The Between Two Islands anthology is the culmination of poetry workshops held with the Bahraini community in Britain. Published in March 2021, it is a first of its kind: a bilingual expression of a marginalised Bahraini diaspora identity. Over six weeks, thirteen Bahrainis met weekly to read, learn and write poetry. The central question asked was “What does it mean to be me, to be here?” Topics explored included Heritage, British identity, and the Future.

 

Making these workshops a bilingual space was essential for me as a producer. We read Arabic poems with English translations. Everyone was encouraged to write in their preferred language. Duality and displacement; nostalgia and authenticity: these common themes in diaspora poetry were explored and injected with Bahraini motifs and imagery: pearl diving; date palms; the village against the city; the sea, our ambiguous home.

 

The anthology fittingly features 10 English and 7 Arabic poems.  As editor, I decided not to translate the poems. I asked: who would I be translating this for? This anthology was a conscious attempt to create a community-oriented, collaborative work of art. The poems within were very raw. In this context, translation could easily have become a self-conscious justification.

 

Not translating the poems emphasises that they deserve to stand and breathe on their own. It is a statement: We are here to express ourselves. Translation might still come, but not at this first stage. I want to centre people living between cultures and thus it is fitting that bilingual readers should have the most comfortable reading experience. In doing so, the anthology continues to empower those who exist Between Two Islands.

 

Ali Al-Jamri is a Bahraini writer and poet, and a mentee on New Writing North’s Arabic Translation Mentoring Programme