With thy diurnal sweigh that crowdest ay
And hurlest al from est til occident
That Naturelly wolde holde another way
-Geoffrey Chaucer, The Man of Law’s Tale
1 No irony
Charles Cantalupo’s “Non-Native Speaker” is a poem written, improbably, in dactylic hexameter, the heroic meter of Homer and Virgil. The meter was, at least for me on my first reading, hard to catch. Fortunately, the author tips us off in the poem’s conclusion. It isn’t that the meter is too subtle to recognize; but who would expect such a form? My well-trained ear was ready for anything as long as it could—within an acceptable mean of variation—inhabit a genre that could make its contours visible to me. (Genre is, we might say, the way we know, the way we see).
As I read, my ear looked—and the improper visual metaphor is precisely the point—for a unified semblance. In doing so, it constructed this sensible rule: a heroic line (in these latter days presided over by Pierre Menard) calls for an ironic stance. An epic poem in 2013, now that history comes from historians, requires a place built for the poem to ensconce itself in, a world-frame that is built out of those six laden-with-tradition dactyls. With this “possible world” in place, an author, such as Charles Cantalupo, who casts himself as the hero, Charles Cantalupo, could be justified—but not in this historical world. This was the irony I hoped to find: an irony older than Chaucer, but as contemporary as Brooklyn: I, “Charles Cantalupo,” the hero of this poem, do not exist.
And in the nowhere and nobody of the poem, in its other-worldly sovereignty, we, reader, hero and author, find a place to sit together.
But what my ear wanted it didn’t get. And with the loss of its regulatory functioning, this lack of equilibrium (genre is, we might say, equilibrium), my regular understanding of how the world works transformed into disorientation. No, there was no irony in “Non-Native Speaker.” It was the author’s earnestness, the author’s this-worldness that confused and troubled me. Even when the author himself tells us, “I chose dactylic hexameter, the epic line –Virgil’s / In the Aeneid and Homer’s in the Odyssey – for my / Poem ironically,” his earnestness belies his words and turn the irony away.
Instead of irony, instead of this splitting of worlds, there is something else. But what is it? The author, with his large, long-lined presence seems to block the view. Or is it a trick of perspective by which the center of the poem seems outside the poem—as if the storyteller were telling the story of himself, and not Odysseus, or Aeneas; as if there were a short-circuiting of the muse that caused us not to see the subject of the poem.
(The subject of the poem—or did I mention it?—is translation).
My point, then, is that there is a generic dissonance in Charles Cantalupo’s heroic verse. In “Non-Native Speaker”, the writer makes a bid to talk to the reader, to talk to, not to talk next to or behind the invisible barrier that holds this world infinitely far away from the world of the poem. The heroic meter, then: perhaps we can think of it as a reminder that we can never fully pierce this barrier; that tradition itself is a possible world, and not this one now, and so is language. Poetic formality then becomes a language in a language; the labyrinth, to borrow the phrase from Raymond Queneau, which the poet creates in order to escape from. Perhaps that is what the author means by irony.
A poem, generally speaking, offers one end of a dialogue between a this-world and a that-world, and the that-world helps us to make sense of the this-world. But here something else happens: the earnestness of the poem tries to open a dialogue not between the possible world and the everyday world—but between two everyday worlds. (The everyday world: the back room of poetry). And it is here that translation takes the forefront of the poem.
And this, this dialogue, which, like any dialogue, is also a wall, is the problem: the common frame that brings persons together and that makes anything like translation possible, doesn’t always envelop the frames that keep group identities apart—and when this is the case, the allegiances of the person, of the person as translator, become split.
We can sit outside in our possible world and speak of the world-transformational power of poetry —irony! Or we can describe the way we suffer this rift in our experience, the experience of something missing, unbridgeable. This is what Non-Native Speaker does.
2 The three machines
The poem reads as a kind of “defence of translation”. It tells the story of the translator-as-hero: the man who, among other achievements, translated the Eritrean poet Reesom Haile from his native Tigrinya into English; who was told that no one could do it: “Too many levels of meaning, rhyme, allusions, and word-play.” And in doing so, our hero becomes a “joiner,” and so Reesom calls him. And Cantalupo tells us that in fact, “’Poetry’ had no Tigrinya word but ‘joining’ for the art.”
But “Non-Native Speaker” is also an indictment of translation, and of the translator. It is an indictment of this same hero whom the poem celebrates, the hero who makes something visible here, but in whose working upon that delicate membrane of poetry—image, appearance—transfers the axis of the thing from there to here. Here, as in nowhere: global network; lingua franca; apolitical aesthetic (a place not far as the crow flies from the ironic nowhere-place where author, hero and reader can meet outside the world).
“Written literature and orature are the main means by which a particular language transmits the images of the world contained in the culture that it carries,” writes Ngugi wa Thiong’o. This danger is evident for Reesom Haile, who ends his collaboration with Cantalupo, and tells the “hero” of the poem “You’ll be a symbol—just used for propaganda and seen as / Evidence freedom of speech is guaranteed by the regime.”
Cruel firmament indeed when seen from the view down here, the view from the unjoined world, where consciousness, fragmented, sees out of innumerable eyes, each the focus of a world, and forms its language out of innumerable congregations and congregatings of these foci.
But this is just one view of the cosmos. Cantalupo’s defence/indictment traverses three spheres—three machines—each with its own set of rules, each demanding its own allegiance, each with its own sweigh:
The first machine: this we can call the cosmic proper, the whole—where the idea of a non-native speaker cannot exist because we are all native to the universe; where consciousness, which is the desire for consciousness of the whole, follows a natural inclination towards discovery, towards joining; where the natural desire of the self would be to join, to share, to unify. But, in a world where there is no non-native speaker, there is no need for translation.
Thus, the second machine: the regional consciousness; the consciousness of one’s congregation. This is the level of the identity of self and other; where geography, demography, and history make for us a language that we live in. From here, a gesture from the whole, from the first machine, appears as volition, as danger, as encroachment upon the territory of one’s identity. The whole of the cosmos, we might say, is for those that have the time and leisure to contemplate it.
The third: the perspective of one’s self as a unique and uniquely languaged being. Here, experience is fact. No matter how socially constructed, the lived experience of a self is still the place out of which emanates the world.
Cantalupo does not let go of this cosmic consciousness, of a logic founded on unity, of a world where we all share—not language, but the language of language: a world where translation is possible, and necessary. Nonetheless, he has to make himself flesh as he comes into the fragmented world of the second machine, as he traverses geographies and histories. There is nothing heroic here. History, and the suffering of history is made through such traversals, and in the clash of these machines.
But what is a poem? A poem is something that does not fit. Something that extends the signifying power of language—something that creates language where it was not, and that joins through the clash between an old language and a new one. The joiner must reckon with the unjoined, the not-yet-joined and with the violence of bringing together what was apart and with the mechanisms that each machine creates for maintaining its sphere of order. The joiner creates a wound where there wasn’t one. This is translation: the “production” of the third machine, as it disrupts tradition, and questions the very cosmic order that questions it. The hero, we might say, lies here: the one who tells, but the one whose story is elsewhere. - by Noam Scheindlin
White man and non-native speaker, could I ever understand?
Africa witnessed enough of my kind – as in the scene from
Lee’s life of Malcolm: the white girl asks him, “What can I do? What
Can I do?” “Nothing,” he answers coldly. “You can do nothing.”
And didn’t Biko believe the same? Black consciousness needed
No one like me to enable it and think I could do more.
Words like “revive” and “restore” are intimidating.
Someone like me making women, men and language they wrote in –
Language a few years ago I wasn’t even aware of –
Visible where they were unknown and invisible before?
It seems unlikely, I know, and here I am to tell you how?
Ignorance first was my teacher, yet I knew I didn’t know.
In 1970 I swore I should know my own culture
Rather than – at least before – my learning anyone else’s.
Euro-American, Casaubon-like, fifteen years later,
When I saw Jericho’s twenty ancient cities reduced to
Derelict refugee camps and dust, I felt my existence
Was an illusion and, one week later, I could have been on
Mars as I looked around Cairo’s state museum and didn’t
Understand anything – most of all I didn’t understand
I was in Africa, and the bottom (literally, if
You think of it geographically) was falling out of
My oath to only know what I thought essentially was me.
Making a long story short – or six long, dense poems later,
Based on my going to Africa, and no more to Europe –
Africa seemed to take over my ideas and my English.
White man and non-native speaker, couldn’t I still understand?
African writers – of course, in English – finished the picture,
Ngugi included, until I met him and saw it missing
African languages, as he gently but firmly told me.
Still as important as hearing him make this point, at least then,
Which was an interview for a journal, a friend took pictures –
Only of Ngugi I thought, but two weeks later when Larry
Sykes sent me contact sheets, I was shocked by what he included:
Photos of Ngugi and me exchanging questions and answers;
Sharply contrasting and black and white: a dialogue, “cultures…
Languages…translating…into their own languages,” to quote
What Ngugi said in the interview itself, and which seemed to
Situate me in the picture too, but not as I first thought.
As I continued to listen, Ngugi’s African language
Arguments let me return to just how Renaissance Europe
Scared off the “Ghost of the…Romane Language,” if I may quote Hobbes,
When writers started to use their native tongues and not Latin.
Why not in Africa but with English, French and whatever
Languages colonization imposed? Ngugi convinced me.
White man and non-native speaker, even I could understand.
But then I went to Eritrea and witnessed a nation
Using its languages – all nine – just as Ngugi envisioned,
And as it had for four thousand years, although “against all odds.”
That phrase a writer used to describe the thirty-year struggle
For independence the country had waged bloodily also
Could be applied to the way that writers had to survive in
African languages, leading Ngugi, Kassahun Checole,
Red Sea and Africa World Press founding publisher, me and
Zemhret Yohannes in Eritrea, the former fighter
Now a political leader and devoted to culture,
To hold a conference in Asmara called “Against All Odds.”
Featuring African writers who used African native
Languages, funded by many NGOs and foundations,
And most of all with the people of Eritrea’s support,
Hundreds of writers and scholars at the end of the meeting
Ratified African language independence, declaring,
“African languages must take on…etc.” – you can
Google the rest because here I must get back to my story:
Non-native speaker who practices enabling, more simply,
Translating, getting it into print and noticed by the world.
Traveling frequently to Asmara, planning AAO,
I met a poet – Tigrinya – who was popular and great.
Everyone loved him and I thought, why not try a translation?
“Translating poetry in Tigrinya? No one can. Too much.
Too many levels of meaning, rhyme, allusions and word play,”
Kassahun answered when I shared my idea with a hope that
He would be willing to publish our book, first in Asmara,
Then in New Jersey, since he had staff and offices in both.
Hearing him say “I would love to,” was enough for this speaker
With no Tigrinya to go to Reesom Haile, the poet.
“No,” he said matter of factly. “It’s too difficult. I’ve tried.
Our tongue has too much to get across. Our poetry has not
Lived in a book for a very long time. But I can email
Something if you really want to try,” and half a year later,
“Alewuna” showed up in my mailbox – Reesom’s best poem,
At least his most widely known, presenting me with the double
Challenge in poetry too great for translation and language
Also uniquely beyond translation (or so it was claimed).
“Alewuna” seemed to fit Charles Olsen’s “field” theory of verse,
Or so I thought as the poem in translation “projected”
Energy onto the page – a first draft Reesom rejected.
But we got better and better, settling into a style half
Beat poet, half Greek Anthology, at least that’s what I heard,
Not knowing oral traditions of Tigrinya performance.
Reesom addressed me as “Joiner” – “Mighty Joiner,” I’d reply.
“Poetry” had no Tigrinya word but “joining” for the art.
Now let an obvious point be made: a non-native speaker
First is empowered by native speakers, never the reverse.
Otherwise…well, we’ve seen that too often; Kassahun, Reesom
Zemhret and Ngugi revealed a way I couldn’t find alone.
They controlled any reviving visibility – not me.
Happily I played along and handled matters in English.
Reesom and I finished one book, then another but always
Printing the poems on facing pages, even in journals.
Finding an idiom and poetics both of us could share,
My job as translator also meant I had to appeal to
My target audience – English speaking; what the Tigrinya
Actually sounded like or exactly meant could come second,
On the condition that first the English had to be measured
Next to the rhythm of the Tigrinya’s comprehensive sense.
Making a poem sound good in English was my first calling,
Still only half of the bargain. I knew, but Reesom didn’t,
How to get published in journals, garner invites to readings,
Festivals, rich U.S. colleges and line up reviewers:
In brief, I handled the cultural production and its means,
Other than publishing itself – maybe call this enabling?
White man and non-native speaker, in a country still lacking
Such opportunities, I could understand at least how to
Get Reesom’s poetry known worldwide, and he became the first
Poet who wrote in Tigrinya, and who was Eritrean,
Famous outside of his country: poet laureate, some said,
Of Eritrea, although there really wasn’t one, of course.
Yet this claim bothered a lot of poets from Eritrea
Good in their own right and speakers of Tigrinya, yet other
Speakers of languages also widely used there, like Tigre,
Arabic, Bilen – remember, there are nine – and when Zemhret
Told me the problem had bothered him too, I was persuaded
That it was real and not merely ego, jealousy, or worse,
Politics stemming from Reesom’s recent change of heart, joining
Parties opposed to the PFDJ government, which had
Formerly held him in high esteem, especially Zemhret.
Now he invited me back to Eritrea to translate,
Edit and publish a new book: an anthology; poets
Writing in Arabic, Tigre and Tigrinya...for a start.
To include every language wasn’t possible. My co-
Editor, Ghirmai Negash, a really great Eritrean
Scholar, and I made the tough and still questionable choice
Not to include any oral poets – they deserved a book
Unto themselves, we agreed and planned on doing it someday.
Who Needs a Story?, despite its limits, would be the first book
Of Eritrean contemporary poets in local
Languages and in translation: published locally too by
Hdri ,which Zemhret directed in Asmara yet, I hoped,
Marketed globally and not only in Eritrea.
I wanted readers to enter bookstores, find the shelves labeled
Poetry, go to anthologies, and there – with the standard
German, American, French, Italian, English, Chinese or
Whatever else has been there for ages – reach out for the book
That should have been there before but never was until today.
“Who Needs a Story? What’s that?” she says in some Barnes & Noble.
“I never heard of this. Let me buy it. I kind of like it.”
Back to reality, or what led to this dream coming true.
“You’ll be a symbol – just used for propaganda and seen as
Evidence freedom of speech is guaranteed by the regime.”
Growling at me through the phone from Brussels, Reesom said “Fuck you,”
Ending our partnership. Others also told me not to go,
Except for Larry who said, “The door is open, so go in.”
Post 9/11 and Eritrean politics aside,
I went and worked with great poets who knew beauty and said so.
Anyway I couldn’t translate propaganda if I tried.
Poetry yes, yet the way things worked with Reesom – producing
Cultural means for the work’s dissemination? – came up too.
This time the challenge was even greater: with which I’ll conclude.
Doing the book in Asmara was a story in itself.
Seemingly half of Asmara’s university taking
Part in the translating process with Tigrinya and Tigre –
Ghirmai Negash was in charge of getting good first drafts to me.
Arabic poems were first sent to a translation center
Set up in Lebanon – Zemhret handled this – and instead of
Feeling as usual like an author writing a book in
Private, I seemed like one person in a Renaissance workshop
Doing my part on a massive painting, only the subject
Was war and peace in the Eritrean struggle to survive,
Pictured in two local and two global languages worked on
Over and over by many people’s hands into poems.
Many got published in journals, good ones too, and the map of
Poets worldwide now includes the poets from Eritrea,
Heard and made visible outside Eritrea in their own
Languages and in translation. OK. But let me tell you,
Getting the Arabic and Ge’ez scripts right where they belonged,
Recto from Latin, drove Ghirmai crazy. Hdri had problems
Figuring out how to use its new technology shipped from
I don’t know where and with God knows what directions. But even
Stranger, at least so it seemed to me, were some other issues.
White man and non-native speaker, would I ever understand?
Copyright in Eritrea was discouraged since the war –
Smacking of ego and counter-revolutionary too.
Ghirmai insisted I make sure Zemhret knew we must have it.
Globalization required a book have an ISBN.
No Eritrean book ever had it, with one exception:
Kassahun’s. When I was certain Hdri got us our number
I thought our problems were solved, but Zemhret also assigned me
To find distributors, of which I knew nothing but learned fast,
Getting rejected by mega firms like Bowker, who didn’t
Recognize “999,” Eritrea’s national number,
First on its ISBN, since no book came from there before.
“I never heard of it. Where? The Horn? In Africa? Really?”
Said the nice customer service rep who didn’t believe me.
Then there’s the time when I went to pick up proofs in Asmara.
Crossing a field to the building of the printer, Sabur, led
Also to peacekeeping UN soldiers camped right next door. Barbed
Wire and six satellite dishes made them happy – I didn’t.
Four of them cocked their machine guns, aimed, and Sabur’s gate opened.
“Entra qui,” an old attendant with a smile welcomed me in.
In Joining Africa, my prose memoir, many more stories
Like what I’ve already noted reinforce what I’ve said here.
Call it enabling but, it must go two ways and back and forth.
Postscript: remember Hobbes’s phrase, “the Ghost of the …Romane Language?”
I chose dactylic hexameter, the epic line –Virgil’s
In the Aeneid and Homer’s in the Odyssey – for my
Poem ironically: using Greek and Latin poetics –
But not too slavishly, which would make no sense and sound bad –
In my vernacular English, claiming African language
Poetry can be enabled by a non-native speaker.
Politics might say I contradict my argument, using
Some other language’s forms of beauty not really my own;
Arguing African language poets’ should be more widely
Heard in their languages, meaning their unique poetics too.
But here I have to confess my doubts political power
Comes from whatever enabling I do – it’s about beauty.
Malcolm X, dir. Spike Lee (Burbank: Warner Brothers, 1992), http://www.zimbio.com/watch/69A0K0b1ubm/Malcolm+X+Nothing/Malcolm+X. Cf. Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (New York: Ballantine Books, 1965), 292.
Steve Biko aka Bantu Stephen Biko (1946-1977). South African activist, theorist, and leader in Black Consciousness Movement; South African Student Organization (SASO) founder; killed in South African police custody. Cf. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWLeNMgdGcc&list=PL8AF6A60D7BE584AC
“Non-Native Speaker” was originally conceived as a presentation for a panel on “Enabling Practices: The Role of the Non-Native Speaker” at the conference, “Global Conversations: A Festival of Marginalized Languages,” at the International Center for Writing and Translation, University of California, Irvine October 24-26, 2007. Another panel at the same conference focused on “Technology: Revival, Restoration, and Visibility.”
Fictional character in the novel, Middlemarch (1874) by George Eliot, who presumes to an all-encompassing universal knowledge to be contained in an impossible and hopeless book that he tries to write. Cf. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2W6XUcIzXg
The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, also known as the Egyptian Museum or Museum of Cairo.
No African writer has as many major, lasting creative achievements in such a wide range of genre as and in both Europhone African and African language literature as the Kenyan literary and social activist, Ngugi wa Thiong’o (1938-). Encompassing African literature in practice and theory, his books include novels, plays, short stories, essays and scholarship, criticism and children’s literature. In January 2000 he observed:
I began writing novels, short stories, plays, and essays in 1960, when I was a student of English at Makerere University in Uganda, then an affiliate of London University. So…I have been writing for the last forty years.... From 1960 to 1977, I wrote in English, even though all the books were mostly about Kenya and Kenyan people. But from 1977 up to the present I have written my novels, short stories, plays, and books for children in Gikuyu language, one of more than thirty languages in Kenya. So half of my 40-year writing life was taken up with English and the other half by Gikuyu language…. Since the 60s…of the last century, when African countries started getting their independence, European languages have become the ones setting the terms of the debate on the literature of the continent. In schools and the colleges in Africa and abroad, the literature that is taught and labeled African literature is still the one mostly written in European languages. We can do more for our languages in our languages. I’ve said it before and I say it again that we must do for our languages what all other intellectuals in history have done for theirs: by producing the best that can be written and thought in the world. (Against All Odds: African Languages and Literatures into the 21st Century, dir. Charles Cantalupo (Asmara: Audio Visual Institute of Eritrea, 2007; distributed by African Books Collective), 8:39-11:47.
Lawrence F. Sykes (1941-) is a photographer and graphic artist, formerly Professor of Art at Rhode Island College. His photographs and collages appear in The World of Ngugi wa Thiong’o, ed. Charles Cantalupo (Trenton: Red Sea Press, 1995).
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651) ed. C. B. Macpherson (Hammondsworth: Penguin Books, 1968), 712. “The Language also, which they use, both in the Churches, and in their Publique Arts, being Latine, which is not commonly used by any Nation now in the world, what is it but the Ghost of the Old Roman Language?”
Eritrea has at least nine languages and no one official language. The most widely used languages are Tigrinya, Arabic, and Tigre. Minority languages include Kunama, Bilen, Saho, Afar, Hadareb, and Nera. Tigrinya, Arabic, and English predominate in business and government. Cf. Tekie M. Woldemichael, “Language, Education and Public Policy in Eritrea,” African Studies Review, 46:1 (April 2003), 117-34. “The outcome that Eritrea expects from its language policy is that every person will be well versed in her or his mother tongue and also will have the ability to communicate in the working languages of Eritrea – Arabic and Tigrinya – and in the international language of English.”
Dan Connell, Against All Odds: A Chronicle of the Eritrean Revolution (Trenton: Red Sea Press, 1997).
Launched by Kassahun Checole with the publication of Barrel of a Pen: Resistance to Repression in Neo-Colonial Kenya, Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s first book of essays, Africa World Press is devoted to the publication of books on the history, culture and politics of Africa and the African Diaspora, including Eritrea. Two years later, Kassahun founded the Red Sea Press. Subsequently, he has published over 2000 titles.
Zemhret Yohannes directs the Research and Documentation Center (RDC) and Hdri Publishers in Asmara, Eritrea.
For more on the Conference in Asmara:
Reesom Haile (1946-2003) was Eritrea’s first internationally known poet. He wrote in Tigrinya, one of Eritrea’s nine major languages. In exile during Eritrea’s war for independence from Ethiopia, he served for over two decades as a Development Communications consultant, working with UN Agencies, governments and NGOs around the world before returning to Eritrea in 1994. His first collection of Tigrinya poetry, Waza ms Qum Neger nTensae Hager (1997), won the Raimok prize, Eritrea’s highest award for literature. He published two other books of poetry, translated by Charles Cantalupo and published by Red Sea Press – We Have Our Voice (2000) and We Invented the Wheel (2002) – before he died in 2003.
A kind of unofficial Eritrean national anthem, “Alewuna, Alewana,” “We Have, We Have,” made Reesom Haile at the beginning of his poetic career so widely beloved throughout his young nation that the eponymous refrain practically became interchangeable with his name. Cf. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIQB4e44xnA, 0:00-2:02. All too soon thereafter, his political role changed, and he became one of the most eloquent and beloved voices of the loyal opposition.
Charles Olson (1910-1970), American, second generation 20th century modernist and poetic innovator argued in Projective Verse (1950) for the disavowal of any traditional poetic meter and form to invigorate poetic syntax and logic. Furthermore, a poem should “project” a form of spontaneous energy into a field, that is, onto a page, revealing at the same time a unique aural and visual quality, too.
The Beats were “[a] national group of poets who emerged from San Francisco’s literary counterculture in the 1950s. Its ranks included Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, and Gary Snyder. Poet and essayist Kenneth Rexroth influenced the development of the “Beat” aesthetic, which rejected academic formalism and the materialism and conformity of the American middle class. Beat poetry is largely free verse, often surrealistic, and influenced by the cadences of jazz, as well by Zen and Native American spirituality.
A collection of poems comprised mostly of epigrams from the classical to the Byzantine periods in Greek literature, The Greek Anthology has a long history, stemming from ancient times through medieval, leading to its translation into modern European languages and widespread popularity. Including a diverse range of inscriptions, erotica, anecdotes, satire, and more, the dominant style of its poetry and its translation is concise, clever, coherent, and clear.
The Tigrinya word for “to join,” referring to poetry, is “gtmi.” A poet is a getamay (m.) or a getamit (f.).
The PFDJ, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, is the ruling party of the State of Eritrea. In 1994, the PFDJ succeeded the EPLF, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, which had become Eritrea’s dominant political organization during its 30-year revolution. Triumphing in1991, the EPLF declare Eritrea independent in 1993 after an UN-supervised, popular referendum.
Ghirmai Negash is the author of A History of Tigrinya Literature in Eritrea: The oral and the written (Leiden: CNWS Publications, 1999; rpt. Africa World Press: Trenton, 2010) and The Freedom of the Writer & Other Cultural and Literary Essays (in Tigrinya). He is the translator of The Conscript (1927) by Ghebreyesus Hailu from Tigrinya into English (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2013) and, with Charles Cantalupo, co-translator and co-editor of Who Needs a Story: Contemporary Eritrean Poetry in Tigrinya, Tigre, and Arabic (Asmara: Hdri Publishers, 2005).