St John's College Oxford

St John’s Fellows translate Arabic poetry by award-winning local school pupil

Date 5 October 2017

Two St John’s fellows, Professor Julia Bray and Professor Mohamed-Salah Omri, have been working with a local school, Oxford Spires Academy, translating the Arabic poetry written by its pupils.

Oxford Spires Academy runs a Poetry Hub for its pupils, and last year they held a creative writing workshop with award-winning Iraqi poet Adnan Al-Sayegh, in cooperation with the Creative Multilingualism research project. This is a four-year research programme investigating the interconnection between linguistic diversity and creativity. For many pupils at Oxford Spires Academy, English is an additional language, and at this workshop many wrote poetry in their native Arabic.

Arabic poetry anthology from local school Oct 2017Professors Bray and Omri were asked to translate some of the poems, which were then compiled in a published anthology. As Professor Bray explains, ‘Mohamed-Salah Omri is directly involved in Oxford Comparative Criticism and Translation, and I’ve worked with him and with people from across Medieval and Modern Languages, English and Oriental Studies in putting together an MSt in Comparative Literature and Critical Translation, which we hope will begin in 2018. It’s through that connection that we were both asked to come up with translations of a selection of the Oxford Spires Academy children’s poems.’

Author Kate Clanchy, who runs the Poetry Hub, commented, ‘The children were quite overwhelmed: I really cannot overstate the pleasure and pride they felt in seeing their work published in such a handsome book with such beautiful translations and transcriptions.’ 

She submitted a selection of the poems to the annual Betjeman Poetry Prize, a national competition for poets aged 10-13. Last week the winner was announced: 13 year-old Amineh Abou Kerech, from Oxford Spires Academy. Amineh was born in Syria and only arrived in the UK as a refugee in 2016. Despite speaking English for only a year, her poem, ‘Lament for Syria’ was written half in English, half in Arabic.

Read Amineh’s winning poem and find out more about the Betjeman Poetry Prize

Creative Multilingualism