photo: author's archive

Laudatory Speech for Hatif Janabi

Honourable Guests,

Hatif Janabi is a poet and scholar of Polish and Arabic culture from Iraq, where he was born in 1952. He came to Poland in the mid-1970s, where he graduated with a degree in Polish Studies from the University of Warsaw, later obtaining a doctorate from the same University, and was a long-time lecturer at his Alma Mater.

I have accompanied Hatif Janabi's work almost from the very beginning - or is it his work that accompanies me? This question will certainly remain open in this case. This refers to publications available in our country. His 1983 debut volume Księga Wschodu (“The Book of the East”) was published in exactly the same year that I began my Arabic studies. I used to often encounter him in the narrow corridor of the Arabic Studies Department in Warsaw. And thus, to me, he was "living Arabic poetry". And I have been nourished by poetry for as long as I can remember, so meeting an Arab poet 'live' was an important event for me. Later, I read further volumes, first in Polish, then in Arabic, also as a translator of, for example, The Angels of Mercy (1995), and perhaps above all, the 2018 poem Trakt Królewski (“The Royal Road”), which is so important in the context of today's ceremony. The Polish motifs in his poetry can be seen in the very first collection, which includes the figure of Juliusz Słowacki – to me, the most outstanding Polish poet of all time. In contrast, I consider The Royal Road, explicitly embedded in Polish non-reality, to be one of Hatif's most significant achievements as a poet. Hatif's poetry manifests itself here primarily as a vision, if not visionary. The visionary work of a Classical Arabic bard and a contemporary resident of Warsaw with foreign roots. One can see the Poet's commitment to what a difficult and painful modern age presents us with. Poland and Warsaw have already been tamed by Hatif, yet he still looks at them through the eyes of someone who has come here from somewhere. He has experienced all the visions and events, revised them, processed them in his own way, and presents the world with a work of extraordinary aesthetic and cognitive value.

Hatif Janabi's entire published oeuvre now comprises more than a dozen titles, including his own volumes of poetry, translations of Polish literature, mainly poetry, and a monograph on Arabic theatre. In addition to this, he is the author of dozens of texts on contemporary Polish and Arabic literature and culture published both in collective works and in printed and electronic journals, most of them reaching an Arabic readership, and it should be remembered that this language is currently spoken by around 300 million people. Hatif is also an excellent translator of Polish poetry into Arabic. In his translation, collections by Wisława Szymborska, Czesław Miłosz, Tadeusz Różewicz, and Dariusz T. Lebioda have been published, i.e. very important figures in contemporary Polish poetry, who have so far only been partially known to the Arabic reader from the few, occasional, often indirect translations published in various periodicals. He has been honoured with several prestigious national and international awards for his work.

The translator, as well as the researcher of foreign cultures, is a mediator between these cultures, which may be considered a truism, but this statement takes on a new quality when it relates to Hatif. His work is the result of the fact that, through decades of direct contact with Poland, with Polish poetry, with poets and with the culture as a whole, he is able to immerse himself as deeply as possible into the Polish mindset, into Polishness, which he conveys in a language that is so different, a culture that is so different. The pinnacle achievement in this respect is certainly the comprehensive anthology Pięć wieków poezji polskiej od Kochanowskiego do 2020 (“Five Centuries of Polish Poetry from Kochanowski to 2020”), consisting of more than 900 pages and featuring about 70 poets, mostly from the 20th and 21st centuries. It is this monumental work, the result of decades of work, published in 2021, that deserves special attention, not only for its sheer volume, but also for the quality of the translation and the way it delves into Polishness and the changes that have taken place within it over the course of half a millennium. The translator does not run away from translation problems. With equal meticulousness and - so to say - ingenuity, he approaches texts that are relatively easy to translate, as well as those that even Polish readers find difficult to interpret, if only to mention, once again, my favourite poets, besides Słowacki, namely Mikołaj Sęp-Szarzyński, Miron Białoszewski, and Ewa Lipska. And since then, works by more poets have been published in magazines, being perhaps the seed for the next volume of the anthology.

Besides poets, prose doesn't go unnoticed by Hatif either. He introduced Arab readers to works by Olga Tokarczuk, Wiesław Myśliwski, Stanisław Lem, or Witold Gombrowicz. It is evident that even in terms of prose, Hatif does not shy away from difficult texts, often requiring linguistic acrobatics and an excellent knowledge of the meanders of Polish culture and the Polish language itself, and thus also the meanders of the art of translation and intercultural mediation. In some cases, we had interesting discussions about the translation of one phrase or another, which also gave me - as a translator of Arabic literature - food for thought.

The work of Hatif Janabi on behalf of our culture, however, does not only include translations of poetry, but also critical texts by the luminaries of Polish intellectual life, as well as excellent scientific, popular science, and critical texts on the history of Polish writing and literary news. It does not take much effort for Arab readers to keep up to date with our literary and cultural life thanks to Hatif. A series of publications popularising Polish research in the field of Arab studies and Islam, including books by Prof. Barbara Michalak-Pikulska, who is also present at today's meeting, is also of great importance.

The Transatlantyk Award is an extremely important accolade and one that Hatif Janabi deserves more than most. I am proud and happy that his universal activity for the popularisation of Polish culture in the Arab world has been recognised by the Book Institute. I appreciate this also as an Arabic scholar, because I too am passionate not only about the popularisation of Arabic culture in Poland, but also about what Hatif is undertaking, since I myself also do not want to be perceived in the Arabic world as ‘a man from nowhere’.

Dear Hatif, Dear Friend, I congratulate you sincerely and wish you a further hundred years of activity for the benefit of Polish culture in the Arab world.

–  Laudatory speech for Hatif Janabi  by Prof. Marek M. Dziekan at the Transatlantyk Award Ceremony