Egyptian poet and prolific translator Refaat Sallam dead at 69

Mohammed Saad , Sunday 6 Dec 2020

Refaat Sallam

Renowned Egyptian poet and translator Refaa Sallam, known for his magnificently smooth translation of poetry that carried the authenticity and beauty of the original text, died on 6 December in Cairo at the age of 69.

Sallam was born on 16 November 1951 and released his first poetry collection in 1987, which was titled Wardat Al-Fawda Al-Gamila (The Pretty Flower of Chaos), after which he published 10 poetry collections and many translations of Western poetry.

He translated the complete works of French poet Charles Baudelaire, Egyptian-Greek poet Constantine Cavafy, American Walt Whitman and Frenchman Arthur Rimbaud.

His last translation of a complete works was by Whitman, after which he decided to quit translating poetry, saying it took “a huge toll” on him.

In an interview earlier this year, he said, “I have decided to quit translating poetry… Do you know the huge price you pay when you translate the complete works of one of these big names? The last translation of the complete poetry works of Walt Whitman in 990 pages completely drained me to a breaking point.”

Sallam revealed that he has two translated works that are sitting on his computer, one of them by a Nobel laureate awaiting publishing.

He also translated The Gypsies by Alexander Pushkin and anthologies of Croatian poetry.

Sallam worked as a journalist in Egypt’s state news agency MENA alongside his writing career. He won the Cavafy international poetry prize in 1993.

The late poet also published a number of critical literary studies on Arabic poetical theatre and the Arabic poetic tradition, along with other studies on new forms of poetry, especially prose poems, which was and still is an issue that stirred a lot of controversy in the Arabic literary world.

Sallam said on experimental writing, “I don’t think about writing before I write. I put no limitations on anything prior to the writing process. I just write, I’m always occupied with poetic writing. My writing isn’t random and isn’t instinctive, it comes from an intellectual mind that knows a lot about the poetics of the world.”

In 2005, Sallam published a poetry collection titled Hajar Yatfou Ala Al-Maa (A Stone Floating on the Water), where his words are complimented by illustrations.

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