Summer 2010: Of Note

Poet lecturing with whiteboard writing in Arabic

foreign relations: Allal El Hajjam teaches Emory students Arabic with a passion for the language as well as the culture.

Kay Hinton

Second Language

For Morocco’s poet laureate, Emory inspires Arabic-American exchange

By Margie Fishman

Poet Allal El Hajjam observed two faces of America as a disenchanted undergraduate in Fez, Morocco, during the 1970s. One was America the imperialist, a nation bent on conquering the world—or, at the very least, Vietnam. The second was America the pop icon, spun from Hollywood glamour, blue jeans, and a creative counterculture.

Now the poet laureate of Morocco and Mellon Visiting Associate Professor in Emory’s Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies (MESAS), El Hajjam has changed his views dramatically—he sees America as his inspiration.

“This is the culmination of my ten-year conversation with America,” says El Hajjam, of Sabaah Emory (Emory Morning), a new collection of poems he penned during the past year while teaching Arabic to Emory students. “Emory affected me deeply.”

The twenty poems in his new collection, many of which have been published in newspapers throughout the Arab world, cover such topics as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., MARTA, and even the Emory Village Starbucks.

El Hajjam is visiting Emory through a faculty exchange program with Al-Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco, where he is a linguistics professor.

MESAS hosted an event in April honoring El Hajjam’s poetry and teaching, where he read selections from Emory Morning in Arabic while students followed with their English translations of his work.

MESAS major Carol Ross 12C appreciated studying with a working poet. “When you’re learning Arabic, a lot of it is about Arabic culture,” she says. “We had someone who is not only comfortable with the language but has a passion for it.”

El Hajjam hopes his collection will introduce Emory to a wider Arabic audience and perhaps even heal some of the tensions between the U.S. and the Arab world. “Poetry always tries to render the present more honorable,” he says. “What’s missing in the Arab-American relationship is this kind of conversation.”

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