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Eve Abrams reports on a new Arabic and English journal of arts and letters. The journal is called Meena and was created by two poets in New Orleans.
KATY CLARK: When most Americans hear Arabic, it's often in tones of strife. Two poets living in New Orleans want to change that. They've created a bilingual journal of arts and letters. It's called Meena. ?Meena? means port of entry in Arabic. It's a fitting name for a journal produced in the ports of New Orleans, Louisiana and Alexandria, Egypt. The name also gets to the heart of the journal's intent, to allow native Arabic and English speakers to enter each other's culture. From New Orleans, Eve Abrams reports.
EVE ABRAMS: Meena is almost two books in one. If you open it the way I normally open a book, the words read from left to right in English. But if you flip the book over, the words read from right to left in Arabic. It's the same words written by the same poets and writers, but the poems originally written in Arabic have been translated into English and the poems originally written in English have been translated into Arabic. The two texts meet in the middle. Here's Egyptian-born Khaled Hegazzi and his wife, Appalachian-raised Andy Young, talking about and reading from Meena.
KHALED HEGAZZI: I have a friend who used to live here. We hang out in Alexandria, Egypt, for two years and he always, like every night we had to talk about New Orleans. He would say, New Orleans looks like that. New Orleans has that. That's what brought me here.
ANDY YOUNG: We're poets and we met through poetry and we were best friends for many years before we got together and this was during our friendship period, I think we began talking about just feeling the need, really, for there to be more of a bridge between our languages. And we did some readings together cause I thought people needed to here Arabic in the context of something creative and beautiful instead of just the context that one gets on the news.
YOUNG: What makes me live?
YOUNG: Not the water that I was promised to unwittingly.
YOUNG: Not the chatting of passengers on my stripped back.
YOUNG: Just the sand that touches my wood as I reach land.
HEGAZZI: Meena means ?port of entry? and we used the name because we thought that literature or ideas or thoughts or art does not need any passport to enter to each other's cultures.
YOUNG: We've really been blessed because there's so many American poets that are really established American poets who just wanted to give us work. And I think it's because they wanted to be translated into Arabic. They wanted to speak for themselves directly to Arabic-speaking people.
ABRAMS: These aren't run-of-the-mill poets. They're some of the greats of both Arabic and English letters. American's James Tate and Charles Simic appear on Meena's pages. As do Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz and Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish.
HEGAZZI: Every time like I read a poem or I see a movie, I wish my people or my friends or my culture would experience that because there's a lot of beauty that I would love to transfer to everyone there to see.
YOUNG: To the blind singer, I'll light a lantern. For the barefoot women on the embers, I'll light two lanterns. We go along with the [SOUNDS LIKE] mat. We go along with those forlorn by time. Who knows? We might? There is so many issues with logistics of trying to do this on two continents and translators and no budget and all the rest. But there are a lot of people who are just very happy to hear both languages. To know someone's doing this. Tend to get a lot of thank you for what you're doing kind of ? at which feel like I should be doing something more direct. There's a part of me that feels an urgency about the things that we're trying to address. I feel it's all slower than I want it to be. But that's my path. I'm a poet. There's nothing I can do about it.
ABRAMS: You've been listening to Khaled Hegazzi and Andy Young talk about, and read from, their bilingual literary journal, Meena, accompanied by lute player Stuart LeBlanc. For The World, I'm Eve Abrams in New Orleans.