Ghayath Almadhoun’s collection of poetry Weg van Damascus, trans. Djûke Poppinga, unexpectedly entered the “Poezie Top 10” in Belgium last month:
The Syrian poet, who now lives in Sweden, initially issued some of the poems in Weg van Damascus in Swedish in a collaborative work with Marie Silkeberg. Almadhoun, in a short Facebook chat, traced the path of the collection and talks about the poems that he’s written since March 18, 2011.
Give us a short history of the book.
Ghayath Almadhoun: The poems were issued in Swedish at the beginning of 2014 in the book Till Damaskus by Albert Bonniers Förlag. This book was written together with the Swedish poet Marie Silkeberg, and I published in Till Damaskus the poems that I’d written after March 18, 2011, the date that the Syrian Revolution began. It was a beginning of a new phase in everything.
The Arabic version لا أستطيع الحضور (I Cannot Attend) was issued in April 2014 by the Arab Institute for Research and Publishing in Beirut & Amman; it includes poems written before and after the Syrian Revolution.
The Dutch version of my poems Weg van Damascus was published in September 2014 in the Netherlands by Uitgeverij Jurgen Maas, translated from Arabic by Djûke Poppinga. My publisher choose to publish only half of my Arabic book — as you’d expect, he chose the poems from the second part, written after the Syrian Revolution.
Why do you think this collection finds itself on this top-ten bestseller list?
Ghayath: I don’t know really; Weg van Damascus was published in September 2014 in the Netherlands. In August 2015, it entered the top-ten poetry bestseller list in Belgium.
Has the reaction to your poems changed with the current refugee “crisis”? Does it change the way in which the poems are read?
Ghayath: Not really, but my view on the world has changed; everything in the world affects my poems, my poems are a reflection of my life, and I am part of the refugee question. I lived as a Palestinian refugee in Syria and have been living as a Syrian Palestinian refugee in Sweden since 2008.
You have said that the reader helps you interpret your poetry, see it afresh. Have the translations changed your view of these poems?
Ghayath: Yes, the reader is everything for me: I wrote the text for her. The reader has her own interpretations, and an intelligent reader understands what to the writer is opaque. Without readers the text dies; such a voice that does not find an ear, disappears.
Has recent politics changed the reasons why you write poetry? Why you give poetry readings? Or interviews with the press?
Ghayath: The world is constantly changing; I believe in poetry, I really believe in poetry. The poetry may not be able to change the world, but it can change the people who, in turn, change the world.