Multilingual Lebanese poet, painter, and prose-artist Etel Adnan was born on February 24, 1925, in Beirut. This is her ninety-fourth birthday:
As philosopher, poet, and painter, Adnan’s experimental and surrealist work has a wide range of influences, from Rimbaud to Jalal Toufic. She has been most prolific as a poet, and has published more than a dozen collections of poetry. She has many different literary awards, and in 2014 was named a “Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres.”
In honor of her 94th, five places to start:
(1) Sitt Marie Rose
Classic, which won the “France-Pays Arabes” award and has been translated into more than a dozen languages, was published first in Arabic translation, in 1977, although it was written in French. The book is set before and during Lebanon’s civil war and is based on the story of a woman kidnapped, later murdered, by the Christian Phalangists for her support of Palestinians. Many still consider it a defining novel of Lebanon’s civil war. As Nana Asfour wrote in The Paris Review:
“Beirut is humiliated,” she wrote in the novel Sitt Marie Rose, which, though published only three years into the war, concisely captures the experience of living there throughout the many years of fighting—for children and adults. “She suffered the defeat; she’s the one who lost. She’s like a dog with her tail between her legs. She was heedless to the point of folly. She gathered the manners and customs, the flaws and vengeance, the guilt and debauchery of the whole world into her own belly. Now she has thrown it all up, and that vomit fills all her spaces.”
Also a classic, this book was translated from the French by the author. As Aditi Machado wrote in Jacket2:
Of the several rubrics under which The Arab Apocalypse may be read — hybrid text, visual poetry, surrealism, translation, postcolonialism — it is its nature as a work of witness that most commands my attention.
The excerpt To Be In A Time Of War begins:
To say nothing, do nothing, mark time, to bend, to straighten up, to blame oneself, to stand, to go toward the window,
to change one’s mind in the process, to return to one’s chair, to stand again, to go to the bathroom, to close the door, to then open the door, to go to the kitchen, to not eat nor drink, to return to
the table, to be bored, to take a few steps on the
rug, to come close to the chimney, to look at it, to find it dull, to turn left until the main door, to come back to the
room, to hesitate, to go on, just a bit, a trifle, to stop, to
pull the right side of the curtain, then the other side, to stare at the wall.
Katie Logan, who recently taught with this book:
I’m especially interested in this text right now because Adnan wrote it immediately after the formation of the European Union. Throughout the work, her narrator often muses on what’s in store for Paris—and in particular, non-Europeans living in Paris—now that European identity has been prioritized and solidified. The narrator predicts that the Union will not be able to survive major challenges to its expanded but still insular borders, which is eerily akin to what we’ve seen with the Brexit vote and revisions to Schengen Zone policies over the past few years. I wanted to conclude with a text interested in envisioning futures of belonging in order to get my students thinking about where we go next.
(5) Sea and Fog
Winner of the Lambda Award for lesbian poetry and the California Book Award for Poetry, this book was also a runner-up for the 2013 Arab American Book Award. In assembling an issue of Lebanese writing for Missing Slate in 2014, I chose “Fog”. From the poem:
Time and fog escape our grasp. But when I drive through a
visiting cloud, though limited to a (blissful) moment, I negotiate
directly with a cosmic happening. I domesticate an impersonal
part of nature.
Time is my country, fog is my land.
From the Poetry Foundation, poems by Adnan:
- from The Spring Flowers Own
- from The Manifestations of the Voyage
- XLIV from The Arab Apocalypse
- XXXIX from The Arab Apocalypse
- XXXVI from The Arab Apocalypse
From Electronic Poetry Review:
Two Views of Etel Adnan’s ‘Crime of Honor’
From Adnan’s official website
From Arab Hyphen