Iraqi Author-Poet Ghassan Hamdan

BY: Azad Karimi

We can't objectively evaluate any nation’s literature through modern translations only, because to be fair, the majority of works translated these days is the famous books in each country.




Iraqi Author-Poet Ghassan Hamdan


By Azad Karimi


Ghassan Hamdan is an active and skilled author.


Look at his record to believe my claim. He has translated several famous novels of Kurdish literature and literary works of many Persian literatures. He has also published many books in Arabic, his mother tongue.



For me, who considers Persian literature and Persian language in addition to my mother tongue, Ghassan's work is very valuable and eternal.


For example he has translated from Sohrab Sepehri. He was a

Formalist poet and his peoms had a special audience in Iran due to his formalism. That is, kind of people understood his poems that followed the poem scientifically.


Our interview is long, which is why I prefer to my readers pay attention the interview.

I wish my dear friend Ghassan, long life with success.

Thank you!




1-When started you such as a professional Author, Poet?


.I think since childhood I was very interested in art and culture, at a time very different from now as there were no computers or mobile phones through which we would waste our time using and keep us away from reading. Anyway, I followed my passion in arts and improved my drawing skills. Until the time I became familiar with the Iranian poet Sohrab Sepehri and I liked his poems and decided to follow a profession in literature.

And since reading isn’t enough to start writing, I started translating small novels until I was able to translate novels for the Egyptian novelist Najib Mahfouz into Persian language, and I kept translating until I felt capable of writing in 2000.


2-Who was your motivator?

.The cultural inspiration for anyone in art and literature is usually a group of individuals rather than just one individual, I can’t say that this particular author has inspired me the most, but the inspiration comes when each reader develops some form of awareness towards multiple authors.

 For example, the paintings of Salvador Dali, Raphael, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Delacroix and Vermeer were very inspiring and their works inspired me towards art for its great artistic features. As for literature, since I grew up in the Arab world and lived in Iran so I mixed the two cultures and was influenced by some great authors like:

" Sadegh Hedayat" , "Ahmad Mahmoud" and "Houshang Golshiri" and poets like "Sohrab Sepehri" , "Forough Farrokhzad" and "Ahmad Shamlou" from the Persian literature, and:

 "Naguib Mahfouz", "Ghaib Tumah Farman", "Gibran Kahlil Gibran", "Amal Donqol" and "Muhammad al-Maghut" from the Arabic literature.


Not to mention the translated literary works that opened new doors for a teenager like me in the 1980s.


  1. What was your parent's reaction?


.As for my parents stand, they for sure supported me to keep going, but we shouldn’t forget that the writer’s own will to write is above everything else. If the author doesn’t have that, all the support would be of no value. A seed should be fertile before it receives sun rays and water.


  1. What obstacles do you face as a translator from Arabic language, and into Arabic?


.The major obstacle is still in our lack of an institution that handles eastern literature. It’s true that we can publish our work at the national center for translation in Egypt for example or the general institution of writing in Damascus but they are both very busy in publishing translations of western and Latin literature and some written novels stay unpublished for years.


Another problem is that most publishing houses don’t desire to publish translated poems, especially Iranian poems, not to mention novels, while they desire political books and political biography, and this makes young translators abandon translation and work for political studies centers or work in journalism which is not even their specialty...


A translator should have the freedom in choosing his works, maybe the majority isn’t that much interested in Persian poetry, but certainly there are people who are interested. I have around 10 translated novels, poetry, theatre and ready to be published and I’m still looking for someone to publish them.

All what I wish for is to see an institution specialized in eastern culture, just like ‘House of Knowledge’ in Baghdad in Al-Maamun’s era, not just for publishing translated works but to give translators the time to practice translation as a job rather than just a hobby, a translator is just like anyone else looking for profit, like a teacher or an employee.

And there is another important matter, publishing houses demand the rights for authorship, which means a translator should negotiate with publishers to make them approve the work.

And this is the duty of the publishing house, not the translator’s. The translator’s duty is to suggest a book, and the publisher’s duty is to follow up the work.

Another thing I can add is that we can’t consider translators as experts in Arabic language, that’s why many linguistic and grammatical mistakes are found in their translations, the reason why is because publishing houses don’t want to waste their money on hiring a linguistic expert to review the book before publishing.


5-How you see the view, the future of literature, culture? You are a writer; you should have an opinion…


.I’m very optimistic regarding the future of authoring, culture will remain as it is continuous since the dawn of civilization. There are some people who doubt that arguing that the amount of readers are decreasing due to the internet and social media and we are living in the era of technology. But we have to remember that humans are smart and can make use of literature. We can transform novels into movies, TV shows and advertisements. And maybe science will develop other entertainment tools that people will use in serving literature and arts ... as long as there is passion for literature and artistic taste, writing will continue to exist.


In literature world, there are many works successfully translated from the original. It is possible that this successful translation helped the authors of the translation to the world. An example is the books of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky translated into lots of language. So, how is the translation going from the original in the modern literature?

The translation has a great effect in modern literature especially for those who have taken the chance once offered without any hesitation, and we have, for instance, in our current days a group of authors from many different countries (from Japan to Spain) who have made an astonishing fame in the Arab world. The favor in this case goes, not only to the amazing talents in writing and innovation, but also goes to the great translators. But the problem which a lot of Arab authors complain from is the weak movement of translation from Arabic language to the foreign languages, so I will stop with your question, do you mean the translation from the lands of modern literature languages, the European authors mainly, to Arabic, or the translation in general? It's clearly that the western modern literature has the high heel in this field, we have a lot of famous writers who reinforced their fame thanks to the translation to the others languages. But if we look a little bit aside we will see thousands of unknown writers who wait their own chance to become known. Also a lot of them waste their time waiting for Go dot! Maybe they will be known after years if they are lucky enough but the current situation is not promising.


  1. Can we evaluate the level of the literature of a single nation through modern translations?


.We can't objectively evaluate any nation’s literature through modern translations only, because to be fair, the majority of works translated these days is the famous books in each country. So translation introduces one side, of course a great side, but this side is not the standard of this or that nation’s literature, and we can't use this side as a measuring tool to make judgments about all nation’s literature, since many of translation effort is about novels mainly, and less about poetry and literature isn’t just novels and poetry! There are the criticism books, prose books, essays book, biographical books, plays, and travelling books, etc. So the modern translation gives us one part of the picture of the nation’s literature.


  1. Based on previous experiences, poetry translation is not translated. What do you say about it?


.Poetry is lost in translation. Not the meaning, as the poet always strives to convey the true meaning. But what is lost and becomes pale are poem’s soul and pictures, its form, rhythm and eloquence.


However, there are some translators who translate the poem in a better shape, if they were able to convey the poem’s soul and aesthetics, so it moves the readers.


Anyway, a poet is a special being that no one can reincarnate. Even if the translator was a poet himself, he wouldn’t be able to have the soul of the original poet. Every poet has his own poetic touch which is unique to him, like a fingerprint.


Maybe some poetic souls are kind of similar, but I find it impossible to have perfect matches. Once again I strongly affirm that it’s a necessity to translate other nation’s works to learn about their souls, cultures, thoughts, their civilization and their human features.

Some people claim that translating poetry is a betrayal, I hardly disagree.




  1. Why translating poetry is considered a betrayal, while translating novels isn’t?


. It’s true that no single language can be accurately and precisely translated into another language because of differences in terms, slangs and vocabularies, but we are in need of translating to have a view on others thoughts. Poetry is the language of the soul and emotions, not the mind.

So we need to listen to people’s souls to relieve our sorrows and find who shares with us our losses and miseries.


Even though it is claimed that translating poetry is betrayal, well, we do this betrayal even if we were unable to translate it literally. If it wasn’t for poetry translation, we wouldn’t have known some of the greatest poets like Arthur Rimbaud, Omar Khayyam, Charles Baudelaire, Anna Akhmatova, Nâzım Hikmet, Pablo Neruda, Sohrab Sepehri and many others.


One can’t learn all languages to read poetry in its original form and language. Yes, we as translators, have to pay more attention and put more effort into conveying the soul of the poem and all its meanings, rhythms and delicacy.

And for the other half of the question, I say this: if the translator was a professional, well aware of his profession then the mistakes will be very much less ... and it can’t be said that there is no single mistake in one translation. There is nothing totally absolute. Only God is perfect.


By the way I want add something here which is about Pandemic.

 How this disease impact your country's economy and your life...

The current Corona Virus pandemic definitely affects every aspect of life.

All Iraqi cities are currently on lockdown for 3 weeks now. Many people who live on daily work are no longer working. Food is available and markets and pharmacies are still open.

Gas is available too. People aren’t allowed to move unless for an emergency.

I reached out to several authors and translators and they aren’t working either due to psychological reasons, and they are spending their time in reading books and watching movies.


  1. How can you help our world become a better place for living?


I don’t know if I can make the world a better place or not, but I know that I can’t do that alone, as it requires a group effort, awareness, open mindedness and accepting others. That may not be easy but I will try to offer what serves humanity and peace mentality best so our world can be less violent.