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
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.
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:
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
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
Tin House, Issue 27, 2006 (Portland, Oregon). Two poems translated by
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 Pensée 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 Camélia Sobhi
and Richard Jacquemond.
Le Vérbe Dévoilé: Petite anthologie de la poésie arabe au féminin. 2001
Edited by Abdul Kader El Janabi. Paris: Paris-Mediterranee. Translations
from al-Mashy Atwal Waqt Mumkin. By Walid Al-Khachab.
Le poème arabe moderne. (Anthologie établie et présentée par Abdul Kader
El Janabi; Préface de Bernard Noël.) 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
In: Die Farbe der Ferne: Modern arabische Dichtung. Edited by Stefan
Weidner. München: 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 www.nzzamsonntag.ch/dossiers/2004/buecherherbst/2004.09.13-fe-article9UITP.html)
Adab wa Naqd. From 1994 to 1996, contributions to this monthly literary
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
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
July 2006. Festival Voix de la Méditerranée (Lodeve, France), July
May 2005. Toronto Women’s Bookstore. May 12, 2005.
December 2004. Egypte: écritures contemporaines (readings in Aix-en-provence,
Arles, Auriol, Marseille). Sponsored by Association Libraires du Sud.
May 2004. Reading at Goethe Institute, Cairo. See also: www.goethe.de/ins/eg/prj/mal/arl/aam/imr/por/deindex.htm
September 2003. Frauenfelder Lyriktage (Switzerland). See: www.bsz-bw.de/eu/lyriktage/sieben/mersal.html
June 2003. Poetry International, Rotterdam (Netherlands): 33rd Poetry
International Festival. See also: www.poetryinternational.org/cwolk/view/22315
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 www.factoryschool.org/content/sounds/havanaglen.html.
March 2002. Pro Helvetica (Basel, Zurich, Berne): "Modern Arabic Poetry"
March 2001. Institut du Monde Arabe (Paris): "French-Arabic Poetry
April 2001. Special guest at the University of Lyon, and the University
of Aix-En-Provence, France.
June 2000. Literaturhaus (Köln): "Kölner Lyrikfestival" (Cologne Poetry
September 1997: University of Aix-En-Provence (Aix-En-Provence, France):
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