The 2011 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation went to Khaled Mattawa for Adonis: Selected Poems (Yale University Press, The Margellos World Republic of Letters Series).

The PEN Award for Poetry in Translation recognizes book-length translations of poetry from any language into English published in the previous calendar year and is judged by a single translator of poetry appointed by the PEN Translation Committee. Past honorees include David Hinton for his translation of The Selected Poems of Wang Wei; Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld for their co-translation of Open Closed Open by Yehuda Amichai; Anne Twitty for her translation of Maria Negroní’s Islandia; Pierre Joris for his translation of Lightduress by Paul Celan; and Wilson Baldridge for his translation of Recumbents by Michel Deguy.

2011 Judge

Martha Cooley

From the Judges’ Citation

“Khaled Mattawa’s translations of selected poems by the celebrated Syro-Lebanese poet Adonis (born Ali Ahmad Said Esber) plunge English-language readers into the life-work of a poet whose multiple registers of tone and feeling are both a provocation and a delight. Lyric, narrative, elegy, dream-sequence: these are just some of the modes in which this nimble poet responds to both private and public experience. And Adonis is fortunate to have found in Mattawa a translator whose attunement to the poet’s undertaking is so sharp—and whose respect for the poems’ energies has made for such a consistently startling collection.

Adonis’influence on contemporary Arabic literature runs deep; so, too, does his erudition and vigor as a literary critic and theorist. His poems offer sly, smart, and moving responses to Modernist initiatives and dares, even as they stake out fresh aesthetic territory of their own. Threaded through these supple translations is Adonis’ underlying awe and delight—in language above all, but also in childhood’s vividness, the mysteries of the self, and the dance of eros and thanatos. Ever-present as well is this poet-of-exile’s reckoning (equal parts canny and sorrow-ridden) with the absurd horrors and legacies of history.  (‘My consolation,” he writes, “is that the place from where I came / still whispers its secrets / to me . . . ‘)

With great elegance and skill, Mattawa has ushered Adonis’ richly varied formal experimentations and innovations into English. Assembled in this volume are poems from each of the more than five decades of this remarkable poet’s oeuvre. The translations’ tones and cadences feel right and true, their compressions unforced, their images incandescent, their enigmas authentic. Mattawa’s renderings of this vital voice from the Arabic world—along with his superbly informative and thoughtful introduction—are a grand and timely gift to readers everywhere.”


Jonathan Galassi for Canti by Giacomo Leopardi (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Michael Hofmann for Angina Days by Gunter Eich (Princeton University Press)
Charles Simic for Oranges and Snow by Milan Djordjević (Princeton University Press)