Syrian Kurdish Poet Golan Haji: ‘It’s Not Easy To Go for What One Loves

I had already been familiar with Abbas Kiarostami’s poetry when he read his short poems in France. I preserved my accents & became a foreigner in every language I speak, even in   Kurdish, except in the silence of writing. He studied medicine at the University of Damascus. God is every bird of them and all of them and none of them. Studying Arabic verse forms in detail, as a young boy, was a memorable pleasure, an early apprenticeship I enjoyed but soon declined because they were merely attempts in practicing formal music, which might be valuable for writing of any sort. The exception is the first five years of my childhood when the Kurdish was the only wide world. I almost lost my curiosity about most of them. However, I keep reading classical poets such as Al-Ma’arri who lived and died in northwest of Syria, and whose work “The Epistle of Forgiveness” might have influenced Dante’s “Divine Comedy”. ***
Are you familiar with Persian literature including the modern or classical poetry? Its folktales and oral history are a vital part of my memory. This small book in Danish contained some paintings of the Kurdish painter Bahram Hajo whose work had inspired that long poem. I remember now the polyglot Kurd Sufi poet Malaye Jaziri who spent his life in the Botan river island on Tigris. The poems I write start, like me, to move away from Syria. GH:   For the first time, in collaboration with Stephen Watts, I recently translated from Kurdish some poems of the young poet Ciwan Qado. One of her   closest   friends   told me that one night, when his visitors were about to leave, he found   her asleep on the threshold. You can find more than one translation of Forough Farrokhzad’s Rebirth    for example. Her “naïvety” is astounding sometimes, like raw brut art paintings. I was, and still am, fascinated, by The Conference of the   Birds. We cannot forget the Syrian Kurdish poet and novelist Salim Barakat who had grown up in the same Syrian Kurdish region from which I came, and now lives in Sweden. Going to school was the first disjunction of language. What are the influences? This linguistic “chaos” delimited the writing I experienced and has overrun the boundaries between forms. I could see that school from the other side of the border without being able to reach it ever. Anyhow, when the poem works and lives, it speaks better for itself. He used to say that the only reason he became a member of the Syrian Nationalist Party was the fireplace in its bureau, while he was a penniless young man in his hometown. I read it as a boy, and still the closest version to my heart is the Arabic. It won the Mohammad Al-Maghout prize. In an old issue of the extraordinary literary magazine Al-Karmel, whose editor-in-chief was the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, I remember Adonis replying this question: “Why do you write?” by saying: “I write in order to put down what God had said but didn’t write”. I cannot realize how I ended up giving up medicine, after long years of studies and work in hospitals and in Damascus university. Perhaps because of the noise she heard beyond the closed door she didn’t dare to ring the bell. Every poet has his/her Ariadne’s thread. During that same period, the Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani was   publishing his political satirical and love poems, rhymed   and metered,   that might be the most popular in several Arab countries, given that they were made into songs. Through Jummo’s translations I read various poets ranging from Bijan Jalali to Sabir Haka whom I came across in meetings about translating Persian poetry in London. That coexistence of languages was quite natural, the alluring music was convincing, although I sometimes understood almost nothing. Languages never draw geographical boundaries. That explains of course, in depth, that every writing is a kind of translation. Of course poetry translation has led me to wider worlds, in particular American poetry that I started translating in the mid 1990s. I have always felt this inclination to what’s being written in other languages, not necessarily by the well-known names. I live this ambiguous sense of an ending in what I write. It inspired Mahmoud Darwish his long long poem The Hoopoe. In this violent disintegration, I cannot forget the somehow sinister feeling of being frequently uprooted from where I used to live. We can see by these two answers how he occasionally visits the present, mostly as a guest of honour. I am very interested in the prose poem as a form. I remembered reading them in a fine translation done by the Kurdish poet Maher Jummo who translates from Farsi.   Al-Ma’arri and Al-Mutanabbi, these two contradictory classical poets, both influenced poets like Khayyam and Rumi. Translation is crucial for the common imagination, for mutual understanding among human beings. She sometimes begged for bread in   bakeries, carrying a basket of old raw vegetables. In the stream flowing under all poems, where the past and the future mingle with the devastating present of Syria, writing is sometimes like a collapsed building, open to the four winds, in which you can see the sky, although it’s neither suitable for dwelling nor it gives any shelter. In his trilogy The Book   (al-kitab), he imagined Al-Mutanabbi as a foreseer who wanders through Arab history. I respect all of the aforementioned names, but rarely read or reared them. ***
What is the impact of migration on your work? ***
Who, for you, is the most notable woman poet in the Arab world? Da’ad Haddad
GH:   Regardless of the superlative “most notable” woman poet in the Arab world, I could mention Fatima Qandil or Sanyyah Saleh, but I’d love to talk about Da’ad Haddad who died in 1991. Da’ad is one of the “absent” characters in a   documentary film, shot by the Syrian filmmaker Hala Alabdalla who lives in Paris; the film’s title “I am The One Who Carries Flowers to Her Own Grave” is taken from one of her poems. In her last years, she had become severely depressed. Nevertheless, I have this feeling of writing in never-ending approximation, as if I had an accent in all the languages I speak. How many alien environments have I encountered in abnormal conditions, trying to recover or rediscover things lost or forgotten, what was insignificant and almost unseen along these intermittent journeys. ***
Poems by Haji:
A Light In Water,   translated by Stephen Watts
The End of Days,   translated by Golan Haji, Stephen Watts
Autumn Here is Vast and Magical, translated by Golan Haji, Stephen Watts

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Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLinkedInRedditGoogleTumblrWhatsAppPinterestTelegramPocketSkypeLike this:Like Loading…‹ Teaching with Arabic Literature in Translation: ‘Women’s Writing in the Arab World’Categories: Kurdish, poetry, Syria Syrian Kurdish poet Golan Haji, whose   A Tree Whose Name I Don’t Know   appeared in English last year, co-translated by the author and Stephen Watts, here shares an interview he did in response to questions by the Italian poet   Luigia Sorrentino and the Iranian poet Azita Ghahreman:
Haji is a poet and translator with a postgraduate degree in pathology. One follows his breath, how his mind and soul move together. I have always lived struggling with words. His Selected Poems   was the first book I published in 2001, although I started publishing my poems from the early 90s in local and Arabic newspapers and periodicals. He took part in the Poetry Magazine movement in the 1950s. Poetry Magazine, founded by the Lebanese poet Yusuf Al-Khal and issued in Beirut from 1957 to 1970, cut the cord with the neoclassical and romantic poetry, and changed for good the face of Arabic poetry in which free verse and the   prose poem prevail today. (This text is translated into English as “The Tree of Changes”, and is forthcoming in the “The Same Gate”, from the International Writing program in Iowa University.)
On 2008 I published my second book of poems Someone Sees You As A Monster. Thirty years later, Adonis said in another interview: “I write for an audience that’s to come in two hundred years”. Adulterers   was published in Danish in 2011, translated by the Danish poet Jesper Berg who had lived in Aleppo and Damascus for nearly15 years, before he was forced out of his second country Syria.   can you describe why did you distinguish her from others? For instance, I entitled a long sequence of prose pieces “God’s Cinema” which as a common expression refers to the absurd or the unfathomable. He also recently translated Alberto Manguel’s   Stevenson Under The Palm Trees   (Dar al-Saqi, Beirut, 2017). Al-Maghout was a leading Syrian poet, considered a pioneer of free verse and the   prose poem in modernist Arab poetry. Revision is inexorable, since, I believe, we often fail to express precisely what we thought of or aimed to say. Here is one of her poems:
Black is this night
Black is the window
Nothing is more just than the sky
In this moonless black night
A little green plant
Is weaving this black prolonged night
Another plant wants to grow
Inside the grayish-yellow room
And these books, eaten away by time,
Want to live inside me
Like this water, like this timeless bread. I think it’s very tempting and rewarding. I couldn’t learn Kurdish because it was a banned language under the Arabic nationalist dictatorships, during the notorious epoch of censorship and cultural stifling suppression. I was very much affected by migration. ***
Do you think your books are related to each other or do   they have different worlds   ? Sometimes, he used the four languages in one couplet. In my opinion, it’s one of the most stunning ending in the history of literature. I spent part of my childhood trying to change my Kurdish   accent in Arab-speaking institutions. Through random readings, the way I love reading, I discovered the poems of Mark Strand whom I had translated into Arabic. For various political and cultural reasons, finding Persian poetry books was not that difficult in Syria. I only speak my mother tongue, and I think I dream in it. What comes from the imagination belongs to everybody. It’s not easy to go for what one loves. It was difficult. I adore many poets in other languages. He lived during the sixteenth century, and was buried in the Red School where he studied in Botan. ***
How many books have you   published and when did   your first book appear? They might complement, as much as counterpart, each other. She spent her nights in the printing house at the   ministry   of culture, and slept sometimes in public parks. I sometimes used some Kurdish sayings and proverbs, and even words, in literal Arabic translation. That modernist movement changed Arabic poetry profoundly in the second half of the 20th century, though Al-Maghout was never interested in any movement whatsoever. I turn toward the personal music that starts every writing from the scratch. I was astonished how the birds face the mirror, thirty birds in front of the Simurgh, the symbol of Godhead whose name also means thirty birds. As far as this concerns me, writing poetry is not entirely involuntary. Golan Haji
GH:   I think the books I wrote build upon each other, and there’s a sense of continuation among all of them, despite the divergences. Another example. Once, ten years ago, I tried to organize some of her   unpublished   poems in a small collection   There’s Light. Unforgettable. He questioned the Islamic tradition that casts its shadows over the Arabic language. However, I roamed places very unlike the milieu of my upbringing. These were the early impacts. On 2009, I worked with theatre institute students and we performed, as   one example, some of Bertolt Brecht’s   poems. I think many people know some of them by heart. I stopped writing metrical verses very soon. These consequent years of ongoing pain have hardly given any Syrian a chance for quiet thinking. The only place where these differences are embraced, without fears or too much hesitation, is the field of writing where I use more than a language through Arabic. There lies a mine of surreal images. I wrote about this point in a long text I wrote after visiting Konya in 2013. During that same year, I taught some paragraphs of Sadegh Hedayat’s “The Blind Owl” as examples of prose poems. They have become canonical (in the sense we move from them onwards and not toward them). Lyrics cohabit with experimental free verse & narrative poems, open prose poems & fables. He also published Until The War, a book of prose based on interviews with Syrian women, (Riad El-Rayyes Books, Beirut 2016). I feel an end is soon to come. I have lived my whole life translating from one language to another, even while writing, until I was not sure of any language any longer. Perhaps that’s the reason I always feel my Kurdish memory as an immense world, precisely because of its limitations, given that I came from a community which has a limited literature of its own in its own language. Those were her meals. Golan Haji:   My first book of poems He Called Out Within The Darknesses was published in 2004. Poems, like human beings, come in different forms and colours. I am part of a tradition, like it or not, both the Arabic and the Kurdish. His latest poetry collection,   Scale of Injury, was published in Arabic by Al-Mutawassit, Milan, in 2016. He was born in 1977 in Amouda, a Kurdish town in the northeast of Syria. His poems are still recited and sung by Kurds. But saying that little, or citing only few names, hardly defines what I want or do, and denies countless effects that come from all the over the world. I have been concerned with words, first and foremost. ***
Is your recent poetry influenced by the literature of other countries? Da’ad was abandoned by her family in the Mediterranean city Lattakia, so she lived in   Damascus, moving around the houses of her friends. I might prefer reading the Moroccan poet Abdallah Zrika, the Syrian Nazih abu Afache, the Iraqi Salah Faik   or the Egyptian Imad Abu Saleh, who live in their own rich lights and shadows. I am responding to another “new” world I live in, i.e France, and poetry continues beyond all articulated intentions. There are many examples of Kurdish poets who write in Arabic, Turkish or Farsi. He now lives in Saint-Denis, a suburb of   Paris. GH:   I am aware of the reductionist reading of any literature in exile, a kind of reading that hunts for the political content. Her “The House is Black” is a beautifully disturbing poem in black and white. Jaziri wrote poetry with one set of alphabets which at that time were used in four languages: Kurdish, Ottoman Turkish, Persian, and Arabic. ***
To what extent can translation   be effective? However, it’s different with Adonis who is perhaps the most well-known Syrian poet internationally. On 2013, Autumn Here is Magical and Vast   was published, in a bilingual edition Arabic-Italian, by Il Sirente in Rome. GH:   I am familiar relatively with Persian literature. Later, with more consequent forced displacements in various countries, I gave up trying to sound like the dominating other. Once she was seen walking under the rain of night, in her tattered   nightgown in the crowded souk of Al Salihyya, in the heart of Damascus.