Robyn Creswell teaches comparative literature at Yale University and is a consulting editor for poetry at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He is the author of City of Beginnings: Poetic Modernism in Beirut and contributes regularly to The New York Review of Books.
The Threshold 2023 Shortlist
The Threshold by Iman Mersal is a powerful collection of poetry that dissects the fluid architecture of identity, hidden memory, and language.
The Threshold by Iman Mersal is a powerful collection of poetry that dissects the fluid architecture of identity, hidden memory, and language. Mersal, an Egyptian-Canadian poet and writer living in Edmonton, Alberta, weaves together personal experiences, cultural references, and philosophical musings to create a vivid and eloquent poetic narrative. The poems in The Threshold, translated beautifully by Robyn Creswell, are deeply personal, reflecting the loss of her father, and her struggles with displacement and belonging, as she navigates different cultures and languages. She says that these poems mark the end of an era in her life and her relation to Cairo, the moment of leaving the life she knows behind: ‘A walk in Cairo, tracing its topography, becomes an elegy, as well as a celebration of the beloved city.’ When Mersal left Egypt for the first time, an aunt who had never left her home province sent her off with an Egyptian expression: ‘May it be a happy threshold’. The Threshold is a place of rebirth where one must undergo a ritual or transformation in order to cross over into a new world, a new horizon of life, and new borders of awakening.
by Robyn Creswell
As I return home with a dead bird in my hand, a little grave I’m about to dig waits for us in the backyard.
No blood on the washed feathers, two outspread wings, and a dewdrop (some concentrate of spirit?) on its beak, as if it had flown for many days while actually dead.
Its fall was fated in the Lord’s eyes, heavy and diagonal in front of mine.
I’m the one who left my country back there to go for a walk in this forest, holding a dead bird whose absence the flock never noticed,
returning home for a funeral that might have been solemn and grand were it not for the sneakers on my feet.
Copyright © 2022 by Robyn Creswell (translation) and Iman Mersal (original), The Threshold, Farrar, Straus & Giroux
A ruthless catalog of sorrows:
years in front of the screen, diplomas before jobs,
and languages—all that torture—now ranged under Languages.
Where are all the wasted days? And the nights
of walking with hands stretched out
and the visions that crept over the walls?
Where are the feelings of guilt
and the sudden sadness faced with a little hill of fruit
atop a handcart in some forgotten street?
Years with no mention of the empty hours or the funerals,
expunged of black depressions and nibbled nails,
the house keys forgotten inside the house.
There isn’t a single open window
and no trace of the desire, deferred, to leap out.
A life overstuffed with accomplishments,
scrubbed free of dirt:
proof that the one who lived it
has cut all ties to the earth.
Copyright © 2022, translation by Robyn Creswell, from the Arabic of Iman Mersal, The Threshold, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Interview with Robyn Creswell about The Threshold Four Way Review
- Review: The Threshold Poetry Foundation
- Visiting Poet: Robyn Creswell on Iman Mersal Poetry Society of America
- Adaptation or recreation? The art of translating poetry into another language The Globe & Mail
- Griffin Trustee Sarah Howe Interviews Robyn Creswell and Iman Mersal