Come, Take a Gentle Stab
Although Salim Barakat is one of the most renowned and respected contemporary writers in Arabic letters, he remains virtually unknown in the English-speaking world. This first collection of his poetry in English, representing every stage of his career, remedies that startling omission. Come, Take a Gentle Stab features selections from his most acclaimed works of poetry, including excerpts from his book-length poems, rendered into an English that captures the exultation of language for which he is famous.
A Kurdish-Syrian man, Barakat chose to write in Arabic, the language of cultural and political hegemony that has marginalized his people. Like Paul Celan, he mastered the language of the oppressor to such an extent that the course of the language itself has been compelled to bend to his will. Barakat pushes Arabic to a point just beyond its linguistic limits, stretching those limits. He resists coherence, but never destroys it, pulling back before the final blow. What results is a figurative abstraction of struggle, as alive as the struggle itself. And always beneath the surface of this roiling water one can glimpse the deep currents of ancient Kurdish culture.
‘What is there to say about these poems that largely escape sense and make so much happen? They take refuge in a long history of song (“that delicate line, running from the origin of comedy to your moan”) and summon us to join them. This translation is most alluring where it gives form to Barakat’s philosophy, a poetics of damage that is always available to the consolations of sonic relief. Try rolling these lines around your mouth—“let it be slow, your enchantment / of the chambers of her heart”; “like muscles your destinations slackened, and you sagged”—and see if you are not, in your brokenness, gently calmed.’—Yasmine Seale, 4Columns. Read the outstanding review here.
‘In an economy of political expediency and ideological obedience, driven by fashion and consumerism, US readers too rarely get more than a pinhole view of cultures upon whom war has been declared. That Arabic writing Kurdish poet and novelist Salim Barakat—hailed by luminaries such as Adonis and Mahmoud Darwish as more than their equal—has had to wait this long for his first English publication, says everything. Barakat’s exceedingly resistant and exhilaratingly strange verse—paradoxically written by someone who seems absolutely rooted to the depths of the earth while yet able to see humanity as if through the mind of some other being, perhaps language itself—is finally available to English readers. One can only hope that Huda Fakhreddine and Jayson Iwen’s resounding translation summons greater interest in the work of this astonishing modern master.’—Ammiel Alcalay
‘Unsettling, enigmatic, singular. The poetry of the Kurdish-Syrian master Salim Barakat keeps us suspended. He tells us that “Place is the gunshot of imagination that does you in.” He takes the Arabic language to the sharp edges of poetics and politics. And as we go in and out of his verses, in and out of visible and invisible borders, his contemplations draw us in: “Whom do I call upon in the seclusions of geography, whom do I call upon to witness my massacre asking for water from pools at the intersection of the world and God?” Huda Fakhreddine and Jayson Iwen unearth the mind of Barakat’s poetry, and their carefully crafted and exquisite translation take us through Barakat’s body of work. Come, Take a Gentle Stab penetrates places we didn’t know were reachable. An arresting collection.’—Nathalie Handal
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