|Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
11 - 17 January 2001
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From the exhibition catalogue:A special edition of Fusul
"When Fusul was founded (October 1980), it was decided that certain editions of it should be given over to major contemporary poets. Thus, we published special editions on Salah Abdel-Sabour (October 1981), Ahmed Shawqi and Hafiz Ibrahim (1982), and, after several years monopolised by other burning issues, Abdel-Mo'ti Hegazi (Autumn 1996). Then there was the question of devoting an edition to a non-Egyptian Arab poet. After reflection, Ahmed Said, "Adonis," was chosen for several reasons.
First of all, Adonis is a poet who does not leave his reader indifferent. His works have given rise to, and they continue to give rise to, a small poetic storm that still raises questions. When confronted with a contested body of work our policy at Fusul has always been to respond by studying and reading this body of work, examining the arguments both of those who support it and of those who oppose it. There is no doubt that Adonis's poetry is the object of a constant questioning, and this deserves to be looked at calmly and objectively.
The second reason was that the poetry of Adonis represents a permanent rebellion against traditional rules. It comes to the rescue of the rigid rules of poetry and of thought in order to set free the seeds of life and of creation. In life, one of the main hindrances to action comes from our submitting to everything that surrounds us, even if we reject it. In this way, instead of creation we practice imitation [le suivisme], instead of innovation tradition, either to guarantee an easy life and to gain the approval of extremists who threaten suffering in the other world, or to make sure that we conform to the rules of correct behaviour that fix our existence. To celebrate poetry's creative rebellion against reality is to celebrate a change in perspective that contributes to life's renewal and that replaces the reality principle by that of desire. Adonis's poetry, more than that of any other, is an encouragement to rebel and to exercise creativity...
The third reason was that Adonis's poetry began a new current in contemporary Arabic poetry, one that began "here" and "now" and not "over there" in times past... Adonis's poetry has not sought to make an ideology of the beautiful by putting it in order, nor has it sought to justify what exists; still less has it sought to engage in public and verbal rebellion against what is, something which would swiftly be forgotten. Instead, it has tried to practice that ritual creativity that restores to man his name and the secret nature of his rebellion."
Adonis: a poet in today's world
"Though Adonis made his debut in poetry without knowing it, he would never leave it, going out into the world for the first time at 13 years of age. The first president of the new Syrian Republic was on a visit to the northern province of the country, and he was received in the town of Tartous with great pomp and ceremony, as well as with strong speeches and, as is the custom in the Near East, with the recitation of specially composed poems. The young Ali presented himself and managed to say his poetic compliment to the president. Surprised by the young boy's candour, and perhaps also having an intuition of what was to come, the president asked him what he would like in return. Ali's response was not long in coming: "to go to school." Thus began the school years (in French, a language which up until then he had not known at all) of this future great poet in Arabic.
"His arrival in Beirut in 1957 marked an important turning point in Adonis's life, for here he found his poetic identity. He got to know Youssef El-Khal (1917 --1988), a well-known man of letters, who left behind him ineradicable memories among all those who knew him. Together, they founded the Shi'r group, which met once a week in informal conditions, as well as the group's review of the same name. At first, the group consisted mainly of poets from Beirut -- Ounsi El-Hage, Shawqi Abu Shaqra, Khalil Hawi and Fouad Rifka, among others -- but soon poets and critics from further afield joined the group, and it published a manifesto, influenced by the Surrealists, which contained a poetic profession of faith that included: 1. the liberation from traditional rules, in form as well as in thought; 2. criticism and re-evaluation of existing Arab poetry; 3. an openness to foreign literature. The review swiftly became a forum for experimentation for the new generation of avant-garde poets, including Bouland Al-Haidari, Badr Shaker El-Siyyab, Saadi Youssef, Badawi El-Jabbal and the women poets Nazik Al-Mala'ika and Fadwa Tuqan. The policy of openness to the outside was realised in a translation programme that included writers as diverse as Juan Ramon Jimenez, Ezra Pound, TS Eliot, Saint-John Perse, Yves Bonnefoy, Edith Sitwell, René Char...."
"By 1968 the review Shi'r had not existed for four years. Adonis had tried to launch a new review, Afaq [Horizons], but this only lasted for three numbers. Then he founded the review Mawaqif [Positions, or Attitudes, or Situations], this review surviving until quite recently even though it had a certain number of problems to deal with, due to censorship from countries less open than was Lebanon, the financial difficulties that its independent nature brought with it, and the problems coming in the wake of the Lebanese War. In an interview with André Velter for Le Monde, Adonis said of Mawaqif that 'this review has become a crossroads. Since 1968, the least constrained Arab texts have appeared in Mawaqif. Independent of all regimes, of all institutions as well as of the dominant culture, the review is perhaps the only one to play this role in the Arab World.'"
"In May 1984 Adonis was invited to give four lectures at the College de France in Paris at the invitation of Professors André Miquel and Yves Bonnefoy. On this occasion, he summarised the essence of Arab poetics: pre-Islamic orality, the poetry of the Qu'ran, the major currents of mystic thought, the problematic of Arab modernity. These lectures were collected as a volume of essays, Introduction to Arab Poetics, published a year later with a preface by Yves Bonnefoy... Adonis was invited to the United States in 1985 as a Visiting Professor at Georgetown University; on his return to France he was given a special grant by the Centre Nationale des Lettres, together with a flat attached to the Pompidou Centre. In 1986, he was invited as honourary host of the Pen Club meeting in New York... The same year he was nominated Permanent Assistant Delegate of the Arab League at UNESCO... Today, Adonis still lives in Paris, but he makes frequent visits abroad. These are mostly professional in nature, but at least twice a year he stays in his native village in Syria, where his mother and his extended family wait for this child of the country to return."
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