Interview with Syrian Poet Aïcha Arnaout Μέση Ανατολή

12 poems in English –  ακολουθούν 12 ποιήματα στην αγγλική

Words Without Borders has just translated from French into English an interview with Syrian poet Aïcha Arnaout, who has lived in Paris since 1978. “Last March,” Cécile Oumhani writes, “she became totally engaged in the Syrian revolt, working day and night to send news updates and attend meetings in support of her people. We no longer meet at readings, only at rallies and evenings centered on current events in Syria.” The interview sheds a lot of light on the uprisings:

CO: What are the specifics of the Syrian uprising?

AA: The Arab Spring uprisings are inspired by the same desires; the only differences are local. The Syrian revolution was triggered by the Assadist regime’s brutal torture of a group of children. Imitating the Tunisian and Egyptian slogans they saw on unofficial TV channels, they scrawled “down with the regime” on the walls of their school. The children were arrested and their nails pulled out. Those savaged little fingers turned a new page in Syrian history.

Despite the regime’s violence, the Syrian demonstrations are peaceful: the marchers meet gun barrels and tanks with empty hands, rifles with olive branches. Meanwhile, while occupying cities and murdering protesters, the regime claims to foster reform using the media to discredit the revolt and justify the government’s response, and calling for dialogue with the so-called opposition, in an attempt to clear itself at home and abroad among those who are still trying to make sense of the situation in Syria.

It also looks at the role the media plays in this particular situation, the rest of the world’s reaction, and the role of the poet:

CO: What is the role of poets and novelists in the present situation?

AA: Writers should stand up for humanity, justice and the universal principles defining the rights of each living being to dignity, respect, and well-being. I am of course not referring to the subjects they deal with, but to their positions regarding the world, their ideas. They are free to choose any subject. The invisible driving force in their works will bear the marks of their principles. While Picasso was working on “Guernica” and expressing his anger, Matisse was painting still lifes, soothing spirits tormented by the war. Both painters shared the same views.

In the present tragic situation, poets and writers should stand by the side of the Syrian people. They should do their best to become available for those historical moments, through their writing or other forms of action. Of course this depends on each writer or artist’s personality, style and choices.

The Arab Spring offers a great variety of experiences, new and intense emotions. It is an opportunity for other forms of creation, in unison with the people. In the case of Syria, this has led to innovation. People have composed expressive songs; they have written poems directly inspired by events. Young people, in particular, have made marvelous use of grim humor and a mischievous vocabulary, experimenting with new forms of expression.

I cannot understand how some can remain silent in this turmoil. Even if they choose not to write, at least they should not hide behind an opaque wall, as if they were busy analyzing figures on a page of calculations. This is a historic moment, a moment when speech is golden.

We wonder how it’s all affected her work. For now, you can read the full interview here.

Posted in Interviews on Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011 by Harriet Staff.

Silently She lived Silently She died

Aisha Arnaout

Translated by kamal Boullata

( 1 )

Ahmed Al-MullaSilently
She lived
She died
useless cunt
they said, after they knew
fell to my knees
before her corpse
Stripped her
of the shroud
with my nails
wrote on her tombstone

( 2 )

He put on his shirt, carried his umbrella
Uttered no word
Neither did 1.

After he left
I stood in front of the mirror
Slit open my tongue
to see if any words were caught there
I only saw the muscles and the veins.

I mended the tongue
Burst out laughing
– laughter is not a word Then I smashed the mirror.

Since then

I have been breaking mirrors In vain

Searching for one
That would reflect
No more; a mirror
That would break me.

( 3 )

It troubles me
that water is colorless
air is tasteless
the hymen.
is without tears.

The tenderness of thorns
their perpetual renewal
Wounds me:
The neighing of extinct beasts
in my blood
The scream of demons
dead under the trees
of remote shores.

I lay my rough palms
over a man’s foot
a passing stranger
And bless my children
coming forth with the wind
Penetrating through time.

( 4 )

The turtle lifting its firm head
spat. The man
as a turtle: an imperfect
And I laugh
exhaling smoke and beasts.

am abolished
before the chasms
of desire,
I joke
I yawn before the mirrors.
Because I want to be
More challenging

more penetrating than X-ray
More slippery

hot mercury:
I dissolve.

( 5 )

A wing carried me
A claw broke me
A beak pecked me.

Eyes closed for me
denude me
But ultra-violet rays of a heart
will not decompose me.
I am a storm in motion
and spring in death.
Like ore and dust
I penetrate the heat
and yet
My flesh is a curse
A curse that reduces
to glue
and ash.

( 6 )

Out of my darkness
I gathered blossoms of starlight
Arranged them
in his shoe
He said:
I am undeserving
He had been overcome by defeat
Burning biting
his regrets.

I went back to my room
Seeing death in every crevice
I lay in the rain rising
from the ground;
Stretched my feet
Plunged my teeth,
in the torn dream,
for the explosion of the crack:
The Second Coming

( 7 )

Ever in consciousness
I am and am not
not always, in the dream
I either am or am

Behind curtains
I see him.
There, waiting
for the piece of bread
I own
but refuse to give

Each one of us
standing on a bank.
Some sleeping god seeking revenge
stirred up
carried me over
absent waves
and like a fish
placed me in his mouth.

( 8 )

I arched my body
Like a porcupine before the barking of a dog
The silk of migrating wings
stroke my curves
transcend the touch of skin
piercing the pores
I thought
Tomorrow I become
A bird
and my metamorphosis
was here.

I saw myself behind
hopped forward
like a frog, kept hopping all night long
As I, at last,
was glued to the ground
I wondered what happened to
my wings
I will fix them
I thought
and fell asleep.

In my dream
I saw myself
a porcupine
a frog
a roach.

He was a bird without wings.

( 9 )

Before the amputation
of the bewitched limb
I shall call the woman
an ant
as man
was called
a tortoise.

However vast
the difference may be
It has been accepted
for both have been watching each other
as untamed tempests.

Opening my eyes
I am thunderstruck.
After all this time
After all time
Everything is white
Entirely white
even my papers.

( 10 )

out of the darkest nadir
where I was ruthlessly crushed
I screamed,
Co… Leave me alone!
He was beyond
a wall hearing me
he advanced penetrating
through stone.
He held my hand;
led me without me
seeing him. outside the walls
together we were. Suddenly
he disappeared.
and there
and for the first time,
I saw him.

This time, I called
– Come Back
He kept going
didn’t even turn.
Left alone outside
the wall
I leaned over stones
for protection.

( 11 )

I searched for the wordless
in your presence
found it
but found
no name for it.

I pretended your absence
in order
to find its name.

The wind’s name is wind
love’s name is love
my name is me
this feeling had substance

One night I got him drunk
searched his pockets
found a piece of paper. To read it turned on the light it burned.

( 12 )

They will say I imitate the poets
As a matter of fact, nothing of the sort,
no preconceived intentions.

For I have read books that remained closed
I have slept through daylight hours
in reception halls.

I scribbled stuff with the mere tip of a pencil

Their judgment was passed
It erased everything
To rectify it
They later said,
She imitated
No one
She did not write
At all.