Khaled Mattawa

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Khaled Mattawa

Libyan poet and translator Khaled Mattawa, was born in Benghazi in 1964 and emigrated to the United States in 1979. His most recent collection of poetry is Tocqueville (2010) and his most recent translation work is Selected Poems (2010) by Arab poet Adonis.

Mattawa holds an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University — where he was teaching when he won an Academy of American Poets award in 2010. Mattawa has also received a Guggenheim fellowship, a translation grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Alfred Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, the PEN American Center Poetry Translation Prize, and three Pushcart Prizes. The poet Marilyn Hacker has described Mattawa’s work as “politically astute, formally daring, grips the reader with an intelligence that spotlights, too, its sensual and emotional (and historical) accuracy.”


The trick is that you’re willing to help them.
The rule is to sound like you’re doing them a favor.

The rule is to create a commission system.
The trick is to get their number.

The trick is to make it personal:
No one in the world suffers like you.

The trick is that you’re providing a service.
The rule is to keep the conversation going.

The rule is their parents were foolish,
their children are greedy or insane.

The rule is to make them feel they’ve come too late.
The trick is that you’re willing to make exceptions.

The rule is to assume their parents abused them.
The trick is to sound like the one teacher they loved.

And when they say “too much,”
give them a plan.

And when they say “anger” or “rage” or “love,”
say “give me an example.”

The rule is everyone is a gypsy now.
Everyone is searching for his tribe.

The rule is you don’t care if they ever find it.
The trick is that they feel they can.

From Tocqueville (New Issues Press, 2010)



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