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This report is taken from PN Review 198, Volume 37 Number 4, February - March 2011.

Amjad Nasser 'Cavafy's Mask' Fady Joudah
In 1979, the Jordanian poet Amjad Nasser became the first Arab poet to quote Constantine Cavafy when he began his first poetry collection, Praise for Another Café (which he wrote while living in Beirut), with an epigraph from Cavafy's 'The City':

You won't find a new country, won't find another shore.

This city will always pursue you. You will walk
the same streets, grow old in the same neighborhoods,
will turn gray in these same houses.
You'll always end up in this city. Don't hope for things elsewhere:
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you've wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you've destroyed it everywhere else in the world.

The Jordanian poet was haunted by its prophetic words that spelled out his own exile for him right from the start. Amjad Nasser had just moved to Beirut, and would later, after a few short sojourns across the Mediterranean, move to London where he has lived and worked since 1987.

The excerpt above was translated into Arabic by none other than the Iraqi poet Saadi Yussef, who has been a Londoner for quite some time, and who was the first to introduce Arab readers to Cavafy's selected works, Farewell to Alexandria, which he translated and published in 1979, months before Amjad's first collection. Later on, various translations and studies of Cavafy's work would appear across the Arab world, especially ...


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