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Songs We Learn from Trees, published by Carcanet Press in the United Kingdom last year, is the first book of Amharic poetry in English translation. Over 250 pages of poetry from folk and sacred poems to modern and diaspora writers are presented by editors Chris Beckett and Alemu Tebeje, who are both poets and translators. While the anthology represents a representative sample of Amharic poetry, it is simply the tip of the iceberg, allowing readers to imagine how much more Ethiopian poetry is yet to be found and shared with a global audience through translation. 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 it introduced me to 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.

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