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.
Interviews & reviews:
Almadhoun’s Poetry Films: