From The Telegraph:
We are in the Mosaic Rooms in Kensington, where Adonis – who is annually suggested as a favourite to win the Nobel Prize for Literature – has been reading his poems and exhibiting his paintings. Born near the Syrian coastal city of Latakia in 1930, Adonis learnt both the Koran and classical Arab poetry as a child before studying philosophy at Damascus University. He was jailed for supporting a socialist party and in 1956 left for Beirut, where he founded an influential poetry magazine and wrote his own experimental verse. For the past 30 years he has lived in Paris from where he has continued to write poetry and prose (now more than 50 books altogether) and often makes forceful comments on the state of the Middle East. In person he is small and dapper, with a playful sense of humour. I tell him that in 2006 I spent six months studying Arabic at Damascus University. When I heard him reading at the Mosaic Rooms, I missed a lot but some phrases rang out clearly. Although his work avoids rhyme and logical narrative progression, he still writes in the classical language I studied rather than the Syrian colloquial.
Some have suggested that one reason the Arab world remains so rigidly hierarchical is the huge gap between the formal language used in literature and politics, and ordinary speech. “The colloquial language is still poor by comparison,” he says, adding that using the classical gives the entire Arab world a universal language. Is it relevant that the Koran is the founding text of classical Arabic? Mention of Islam’s holy book brings a glint to his eye. “People talk a lot about the Koran but I doubt very much whether many Muslims read the book at all. I mean the fundamentalists but also most Muslims. In fact, Muslims are now throttling Arabic because of censorship – both social and political.”