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Borrowing or Transcreating? On Agha Shahid Ali’s Ghazals and Their Multilingual Intertexts


· Rosine Vuille Museum Rietberg (Zürich, Switzerland)


07/27 | 09:40-10:00 UTC+2/CEST


More and more writers navigate several linguistic and cultural universes; the frames of reference for their work expand accordingly. In such cases, intertextuality(or Genette’s notion of palimpseste) functions not only at a monolingual level but also across languages and across cultures, creating an extremely complex multilingual literary universe. The work of the Kashmiri American poet Agha Shahid Ali (1949-2001) offers an excellent illustration of this phenomenon of dense and multilingual intertextuality. Ali was born in Delhi in 1949. He grew up mainly in Srinagar, speaking Urdu, Kashmiri and English. In 1976, he settled in the USA where he taught Creative Writing. English was his language of writing, thinking and teaching. However, through his readings and his own linguistic background, he was familiar with the literatures of several continents. His poetry attests his multiple interests, the breadth of his readings and his sources of influence. In his work, pop culture meets the masters of the Urdu ghazal, allusions to Sufism can rhyme with images from urban life in New York and Hindu mythology dialogues with contemporary American poets. But beyond implicit and explicit references, Ali also translates parts of poems by Urdu poets like Ghalib or Ahmed Faraz and elaborates on them. In this paper, I propose to examine Ali’s poetry, more specifically his ghazals, through an analysis of his use of borrowed verses and of his transcreation of existing poems. After a general introduction to Ali’s work and literary universe, I will look more closely at three of his ghazals, which are expansions or rewritings of poems by (respectively) Ghalib, Faraz and Wisława Szymborska.