Inspired by live translation slams that proved to be audience favorites at the Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival, and again at PEN World Voices, PEN’s Online Translation Slam aims to showcase the art of translation by juxtaposing in a public forum two “competing” translations of a single work.

The poem chosen for the current installment is a political slogan devised by Iranian protesters who took to the streets this June after the official results of the presidential elections were announced. The slogan refers directly to an insult levied at protesters by current Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who referred to them as khas-o-khaashaak, meaning dirt and dust, scraps and bits. The structure of this slogan (I am/you are), recalls a ghazal included in the collection Divaan-eh Shams by Rumi, the classic 13th century Persian poet who is generally considered one of the foremost figures in Iranian literary history and is known for celebrating love in his poetry. That slogans in the current protests in Iran are being based on poems bears witness to the extent to which poetry plays a role in the Iranian upbringing and consciousness. 

Protest Poem

آن خس و خاشاک تویی/ پست تر از خاک تویی
شور منم نور منم/ عاشق رنجور منم
زور تویی کور تویی/ هاله ی بی نور تویی
دلیر بی باک منم/ مالک این خاک منم

Aan khas o khaashaak to’i, past tar az khaak to’i,
Shoor manam, noor manam, aashegheh ranjoor manam,
Zoor to’i, koor to’i, haaleyeh bi noor to’i,
Daleereh bi baak manam, maalekeh in khaak manam!


You are worthless, you are waste,
     you are baser than dirt.
I am life, I am light, the lover with a
     grieving heart.
You are tyranny, you are blind, you
     are the halo without light.
I am brave, I am bold, I am the lord
     of this land.

Translated by Sassan Tabatabai

You’re just riffraff, lower than dirt,
I’m the aching lover, blazing and lit.
You’re the black halo, oppressive and blind,
I’m the brave hero and this land is mine!

Translated by Niloufar Talebi