It’s publication day for Ghayath Almadhoun’s acerbic, relentless, loud-talking poetry collection Adrenaline, in translation by Catherine Cobham. This is Almadhoun’s first collection to cross into English:
Almadhoun is a Damascus-born Palestinian poet who has lived in Stockholm, Sweden since 2008. He’s published four collections in Arabic and two in Swedish: Asylansökan (Ersatz, 2010) which won the Klas de Vylders Stipendiefond for immigrant writers, and Till Damaskus (Albert Bonniers Förlag, 2014) a collaboration with the Swedish poet Marie Silkeberg.
That book, Almadhoun say, was “a metaphor for how your life turns upside-down. Because Paul, Boulos, when he traveled to Damascus—in the way, Christianity began. So it’s poems about life turning upside-down.” Silkeberg was also Almadhoun’s collaborator in several poetry films.
This collection is a sharp-tongued, passionate, and acerbic, short works that are sometimes just a step away from Zakariya Tamer-esque short stories. There are seven sections, beginning with “Adrenaline,” which opens with “Massacre,” in which “Massacre is a dead metaphor that is eating my friends, eating them without salt. They were poets and have become Reporters With Borders; they were already tired and now they’re even more tired. ‘They cross the bridge at daybreak fleet of foot’ and die with no phone coverage.”
Almadhoun’s narrator is serious and sardonic and — like his friends — very, very tired. He continues: “Massacre is their true mother, while genocide is no more than a classical poem written by intellectual pensioned-off generals. Genocide isn’t appropriate for my friends, as it’s an organised collective action and organised collective actions remind them of the Left that let them down.”
Although Damascus is a presence in all these poems, so is love, desire, friendship, and disappointment. In an interview several years ago, Almadhoun said, “Yes, there are poems about Syria. Not because I want to write politics—no, I’m really against the political poetry. But this is my life. When my life is perfect, then you will find my poems about flowers and spring. But it’s a reflection of my life.”
The poem “Damascus Was Moving Away,” for instance, is dedicated “to a woman I loved[.]” The author continues, “Now she has another man, and I have this poem.”
Many of the poems are about poetry, or addressed to poets, such as Abu Nuwas, Ibn Arabi, and Paul Celan. One, “How I Became,” is an origin story about how Almadhoun became a poet:
Although in “The City,” Almadhoun also confesses: “all my poems, which I planted in the flesh of your days like a rusty knife, are not my poems. I stole them from those who had been forgotten, or who had forgotten, collected them from white hospital beds and from the groans of the tortured. They are the memory of women sacrificed before God’s masculinity, the gurgling of those who have died of cold in the midst of the song, the dream when it is devoid of dreamers.”
The final work, “Black Milk,” calls out to Paul Celan, particularly the “black milk” from Celan’s “Death Fugue,” where Celan disappears among the groups of migrating Syrians.
From the publisher, Action Books
Interviews & reviews:
Editoriaraba: Ghayath al-Madhoun and Marie Silkeberg: Damascus in Two Voices
ArabLit: Watching Poetry Films: ‘Arab Countries Were the Only Ones Not Taking Part’
ArabLit: Ghayath al-Madhoun, Poetring the World
Almadhoun’s Poetry Films:
YOUR MEMORY IS MY FREEDOM – YouTube
Sounds intense and heartbreaking.
NOVEMBER 15, 2017 , DAY OF THE IMPRISONED WRITER . LET’S NOT FORGET THAT PENS AND WORDS ARE FACING INTOLERANCE, HATE AND DEATH AROUND THE WORLD
Celebrated on 15 November 2017, Writers in Prison Day reminds us of a sad reality: the degrading situation of freedom of expression and opinion in many countries. Last September, in Lviv, the cultural capital of Ukraine, “Reclaiming Truth in times of Propaganda’’ was the Theme of the 83rd World Congress of PEN International. The writers attending the Congress were greeted on arrival at the Lviv airport by young Ukrainian volunteers holding ‘’Oleg Sentsov’’ signs. This Ukrainian artist and filmmaker, Oleg Sentsov, born in Simferopol, Crimea, was abducted shortly after the annexation of his hometown. He was allegedly given the Russian nationality by force. Transferred to Russia, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison after an unfair trial. Today, he is serving his sentence in a detention centre in Yakutsk, Siberia. In fact, one of the Empty Chairs is reserved for him at the centre of the Congress. Like Russia, the United States of America and China are also serious concerns for PEN International. Still in terms of freedom of expression and opinion, some ten resolutions adopted in Lviv also concern Ukraine, Venezuela, Mexico, Turkey, Eritrea, Spain, Kazakhstan, Poland, Hungary, Honduras, India, SR of VietNam, Autonomous Regions of Tibet, Uygur, Inner Mongolia and Hong Kong and PR China. Furthermore, PEN International Congress has said No to blasphemy and death penalty by adopting two resolutions.
In the face of dictatorial and corrupt powers, armed crime groups or war fires, writers and journalists have only speeches and words. Several hundreds of women and men have been threatened, harassed, assaulted, tortured, imprisoned, deported, taken hostage, killed with impunity or forced into exile because of their writings, drawings or words. Hundreds of authors and media professionals are serving heavy prison sentences. Inhumane conditions of detention. The proof is: having almost completed his 12-year prison sentence and been released in August 2017 to withdraw a brain tumor, the writer Yang Tongyan died on 8 November, 2017. A tragedy, an unspeakable crime when jailers, those especially from Beijing and Hanoi, do not release their prisoners of opinion and conscience until the approach of their certain death. Already in July 2017, before the disappearance of Yang Tongyan, we failed in our collective campaigns to give a little hope of Malraux, a ray of freedom of Eluard and a moment of life of Hugo and Prévert to our brother and fellow writer Liu Xiaobo who died of liver cancer, a few weeks after his conditional release. Or let us not forget the murders of Gauri Lankesh, Daphne Caruana Galizia and Yameen Rashid, as well as the barbaric execution of Anabel Flores Salazar the previous year. Turkey is the biggest prison for writers and journalists. But the concentration camps are in China, Tibet, North Korea and Viet Nam. In the year 2017, more than 50 journalists and writers were killed, murdered or missing: 11 in Mexico, 9 in Syria, 8 in Iraq, 4 in the Philippines, 2 in China, India, Somalia and Yemen, and 1 in Afghanistan, -3-
Bangladesh, Burma, Brazil, Colombia, Denmark, Honduras, Maldives, Malta, Russia and South Sudan.
In this Day marked by Memories and Gratitude, the PEN Suisse Romand Centre wishes to pay homage to women writers murdered or persecuted all over the world. Among many other cases mentioned in the non-exhaustive list published by the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International, for example:
* Anna Politkovskaya, Russian journalist and human rights defender, murdered on 7 October 2006 in Moscow. Well known for her denunciations of human rights violations in Russia and Chechnya.
* Anabel Flores Salazar, Mexican journalist, mother of a 15-day-old baby and a 4-year-old boy, abducted on 8 February, 2016, whose body was found on 9 February on the Cuacnopalan-Oaxaca road in the state of Puebla, the head surrounded by a plastic bag.
* Gauri Lankesh, Indian journalist, publisher and human rights defender, well known for her stance in favor of women and against the caste system and racism. She was murdered at her home in Bangalore on 5 September 2017.
* Daphne Caruana Galizia, Maltese journalist and columnist, very popular because she had been on the front line for years against corruption and organized crime. She was murdered after her car was trapped on 16 October 2017 in Malta.
* Liu Xia, poet and Chinese artist, the widow of Liu Xiaobo, Nobel Peace Prize, forcibly isolated and placed under strict house arrest in a secret location since the tragic death of her husband in July 2017.
* Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, pen-name Me Nâm (Mother Champignon), Vietnamese blogger and human rights defender, mother of an 11-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy, sentenced to 10 years in prison in June 2017 for “propaganda against the socialist state”.
* Tran Thi Nga, Vietnamese blogger and human rights defender, mother of 2 girls aged 6 and 4, sentenced to 9 years in prison in July 2017 for “propaganda against the socialist state”.
* Dareen Tatour, Palestinian poet, arrested in October 2015 for her poem published on YouTube. In January 2017, placed under house arrest pending her trial in November. She faces 8 years in prison for her “incriminated” poems.
* Pinar Selek, Turkish sociologist and writer. She was tortured before the exile in France. 4 times sentenced to life imprisonment, 4 times acquitted. After 20 years of waiting, in January 2017, the prosecutor of the Court of Cassation asked for a life sentence.
* Asli Erdoğan, Turkish poet and novelist, arrested in August 2016 and conditionally released in December 2016. Threatened with life imprisonment for her chronicles in a newspaper today banned.
* Fatima Naout, Egyptian writer and columnist, sentenced in January 2016 to 3 years in prison for “insulting Islam” on Facebook. She regretted that her remarks were misunderstood. She pleaded not guilty.
* Razan Zaitouneh, Syrian writer, lawyer, human rights defender and co-founder of the Violations Documentation Centre. Abducted on 9 December 2013 with her two colleagues Samira Al-Khali and Nazem Al-Hamadi and her husband Wael Hamada. Since then, there has been no news of Razan Zaitouneh . The perpetrators of the abduction are still unknown.
* Zehra Doğan, Kurdish poet, journalist and painter (Turkey), arrested on 24 March 2017 and sentenced to 2 years and 9 months in prison. Her crime: “propaganda for a terrorist organization”. Already placed in pre-trial detention in July 2016 before being released under judicial supervision in December 2016.
In the face of intolerance, hate and death, may we remain united in heart and soul in our linguistic and cultural diversity. And by mutual agreement, let us express our outrage, show our solidarity with writers and media professionals against the shadow of threat, complicity and complacency. Let us raise our human voice, broken but limpid, to light a candle, however fragile it is, against the cold night of indifference, silence and oblivion.
Nguyên Hoàng Bao Viêt *
Vice President of the PEN Suisse Romand Centre.
For the Writers in prison Committee.
*Member of the Independent Centre of Vietnamese Writers (in exile).
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