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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 


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


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)

Tocqueville [excerpt]

Dear B:

To say all the new thinking resembles all the old thinking is to say the fork in the road where one stood indecisive was not a crossroad at all, because one has not moved. Rather it's the earth that has lurched under us like a moving sidewalk in an airport, some passengers standing, others rushing past, the bleep-bleep of the golf carts joyriding the elderly to one of their final destinations. Or when the airliner or the train next to yours moves and you think you've moved. This is not to say that it is only a matter of perception, but that the classics do not console enough. Or maybe that they console too much. You talk about Brutus's purple mantle, and Anthony's decision to behead the poor soul who stole it. If you don't think it's about consolation then why revert back to that code? And Horace's farm, a gift from a patron who loved his poetry, or merely loved the idea of befriending a poet and patronizing him. You'd only have to watch TV to see traces of that, "the artist" surrounded by his entourage, the affluence factor a tax deduction, the drugs an entertainment expense, a hedge fund exec with a salary (payment made in salt) of five hundred million dollars, the acreage outside his mansion the size of modern day Carthage. You only have to see the present to realize how false the past can be. Again, Horace's farm, his free-range cows feeding on acorns. Acorns! and the spring was mere superstition, or nostalgia steeped in superstition, and the cows an easy romanticism. But what of the air that feeds the thinking? This country will consume forty five million metric tons of beef, thirty two million of pork. Maybe you're thinking of Ulysses now, doing a cameo as a swineherd a few miles downwind from you where the levels of sulfur in the nearby springs are three thousand times what is humanly tolerable. To wish upon dying a happy man having lived in virtue and having died, if need be, holding fast to, or because of holding fast, to one's conviction...Virtue, (antonym: vice, impurity). Something in me says "Fortune" instead, which is another way of saying "Fat Chance," which is to say, each particular just about erases the luminous clarity of a general ideal.

From Tocqueville by Khaled Mattawa, published by New Issues Poetry & Prose. Copyright © 2010 Khaled Mattawa. Used with permission of New Issues Poetry & Prose.

From Tocqueville by Khaled Mattawa, published by New Issues Poetry & Prose. Copyright © 2010 Khaled Mattawa. Used with permission of New Issues Poetry & Prose.

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


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


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

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