Iman Mersal



Iman Mersal was born November 30, 1966 in Mit 'Adlan, a small village in the northern Egyptian Delta. Her first poems were published in local poetry magazines while she was still a student in high school. Subsequently, she attended the University of Mansura, graduating in 1988 with honors in Arabic literature. From 1985 to 1992, she co-edited the independent feminist magazine, Bint al-Ard (Daughter of the Earth), which published the creative work of young female writers, as well as non-fiction articles on feminism and Islam. From 1988 until 1998, she lived in Cairo writing, editing, studying, and teaching Arabic literature.

Mersal's first book of poetry, Ittisafat (Characterizations, Dar al-Ghad, Cairo) debuted in 1990. A stellar collection of measured verse, Ittisafat was enthusiastically reviewed by the renowned novelist and literary critic Edward Kharrat in the London-based al-Hayat (September 1, 1991). Following its publication, she stopped writing for several years. Her second book Mamarr Mu'tim Yasluh li Ta'allum al-Raqs (A Dark Passageway Is Suitable for Learning to Dance, Dar Sharqiyat al-Qahira, Cairo, 1995) took a new direction, forming part of an avant-garde poetic movement. Mersal and other poets of the '90s generation,' adopted new genre that came to be known as qasidat al-nathr or prose poem. The new form freed them from the grandiose rhetoric and large ideological focus of modern Arabic poetry, enabling them to explore the details of daily life. Because of resistance from the mainstream, the nascent movement found its home in independent magazines'often small and struggling'including al-Garrad (The Locusts) and al-Kitaba al-Ukhra (The Other Writing).

Despite the controversy surrounding the publication of Mamarr Mu'tim Yasluh li Ta'allum al-Raqs and the claims that it veered too sharply away from the conventions of Arabic poetry, it achieved wide critical acclaim, as shown in numerous reviews in Egypt, Lebanon, England, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and elsewhere. The collection was also named Best Book of Poetry of 1995, as selected by fellow writers through polls conducted in several Egyptian periodicals including Akhbar al-Adab, and Nisf al-Dunya.

By the time Mersal released her much anticipated third volume of poetry, al-Mashy Atwal Waqt Mumkin (Walking as Long as Possible, Dar Sharqiyat al-Qahira, Cairo, 1997), the poetic climate had changed. A receptive audience no longer debated whether or not Mersal's poems were legitimate but rather focused on her development as a writer as can be seen from the numerous articles and reviews published in many different countries. During this period, Mersal also pursued a Master's degree at Cairo University exploring mystical intertextuality in the poetry of Adonis, and graduating with highest honors in 1998.

Mersal's fourth collection Alternative Geography (2006) marks a new phase in her work; she explores the experience of displacement, being outside of oneself either at home or away from it, without invoking expected issues of nostalgia or identity.

Mersal relocated to Boston, Massachussetts, USA in 1998 and from there to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada where she now resides with her husband, an ethnomusicologist, and their two young sons. She teaches Arabic language and literature at the University of Alberta. Her interests in other forms have widened and led in 2005 to a collaboration with filmmaker Shabnam Sukhdev on Stranger in her Own Skin which based on Iman's poetry and the her experience of diaspora. Her current work is inflected by questions of diasporic identities, an interest also reflected in her PhD thesis with Cairo University'the image of America in Arabic travel books. Mersal is an active member of a global community of poets and participates regularly in international readings.

Selected poems from Mersal's ouevre have been translated into numerous languages, including English, French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Hebrew, and Italian. A complete collection translated into English by Khaled Mattawa is forthcoming from Sheep Meadow in 2008.

Published Books of Poetry

2006. Jughrafiya Badila (Alternative Geography). Cairo: Dar Sharqiyat.
2004. Mamarr mu'tim yasluh lita'allum al-raqs (A Dark Passageway is Suitable for Learning to Dance), second edition, Cairo: Dar Sharqiyat.
1997. al-Mashy Atwal Waqt Mumkin (Walking As Long As Possible). Cairo: Dar Sharqiyat.
1995. Mamarr mu'tim yasluh lita'allum al-raqs (A Dark Passageway is Suitable for Learning to Dance), first edition. Cairo: Dar Sharqiyat.
1990. Ittisafat (Characterizations). Cairo: Dar al-Ghad.

In press (2007). Bira fi Nadi al-Bilyardu. Translation of Beer in the Snooker Club, by Waguih Ghali (originally published in London). Iman Mersal, co-translator. Cairo: al-Majlis al-A`la li al-Thaqafa.

Some published translations of Iman Mersal's poetry


These Are Not Oranges, My Love A complete collection translated into English by Khaled Mattawa is forthcoming from Sheep Meadow in 2008.

Soudings: Spring 2007,Issue 35. (London, UK). One poem translated by Tarek Sherif

The Kenyon Review: Spring 2006 (Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio); New Series. Volume XXVIII Number 2. (poetry by Iman Mersal, translated by Khaled Mattawa: Scandalize Myself; Respecting Marx; I Describe a Migraine).

Tin House, Issue 27, 2006 (Portland, Oregon). Two poems translated by Khaled Mutawwa.

Banipal No. 25, Spring 2006, London. Two poems by Iman Mersal, translated by Khaled Matawwa and Tarek Sherif.
Masthead (Australian literary arts magazine), issue 7,2003. Translations from Mamarr mu'tim by Khaled Mattawa.

Paintbrush:A Journal of Poetry and Translation, v. 28 (Truman State University). 2002. Translations from Mamarr mu'tim and al-Mashy Atwal Waqt Mumkin by Khaled Mattawa and Kamal Abdel-Malek.

Parnassus: Poetry in Review, v. 24 (New York). 2001. Translations from Mamarr mu'tim and al-Mashy Atwal Waqt Mumkin. By Eric Ormsby.
Banipal: Magazine of Modern Arab Literature issues 10-11 (London). 2001. Translations from Mamarr mu'tim. By Khaled Mattawa

Tradition, Modernity, and Postmodernity in Arabic Literature: Essays in Honor of Professor Issa J.Boullata. Edited by Kamal Abdel-Malek and Wael B. Hallaq. Leiden: E. J.Brill, pp.2000. Iman Mersal: Egypt's Postmodern Poet. By Kamal Abdel-Malek.

The Poetry of Arab Women: A Contemporary Anthology. Edited by Nathalie Handal. Massachusetts: Interlink Books. 2000. Translations from Mamarr mu'tim and al-Mashy Atwal Waqt Mumkin. By Khaled Mattawa.

The New African Poetry: An Anthology. (Edited by Tijan M. Sallah and Tanure Ojaide.) London: Lynne Reinner Publishers. 1999. Translation from Mamarr mu'tim. By Clarissa Burt.

La Pens'e de Midi. Marselle, France: Actes Sud. 2004. Translations from al-Mashy Atwal Waqt Mumkin. By Richard Jacquemond.

Al-Ahram Hebdo (French language weekly published in Cairo) (September 29, 2004) Translation from al-Mashy Atwal Waqt Mumkin. By Cam'lia Sobhi and Richard Jacquemond.

Le V'rbe D'voil': Petite anthologie de la po'sie arabe au f'minin. 2001 Edited by Abdul Kader El Janabi. Paris: Paris-Mediterranee. Translations from al-Mashy Atwal Waqt Mumkin. By Walid Al-Khachab.

Le po'me arabe moderne. (Anthologie 'tablie et pr'sent'e par Abdul Kader El Janabi; Pr'face de Bernard No'l.) Paris: Maisonneuve & Larose. . Translation from Mamarr mu'tim. By Walid Al-Khachab.

Al-Ahram Hebdo (French language weekly published in Cairo) (April 1-7, 1998).1989. Translation from Mamarr mu'tim. By Walid Al-Khachab.
Livre 2 Publication Litteraire Franco- ArabAmman ' Jordanie. 1997. Translation from Mamarr mu'tim. By N'Sour, Ahmad.


Abuelata, Muhammad. 2005. Translations from al-Mashy Atwal Waqt Mumkin. In: Antologia de poesia espanola y egipcia contemporanea. Madrid: Instituto Egipcio de Estudios Islamicos.

Abuelata, Muhammad. 2004. Translations from al-Mashy Atwal Waqt Mumkin. In: Cronicas azahar: revista de actualidad cultural. Issue 2.


In: Dinge, Die andere nicht sehen.20 Lyrikerinnen aus dem arabischen Raum, Eine Anthologie. Translations from al-Mashy Atwal Waqt Mumkin. By Solenan Taufiq.

In: Die Farbe der Ferne: Modern arabische Dichtung. Edited by Stefan Weidner. M'nchen: Verlag C.H. Beck. 2000. Translations from Mamarr mu'tim. Translated by Stefan Weidner.

In: Zwischen Zauber und Zeichen: Moderne arabische Lyrik von 1945 bis heute. Berlin: Verlag Das Arabische Buch. 2000. Translations from Mamarr mu'tim. Translated by Khaled Al-Maaly>


Nijland,Kees. 2003. Translations from Mamarr mu'tim and al-Mashy Atwal Waqt Mumkin. In: De Gids, no. 6. (Amsterdam).


Somekh, Sasson. 1999. Translation of poem from Mamarr mu'tim. Ha'Aretz, 13 Aug 1999.
Somekh, Sasson. 1997. Translation of four poems from Mamarr mu'tim. Iton 77, v. 214.

Other Publications by Iman Mersal:

Hawiya Musta`ara (Borrowed Identity), in Amkina (February, 2006). (peer reviewed)

Poet's Diary, prepared for Poetry International 2003. (

'The Herd and the Flock' (translated into German and published in the online journal NZZ; see

Adab wa Naqd. From 1994 to 1996, contributions to this monthly literary review included:

Ma lam yaktubhu luwis 'awad (What Louis Awad didn't write), October 1995, number 122.
Su'al al-tawhidi wa su'aluna (al-Tawhidi's question, and our question), November 1995, number 123.
Ghawayat al-Naffari: nusus mukhtara ma'a taqdim 'an al-sufi 'abd al-jabbar al-Naffari (selections from al-Naffari's mystical writings, and an introduction to his thought), February 1996, number 126.


Stranger in My Own Skin. 2005. (Documentary about Iman Mersal, including interviews and poetry readings). Directed by Shabnam Sukhdev. (30 minutes).

Invited Readings

June 2006. The Poetry Festival, the Centre of Contemporary Poetry of the University of Bologna; June 4, 5, 6, 2006. at the Chiostro di Santa Caterina in Bologna.
July 2006. Festival Voix de la M'diterran'e (Lodeve, France), July 22-30, 2006.
May 2005. Toronto Women's Bookstore. May 12, 2005.
December 2004. Egypte: 'critures contemporaines (readings in Aix-en-provence, Arles, Auriol, Marseille). Sponsored by Association Libraires du Sud. See:
May 2004. Reading at Goethe Institute, Cairo. See also:
September 2003. Frauenfelder Lyriktage (Switzerland). See:
June 2003. Poetry International, Rotterdam (Netherlands): 33rd Poetry International Festival. See also:
April 2002. Department of Near Eastern Studies, Cornell University, (Ithaca, New York): "Walking as Long as Possible: A Reading With Egyptian Poet Iman Mersal", History of Art Gallery, Goldwin Smith Hall. Audio at
March 2002. Pro Helvetica (Basel, Zurich, Berne): "Modern Arabic Poetry" literary tour.
March 2001. Institut du Monde Arabe (Paris): "French-Arabic Poetry Festival".
April 2001. Special guest at the University of Lyon, and the University of Aix-En-Provence, France.
June 2000. Literaturhaus (K'ln): "K'lner Lyrikfestival" (Cologne Poetry Festival).
September 1997: University of Aix-En-Provence (Aix-En-Provence, France): "Fuveau Festival".
September 1992: Invited to join international delegation of women intellectuals, writers, artists, and political activists to Iraq, called ' Support of Non-Governmental Organizations for the Iraqi Woman Against Sanctions'.

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