1 am in Lahore by Kathrine Sowerby

30th December 2014

In November 2014 Highlight Arts were in Lahore, Pakistan to work on a translation project with Sang-e-Meel and the British Council in Lahore.

Kathrine Sowerby was one of four poets including Jim Carruth  the Poet Laureate of Glasgow  (Makar), Afshan Sajjad, and Dr. Khaled Jan Javvaid, who took part in the workshops. This is part of a year long translation project in partnership with the British Council.


Truck Art in Pakistan – Photo: Kathrine Sowerby

1 am in Lahore and the weather update on my phone says dreary, a description that doesn’t fit anything I’ve experienced in the last few days. I haven’t slept much since arriving four days ago, with fellow Glasgow poet Jim Carruth, my head is too full of colour, noise, flavours, words and the wifi works best at night so I’ve been looking up names and places that have come up in conversation and filling my notebook so I don’t forget what I’ve seen and heard.

My previous experience of translation hasn’t involved a dialogue with the poet so sitting in a room above Sang-e-Meel bookshop with Lahore poets Afshan Sajjad and Dr Khalid Javaid Jan, has felt truly collaborative. In pairs we worked out where to start and how to start with our poems and bridge translations. It’s an intimate thing sitting for hours with someone you’ve just met, explaining the background and language of your poems. It’s also a friendly thing, but it takes patience and generosity and a willingness to listen. With both Afshan and Khalid this felt effortless.

Asked to choose two poems from each poet to work on, I chose two political poems and two that were more abstract. The political poems had clear messages and the discussion quickly turned to the current situation in Pakistan, while the abstract poems provoked talk around language. I learnt so much about both and also about my own writing. That’s a gift and I think what Dan and Ryan hope the projects they organise achieve.

Almost 2am, still dreary, but my photos show the red sandstone, yellow fabric, green tuc-tucs, blue lapis lazuli from our whirlwind tour of Lahore’s historical centre. And tonight we drank pink Kashmiri tea after dinner at Khalid’s home. When asked to come along on this project I didn’t have to think twice so, in the words of Afshan’s poem dedicated to Malala Yousafzai, “if you have to travel to learn, don’t hesitate, go!”

Originally Published on Reel Festivals website on December 2nd, 2014.

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