Born in Cairo, based in Seattle, Maged Zaher is a software engineer and poet who writes in his second language, English. His debut collection, Portrait of the Poet as an Engineer plays on his unusual combination of interests, while his latest book, The Revolution Happened and You Didn’t Call Me looks at the “unrest” in his homeland/country of origin Egypt and includes lines which encapsulate how revolution and software engineering and poetry and state violence collide:
If you follow the attached link
The state will happily deliver its violence to your computer
Here is a review of that, and a look at the revolution and its impact on a poet in exile:
The title only just recalls Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” except that in Zaher’s version it is less a structural problem of the revolution’s mediation than it is a personal problem: “you didn’t call me.” When a revolution happens in your hometown—and you are in exile—it’s not a matter of the personal being political, but the political becoming all too personal. Zaher’s personal affront at being left out of the revolution is for the most part ironic: a stance from which to launch humorous attacks on both “the regime” and those taking either a too-casual, or too uncritically enthusiastic, approach to the unfolding events.
And a review in Egypt Independent: (plus excerpt!)
The collection — Zaher’s third — opens with a two-line poem from Seattle. Here, the poet is leaving home in the summer of 2011 and returning to Cairo, the city of his birth. Zaher’s Cairo is both “a city under deconstruction” and, later, a city “under heavy rebranding.” Things are changing here, although we are not entirely sure how, why or to what end.
I found a podcast with Maged Zaher at UCLA, his talk described as A Poetry reading interspersed by an essay on poetics and politics.
He talks about his shift from writing in poems which were derivative in Arabic, to the exploration of a new language, and describes it in a sense as cheating, a method of defamiliarization handed to him as he explores the meaning of a new word in his writing. He also talks about Arab poets of the 90s, the experimental shifts in poetry away from rhyme and toward free verse, as well as away from the poet as hero, a move which meant also moving from reciting poetry to poetry which could only be spoken not sung. He describes his efforts to translate poems as well, although he also says Fady Joudah‘s translations are much better than his own, and that he is trying to learn from him. He especially praises Joudah’s translations of Mahmoud Darwish.
I also found some of Zaher’s translations at Jacket Magazine, a 40 page piece on three Egyptian poets:
The three poets are Ahmed Taha, Osama el Dinasouri and Mohamed Metwalli. He mentions the women poets too, Iman Mirsal, Fatima Kandeel, Nagatt Ali, Hoda Hussein, who he also talks about in the UCLA podcast, and his plans to translate their work.
Here are some readings and performances: