, Libya, in 1964, Khaled Mattawa is a poet and translator of contemporary Arabic poetry. He currently serves as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

by this poet

poem
Yardley, Pennsylvania, an expensive dump
and the van seats shake their broken bones.

Duty-free liquor and cigarettes,
the refineries and the harbor's cranes.

The moon digs its way out of the dirt.
The branches of an evergreen sway.

She's nice
the woman you don't love.

She kisses you hard and often
holding
poem

On the light switch,

her floury fingerprints,

the black receiver held

in a fist of bread.

Then words of wheat

across years of salt.
 

Morning of jasmine, earth-clot, bed of bone.
 

“Fate and faith will strum your cords,

your spinal rope fraying.”

2
poem

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.

2