Adonis Diaries

How to Read “Real” Arab Poetry? By Syrian poet Adonis

Posted on: August 1, 2011

Adonis on How to Read ‘Real’ Arab Poetry

I am disseminating this article posted by mlynxqualey on July 17, 2011. I erased the commentary. I will add a few comments.

Poetry that reaches all the people is essentially superficial.

Real poetry requires effort:  it requires the reader to become, like the poet, a creator. Reading is not reception.”

Replying to one translator-poet Khaled Mattawa’s students who said that poetry was an insufficiently popular form, Poet Adonis s added, “I suggest you change your relationship to poetry and art in general.”

Elliott Colla translated Adonis’  “Ambiguity” in the new journal Asymptote.

Adonis writes (via Colla):

“Ambiguous is how a reader describes a text that he cannot grasp, or that he cannot master in a way that turns it into a part of what he knows…

Since Islam, Arab society has lived in a world of complete certainty…

In this manner, poetry, the verbal weapon of the Bedouins, was transformed into an instrument serving the mind, not unlike how a spoon serves the mouth.

The value of a tool-instrument lies in our trust and ability to rely upon it. It lies in the confidence we place in it: We lift the spoon to our mouth everyday without thought or effort. We wear shoes everyday without thought or effort. So too are we supposed to read and understand a poem: without thought or effort.

So poetry becomes a form that we can consume, like a Popsicle or pop song, without thought or effort. But why clarity?

Because clarity is a necessary function of the oral arts.  Oration is a form of articulation that imposes on the speaker a distinctive rhythm, a directness, simple words and clear ideas.

And the need for clarity was further solidified by Arabic poetry’s status as a “science”.

Arabic poetry began, like every science, to describe reality in terms of minute detail and what is adequate, and its primary value became tied to its use and benefit.

In this way, poetry began to move within an intellectual-rational framework, that is, it became a kind of reiteration, a mold, a subject to study and apply, something concerned with presenting “the truth” more than something concerned with innovation and invention.

Those were the “old” poets.  What is “real” poetry?

…The poet is a poet only on one condition: only insofar as he sees what others do not and that he discover and push forward.

And who is reading poetry?

…the reader who proceeds from memory, custom and received tradition, far from the spirit of constant advance and discovery, carries on in his thinking when faced with a poem as his body carries on when faced with a substance to consume: he does not consider himself the owner of the thing until he has consumed it. This kind of reader is good for everything but poetry.

The difference between reader and poet is a form of complementarity that compels the reader to become another creative genius, another poet. (End of quote)

What did I understand?  Even this short exposure, general in nature and needing many detailed example for proper comprehension, was good enough at the third reading for me to comment.

Most of us, start our hand at writing “poems”.  We believe that holding a diary to expressing our confused ignorance about our feelings, life and the universe, is a dangerous enterprise, it reveals our weaknesses, though life is ours and we are the stronger in hope and plans…

As we try to emulate the poems of our favorite poets, the feelings are gone, the diary is gone, our perseverance is gone, our emotions are hidden even deeper, and we missed the train.

What would have happened if Rimbaud failed to publish his work at this young age? Passed this great opportunity, Rimbaud lived in obscurity, nothing of value resurfaced.

A Poem is an excellent means to describing the confused emotions and feeling, describing the confusion, and not making sense of why we are confused. There are many different other expression forms to explain “what make sense”: Poetry is not one of them.

The good poems of pre-Islamic period were beautiful:  They were frank, bold, individualistic, and described accurately the environment and the customs.  They told stories and were downright slutty, as direct as folk songs.

The pre-islamic tribes didn’t enjoy a steady and timely communication with urban civilization, and the only innovation was displayed in more dramatic description of emotions…

After Islam, poems were inclined to becoming lyrical, general, sticking to the new culture of One God, and the sharia or the religious laws.  It became very difficult to be inventive since individuality was a dangerous tendency that was proscribed.

Poets needed the support of princes and emirs to survive in this most valued and appreciated job: memorizing poems was still a great tradition among people, and reciting poems was the best means to being recognized.  Poetry became an industry, with consensus standards, and becoming inventive and innovative in poetry style and topics was not profitable.

Even the most “revolutionary” poets had first to prove that they mastered the traditional style and language before they ventured into their own style. The content of poems didn’t vary much.  The urban poets mocked the life-style of the nomadic tribes, but could not resist boasting of belonging to a tribe, even a faked tribe of his own invention, though they have not linked with the tribe for decades and forgot entirely how to survive in a nomadic environment. For example, Abu Nawas.

You could read in a single poem many topics, and get confused what is the purpose of the poem, if not for targeting my doors, hopefully one of the topics will strike a chord in a rich provider.

For example, Abu Tammam, a 10th century poet, could be considered a modern poet: He focused on satisfying the wants of society, particularly, the caliph and princes who expected decent poems that won’t antagonize the perception of a divine authority.

So how modern poets, after Islam, could circumvent the restrictions if not taking refuge in sciences, and borrowing new terms that didn’t exist, and trying to explain the terms in poetical forms?

In translating poems, it is vital that the context be explained extensively in a note, unless it is a poem written by a youth, expressing the confusion in his emotions and feelings.

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adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

August 2011
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