In the very first session of Dhaka Lit Fest 2017, the greatest living Arab poet Adonis talked about his poetry and thoughts on the current crises in the Middle East with Bangladesh’s most renowned English language poet, Kaiser Haq at the Abdul Karim Sahitya Bisharad auditorium on Thursday. Since the Syrian poet spoke in French, Kazi Ashrafuddin, Assistant Professor of English at Jahangirnagar University, teamed up to break through the language barrier and translate his words for the audience.
Adonis was candid. He retold the tale of how Ali Ahmad Said Esber (his name at birth) became Adonis, of moving to Beirut when his politics in Syria had made it impossible for him to stay there. He also shared his views on religion and identity, sufism and surrealism, and his poetry.
About the state of politics in the Middle East, Adonis said, “The problem I find in the Arab world is the non-separation of religion and politics, with both being corrupted nowadays. I propose a re-reading of the Quranic text from a secular perspective. Religion should be separated from the state. I am not against religion but it should be based on individual practice.”
To this, he added, “Society should be based on three things: Human rights, liberation and the liberty of women,” a statement that drew wide applause from the audience.
At this point, Kaiser Haq referred to Adonis's third book of poetry released in 1965, The Songs of Mihyar of Damascusne
, in which he created a character called Mihyar to express his ideas about life and art. In other words, Haq pointed out, Mihyar was and still is his political, intellectual and literary voice.
Asked to reflect on this unique voice, Adonis said, “Through this voice, I want to change the world by creating a secular society.”
Adonis was at the forefront of the modern Arabic literary tradition. As he put it in reply to another of Haq's question, “My poetry is kind of a rupture from classical Arabic tradition and it announces a kind of modernity in the Arabic world. So what I believe I express in my poetry.”
Discussing his association with the Arabic literary journals he founded in 1957 in Beirut, Majallat Shi’r
(Poetry Magazine), and in 1968, Mawaqif
, with Yousuf Al-Khal, he said, “Many French poets of our time were practising Catholics whereas most of the Arab poets of our time were truly progressive and were not biased towards any particular religion.”
The audiences were truly impressed with his utterances on poetry.
“The poet can create a triangular connection between the word, the world, and the self,” he said about poetry. “Arabic poetry is corporeal, sensorial, tactile, and misunderstood by Western nations,” he added.
He did not make any bones about the USA's imperialist role in destroying the political and social fabric of the Middle East. “The Arabic Spring is kind of an American creation, just as they created the Al-Qaeda, the ISIS and Daesh.”