I wanted to write Ethiopian poetry instead of English-style poems about my youth in Ethiopia, so I went online and discovered Debteraw, a website owned by Alemu and dedicated to Tsegaye Gebremedhin. It turned out to be a different Tsegaye Gebremedhin than the Ethiopian poet laureate I was looking for, but as a result, I met Alemu.
After that, we began collaborating on poem translations. Bewketu Seyoum, whom Chris had met in Addis Ababa, was the first poet whose work we translated. We translated one of his poems, “Kezaf yetekeseme zema,” as “Songs we Learn from Trees,” and began sending our translations to periodicals like Modern Poetry in Translation, which accepted them. Before this, there were very few Ethiopian poems in English translation. There wasn’t a single Ethiopian poet in The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry, which I purchased. “We have to do something about this!” I exclaimed. Tell us about your Amharic poetry translation experience (and poetry in general). For example, Mihret’s poetry “The Planner,” translated by Uljana Wolf, is universal: I believe an English reader could read the translation and enjoy nearly the same experience as an Amharic reader with the original. Other poems, on the other hand, are filled with Ethiopian-specific sensations that are difficult to convey in translation. To be honest, translating the subject of some of these poems, particularly those dealing with historical and social events, was difficult. It’s a lot of labor.