Poems After Ibn Arabi
& Robin Moger
Distance, and desire ruins me. To meet
is no relief. Come or go,
desire hardly cares.
I can be away and floored by longing,
but it doesn’t help when we’re together.
Longing: without and in her company.
Born in Murcia in 1165, Ibn Arabi was a prolific Muslim philosopher and poet. He travelled extensively before settling in Damascus, where he died in 1240. Tarjuman Al Ashwaq, or The Interpreter of Desires, is a cycle of sixty-one Arabic poems. They speak of loss and bewilderment, a spiritual and sensual yearning for the divine, and a hunger for communion in which near and far collapse.
Agitated Air is a correspondence in poems between Istanbul and Cape Town, following the wake of The Interpreter of Desires. Collaborating at a distance, Yasmine Seale and Robin Moger work in close counterpoint, making separate translations of each poem, exchanging them, then writing new poems in response to what they receive. The process continues until they are exhausted, and then a new chain begins.
Translated and retranslated, these poems fray and eddy and, their themes of intimacy across distance made various, sing back and forth, circling and never landing. Absence and approach, knowing and unknowing, failure and repetition: Ibn Arabi’s cycle of ecstatic love shimmers with turbulence. Seale and Moger move into and against these contending drifts, finding in the play of dissatisfaction and endurance a prompt for new poetry.
Robin Moger is a translator of Arabic to English living in Cape Town. His translations of prose and poetry have appeared in Blackbox Manifold, The White Review, Asymptote, Words Without Borders, Seedings, and others. He has translated several novels and prose works including Youssef Rakha’s The Crocodiles (7Stories), Iman Mersal’s How To Mend (Kayfa ta) and Nael Eltoukhy’s Women of Karantina (AUC Press). His translation of Haytham El Wardany’s The Book Of Sleep will be released by Seagull Books in November 2020 and he is currently translating Slipping, a novel by Mohammad Kheir, for Two Lines Press.
Yasmine Seale is a writer and literary translator from Arabic and French. Her essays, poetry, and translations have appeared in a number of places including Harper’s, Times Literary Supplement, Poetry Review, The Rialto, Apollo, and anthologies from Comma Press. She is currently working on a new translation of The Thousand and One Nights for W. W. Norton. She lives in Istanbul.
© Tacita Dean, ‘An ‘twere a cloud’ (2016)
Spray chalk, gouache and charcoal pencil on slate