Adonis: ‘When al-Sayyab Visited Beirut in 1957’

But we know that religion has a noble purpose, and so does poetry”. Ghareeb received his PhD from SOAS, University of London in comparative literature with an emphasis on literary translation. From these myths, the poet creates “symbols from which he builds worlds that defy the logic of gold and iron”. It is a “world in which there is no poetry and in which non-poetic values ​​prevail, and where the ultimate word is for materialism”. Perhaps, because of this, the reader does not understand great poetry as much as he is alarmed by it, as T.S. Therefore, its appeal was not only intellectual, but also psychological. We believe and become religious, not in pursuit of worldly interest. But as long as life continues, the hope of salvation remains with life. Being on the margin of the Arab political level, Beirut was the leading Arab cultural body. And when a poet says to his other brother: I do not like this or that poem of yours, change this, modify or delete that, the other poet feels as if he is hearing himself, as if what he hears is coming out of his mouth. And one of these poems – “The River and Death” — is among the seminal keys that allow us to discover distinguishing characteristics in modern poetic experience, especially at the level of poetic language. A perennial candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature,   Adonis, born Ali Ahmed Said Esber in the Syrian village Al-Qassabin in 1930, is one of the most influential modern Arab poets and cultural critics. Tauris, London 2021). Eliot underlined. Adonis: ‘When al-Sayyab Visited Beirut in 1957’

This chapter comes from Adonis’s Ha Anta Ayyuha al-Waqt (Look, Oh Time, 1993). This is one aspect of its unique artistic contradictions. Thus, his presence among us increased our confidence in what we write, and in what we say. He introduced his poems, which he delivered at the Great Forum of the American University of Beirut, with a powerful oversight that gave the poet the role of a seer who gives poetry the task of creating a humane world dominated by the values ​​of freedom, beauty, and goodness. Although some poets, in the context of history, tried to avoid “the huge duty: to interpret and change the world”, these attempts failed, because this duty is at the core of poetic practice. I remember now Badr Shakir al-Sayyab – I see him in our house, with a group of friends, sitting on small straw chairs, sharing a table, or improvising a seat on the floor.  

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Reading T.S. He said: “If I have to depict the modern poet, I would not find a closer image than the image imprinted in my mind of Saint John, his eyes devoured by his vision, seeing the seven sins spread over the world, as if they were a gigantic octopus”. And in the course of our discussions, we discovered how dialogue among poets haunted by poetry is a kind of reminder of things they know. The truth, as al-Sayyab said, is that poetry and religion are “twins” – “Just as the boundaries between the end and the means in religion have vanished, so these boundaries have vanished in poetry as well. We read poetry (and write it) not in search of materialized benefit. And because of that, it is cold and rigid, and the poet has to resort to means that spread some heat and warmth, and surrounds it with dreams and with the kindness of the primary innocence. And we see him reading his poetry in a voice that rises from a hidden depth as if it was rising from a reed as tall as Arab history. His coming reminds us of previous visits by Arab poets before him, from [Ahmed] Shawqi to Badawi al-Jabal. With [al-Sayyab’s] arrival, the literary community was moving and active – as if you were seeing the body of the Arabic language pulsing with the unity of Arab culture, and the unity of Arabic poetry. It is the nature of poetry here to discover “on the soul, the arms of the gigantic octopus of the seven sins, who slams it and almost strangles it. And we listen to the visitor from Basra, which an Arab historian described as “the heart of the world” – we listen to him transporting us to the heart of poetry. Beirut was a meeting point between the desire to get out of the ideological ‘Arab culture of the establishment’, and the desire to expose cultural repression – a symbol of freedom and liberation. Thus, his visit to Beirut turned into a symbol of unity among the poets of Arab modernity in this horizon that they opened onto Arabic culture and the future. He has received numerous honors, including the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the Goethe Prize, and the PEN/Nabokov Award. He, too, felt the same way. I felt that if he had told me, for example, that I think you should give up the poetry you have written so far, I would not have hesitated for a moment to give it up. Eliot in Arabic: A Talk with Ghareeb Iskander

‘Adonis at 90’: A Digital, Poetic, Global Celebration Rather, poets become one person with many voices. Ghareeb Iskander is an Iraqi poet living in London. When poetry is the poet’s first existential passion, and when it is his basis of looking, and the light that illuminates his approach to things and the world, his behavior itself becomes poetry: the little things – envy, jealousy, competition – are nullified, and poetry turns into a kind of magic that unites all poets, and engulfs life innocence and purity. The poems of Badr Shaker Al-Sayyab published by Shi‘r before the release of his collection Hymn of the Rain are not only among the most beautiful that he wrote, but are also among the most beautiful poems in modern Arabic poetry. Were we wrong, and they were right? He was the featured writer of Scottish Pen in 2014. When I compare the poetic relationship that developed between me and Badr Shakir al-Sayyab with the relationships prevailing among Arab poets, I wonder: were we in an illusion, or in a dream? Here, Adonis describes “distinct friendship developed with [Iraqi poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab], both personal and poetic, which I consider among the deepest experiences of friendship that I have known“:

When al-Sayyab Visited Beirut in 1957

By Adonis

Translated by Ghareeb Iskander


The arrival of Badr Shakir al-Sayyab to Beirut in the spring of 1957, invited by the journal of Shi‘r  (poetry), was a poetic-cultural event. So, what is this world in which the poet lives? It was as if a deep understanding brought us together, as if our dialogue was nothing but a telling signal and a sign of remembrance. This is because “reading a great poem is like labour pains, a kind of birth. Is poetry intrinsically linked to high morals, nobility of mind and heart? C

The audience that listened to Badr Shakir al-Sayyab was not used to such a discourse about poetry. And I wonder: can a small-hearted, liar or hater be a poet? Translator’s note:

This chapter was selected, with a permission from the author, from Ha Anta Ayyuha al-Waqt (Look, Oh Time), (Beirut: Dār al-Ādāb, 1993). The former was obsessed about stability and the anxiety about the retention and continuity [of past culture], and the latter had the obsession of transformation and the anxiety of exploration and discovery. Man is born only through pain”. A distinct friendship developed with him, both personal and poetic, which I consider among the deepest experiences of friendship that I have known. Among the most important of these are “the myths that still retain their warmth, because they are not part of this world”. Modern Arabic poetry, in its attempts to create a new world, opens “all the windows of its house to all winds”. After we agreed during his visit to publish a collection of poems in the Publishing House of Shi‘r, he put in my hands all his output, and gave me complete freedom to decide what is suitable for publication and what is not. This is how I chose for him the collection of poems published under the title Hymn of the Rain, and recommended that the rest to be put aside. In the midst of that political ashes that dominated Arab life, you could see, thanks to poetry, a flame rising from behind the ashes. He agreed to what I did, without any discussion, or any question. B

In the poetic meeting that the journal prepared for him, al-Sayyab presented the issue of Arabic poetry with a broad vision and an influential perspective. And if its pioneer representatives are still in the beginning of their creative experiment, they are fully confident that they are “paving the way for a new generation of poets, who will make Arabic poetry readable in the whole world”. However, there is a difference between the visit of al-Sayyab and the visit of his predecessors, is that Shawqi or others, for example, used to connect the reader with the experience of memory, while al-Sayyab connects the reader with life experience. B. It is the hope that the soul will awaken, and this is what modern poetry tries [to do]”. The most recent translation of his works is Songs of Mihyar the Damascene   by Kareem James Abu-Zeid and Ivan Eubanks. And if poetry is a reflection of life, it must be gloomy and terrifying, because we live in a world “as if it were a terrible nightmare”. And if we add to his talk (published in Shi‘r  (3), summer 1957), the conversations on the Lebanese radio and in al-Nahar and al- Jarida newspapers, and the private meetings and seminars, we realize to what extent those ten days he spent in Beirut were full with: the ideas he evoked about modern Arabic poetry in particular; poetry in general; and the literary activity he generated. Poetic intuition, in this perspective, is a companion to religious intuition. He himself creates “new myths” too. They were surprised, but with an overwhelming tendency for admiration. Hence, it was a medium that allowed Arabs to meet many precious things that were distant wishes and dreams in other Arab circles. D

From the moment we met Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, we felt that despite our geographical distance, we had a unity of direction and aspiration. There is no arguing, no obstinacy, though sometimes we disagree on some details, and no desire to show-off, no presumptuous, but humility with an open insight that is only bound by the essence of the poetry. He published serval books including   A Chariot of Illusion   (Exiled Writers Ink, London 2009);   Gilgamesh’s Snake and Other Poems,   a bilingual collection, which won Arkansas University’s Arabic Translation Award for 2015 (Syracuse University Press, New York 2016);   English Poetry and Modern Arabic Verse: Translation and Modernity   (I.