It’s no longer Nobel season, but Adonis has a new book coming out in the U.S., so another flutter of press is to be expected. Yesterday’s piece in the NY Times followed the Syrian-French poet on a visit to a class that (his translator) Khaled Mattawa teaches at the University of Michigan.
Adonis refused to discuss October’s Nobel circus with interviewer Charles McGrath: “‘I don’t think about it,’ he said sternly. ‘I don’t wish to talk about it.'” (He did talk about it, a bit, in a 2002 interview with the NY Times, criticizing the committee’s choice of Naguib Mahfouz.)
McGrath’s article makes it sound a bit like Adonis is the only Arabic-language poet who’d realized one could work outside strict rhyme and meter, but never mind that. What was most interesting was this exchange with one of Mattawa’s students:
“Isn’t poetry a pretentious, elitist form, not really a force for change?”
“Poetry cannot change society,” Adonis said. “Poetry can only change the notion of relationships between things. Culture cannot change without a change in institutions.” But to the criticism that poetry was an insufficiently popular form he replied: “Poetry that reaches all the people is essentially superficial. Real poetry requires effort because it requires the reader to become, like the poet, a creator. Reading is not reception.” He smiled and added, “I suggest you change your relationship to poetry and art in general.”