Adonis: a life in writing

Maya Jaggi in The Guardian:

ScreenHunter_09 Feb. 05 16.47Adonis, the greatest living poet of the Arab world, ushers me down a labyrinthine corridor in a stately building in Paris, near the Champs Elysées. The plush offices belong to a benefactor, a Syrian-born businessman funding the poet's latest venture – a cultural journal in Arabic, which he edits. Fetching a bulky manuscript of the imminent third issue of the Other, Adonis hefts it excitedly on to a coffee table, listing the contributors “from west and east”, many of them of his grandchildren's generation. He turned 82 this month. His eyes spark: “We want new talents with new ideas.”

A Syrian-born poet, critic and essayist, and a staunch secularist who sees himself as a “pagan prophet”, Adonis has been writing poetry for 70 years. He led a modernist revolution in the second half of the 20th century, exerting a seismic influence on Arabic poetry comparable to TS Eliot's in the anglophone world. Aged 17, he adopted the name of the Greek fertility god (pronounced Adon-ees, with the stress on the last syllable) to alert napping editors to his precocious talent and his pre-Islamic, pan-Mediterranean muses. Since the death of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish in 2008, it would be hard to argue for a poet of greater stature in a literary culture where poetry is the most prestigious form as well as being popular.

He moved to Paris in 1985, and was named a commander of France's Order of Arts and Letters in 1997. Last year he was the first Arab writer to win the Goethe prize in Germany, and each autumn is credibly tipped for the Nobel in literature – the only Arab recipient of which to date was the Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz in 1988.

More here.