German-Arab Divan

A bilingual magazine dedicated to German and Arabic poetry was discussed at a poets' meeting in Yemen. Four issues of Divan have been published since then.

The magazine "Divan" started life in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa. A German-Arabic poets meeting was held there in autumn 2000, initiated by the Iraqi poet Amal Al-Jubouri who is also the current publisher of the magazine. Their motto was, "The Occident cannot exist without the Orient, and the Orient cannot exist without the Occident. They differ from one another and are similar to one another." Over a hundred authors from the German-Arabic speaking world took part in the meeting in Yemen including Hans Magnus Enzenberger, Adonis, Joachim Sartorius and Volker Braun amongst others. It was at this meeting that the organisers first wondered how it might be possible to permanently sustain a lively and effective relationship between the two cultures.

On the last day of the conference in Sanaa, Enzenberger suggested starting a magazine for Arabic and German poetry in both languages. Its purpose was to bring the cultures of the East and West closer. The first edition of 1000 copies entitled "Divan" was published in Berlin in May 2001 and included papers presented at the Yemen conference. The fact that Arabic and German artists participated meant that the German reader was exposed to Arabic poetry and the Arabic reader to German poetry. Each issue is devoted to a topic which is discussed by poets from the Arabic world such as Mahmud Darwisch, Adonis, Abbas Beydoun, Unsi al-Hadj and Abd Al Aziz Al-Moukaleh and those from the Germany such as Raoul Schrott, Michael Krüger, Durs Grünbein, Hans Magnus Enzenberger and Joachim Sartorius.

The first topics for discussion were "The role of verse in modern times where ideologies and grand ideas seem to be dwindling" and "Should poetry influence mankind positively, if at all?" Another issue was devoted to "Poetry and religion" and the fourth and most recent issue concentrated on "Writing in exile". In this issue "Divan" published essays and interviews on themes like migration, homeland, moving to a new place and the relationship between literature and living in exile.

Each magazine is professionally laid out with many excellent colour and black and white pictures by well known artists from Germany and the Arabic world. These include Marwan and Max Neumann, Khalil Gibran and Günter Grass, Adonis, Jawad Salim, Jacob Mattner or Rebecca Horn. The name of the magazine suggests its intent: In Arabic, "Divan" means a platform, a point of assembly or also a collection of poems. Poetry has always had a special place for the Arab people. In the Arabic world, even today poetry certainly plays the most important role when compared to other literary forms. Arab poets and their verses still have great influence on the opinions of the peoples. The Arabs used to call poetry the "Arabic Divan." Obviously the title also makes a reference to Goethe´s "East-West Divan". In founding this magazine an old tradition that Goethe propagated has been rekindled. For in his East-West Divan" Goethe's wish of achieving an understanding between peoples

Divan no 4

​​through poetry was expressed as: "If you know yourself and others you will also recognize that the Orient and the Occident are not separable any more."

The four issues published to date offer the Arabic and German reader the opportunity to become better acquainted with the style, ideas and form of expression used in the poetry of both cultures. The importance of such translations is obvious in the light of the "conflict of cultures." Man, so goes the Arabic phrase, is the enemy of what he does not know. And vice versa, he has to acquire a taste for what he gets to know: Knowledge from others means getting closer, demonstrating an understanding and making possible the discovery of ones own human core.

"Divan" is an exceptional magazine and now commands widespread recognition in Germany. It is a niche for Arabic poetry in Germany and for German poetry in the Arabic world. This magazine affords the Arabic reader direct access to contemporary German poetry for the first time. This is more so because for the first time the translation into Arabic is directly from German and not, as is often the case, through a third language. If translating poetry is an inherent problem, "Divan" can certainly make up for that through the quality of the material it publishes. The magazine has been able to engage the best translators and thus guarantee thoroughness in its translation of poetry. The interested reader discovers in his literary journey that poetry is not only a sign of the educated, but also incorporates a lively coming to terms with the world.

Suleman Taufiq for Qantara.de;

Translation from German: Farina Boltersdorff

© 2003, Qantara.de

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