Poetry for an Ailing Homeland


Shaj Mathew in Guernica:

Chemical weapons have been deployed in Syria. After over two years of fighting, the conflict between rebel forces and the government of Bashar al-Assad shows no signs of abatement. Foreign powers may intervene. And yet, the sonorous voice of Adunis, the Syrian-born writer widely considered the world’s foremost Arab poet, has largely been silent. He did write an open letter to Bashar al-Assad in June 2011, but he was roundly criticized by fellow Arab intellectuals as being too soft on the dictator. Perhaps stung by this criticism, he has offered little comment since then.

His absence hasn’t prevented a new vein of Syrian poetry from emerging out of this uprising; a poem by Najat Abdul Samad, translated by Ghada al-Atrash for al Jazeera, epitomizes this movement’s jarring, visceral realism: “I bandage my heart with the determination of that boy/ they hit with an electric stick on his only kidney until he urinated blood./ Yet he returned and walked in the next demonstration…/ I bandage it with the outcry: ‘Death and not humiliation.’”

That said, according to fellow Syrian poet Maram al-Masri, “people are waiting for opposition poems from Adunis. He does a little, but for me and for a lot of people, we feel disappointed. It’s not enough. We need the fathers of modern Syrian poetry to speak out.” More damningly, the Iraqi littérateur Sinan Antoon told the Guardian that the Arab Spring has “consigned Adunis, the self-proclaimed revolutionary, to irrelevance.”

More here.