Fadi Al-Abdullah to Al-Modon: My poems are written by survivors who cannot bear their survival

Have you really lost the “certainty of poetry”, and which “faith” can accompany poetry?

* I think that I have really lost it, the “certainty of poetry”, i.e. its intuition, and the belief in its attachment to life and its continuous presence and its impact on it. It is possible to live perhaps without poetry, as it is possible without music or without philosophy, but in a much poorer and dumber world. I may have lost faith, but writing at that time remains a question of hope that a fragment of sensitivity or imagination will emerge from the ruins that justifies the effort of writing and sharing it with others.

In part of your poems, it is as if you are writing the scenes of the wars that afflicted some countries of the Arab Mashreq (Syria in particular), and the destruction of cities and the small things that we see after every harshness, and drowning attends, but at the same time you say something like a cry “I will not write your epic / Who am I?” To carry all your bones, and grind them in ink / And no one will write them”… Here, do you agree with the statement Theodor Adorno “After Auschwitz, writing poetry is a barbaric act”…

* Celan had responded to this statement by Adorno, and all of his writing refutes it. But his writing also changed the poetry itself in the course of this refutation. No one enters himself in the comparison with Ceslan, nor does Auschwitz compare to the Syrian wars, for example, and their massacres and detention camps. Perhaps the poem to which she is referring is precisely an announcement that Ceslan will not undertake a new effort. But it is an attempt to capture what can continue and happen when there is no flowing from my east, and when there is awareness and inability to say, the voices of accusations and their evidence are scattered at every moment of life and is filled with them until silence. In this aspect of the poems, in the first chapter of the Divan, there is a double path, where devastation and scenes of wars are present in parallel and sometimes precisely in moments of travel in the world, whether for tourism or for work. Under the moment of existence in the peace and relative safety of the world, the dream of a razed land, with the remains of children, attends with no reassurance. It is therefore, I think, written by survivors who cannot bear their salvation and at the same time are not drawn to by the victim or the call of mass death.

She says, “Traveling is my trick to seduce the soul with life”… Is it also a trick for writing?

For me, writing is not a goal, and I do not live to write. I think that losing faith in poetry is also losing a romantic view that exalts writing above living and does not hesitate to sacrifice life for the sake of a higher metaphor. But I think that writing is an expansion of life and the possibilities of experiencing it, and that life is also a beam that shines on the quarry of language, extracting sentences or vocabulary from it to recharge it with the energy of beginnings, so that it can expand this life for us. If, I suppose, this is the writing of unbearable survivors, then travel, writing, the arts, and friends all serve to create a temptation to live that transcends the biological instinct to survive and constrain it. Therefore, they are different paths, and it is not forbidden to intersect in those moments that give life its poetry, when two logics come into contact or two senses collide (I sometimes see that logic and senses are not different, and both are multiple) or we see the merging of the imagined and the visual.

To what extent do you mimic texts such as the Qur’an and others in your poetry? And to what extent do Paul Celan, Edmond Gabes, Bassam Hajjar and Abbas Baydoun appear in some of your poems?

I think that the question contains three different issues:
The relationship with Ceslan is special, and one has to try to assassinate him symbolically, as I did in a previous book (We Are Infatuated) in order to regain his ability to deal with language, after Ceslan imprinted it with his violent and captivating explosions.
As for the Qur’an and other texts that establish our linguistic horizon, the relationship with them is like the relationship of the example to the marble mountains, we try to extract a small space and formulate it according to an individual imagination.
As for the others, Bassam, Abbas, Jabes and others, they are the bestowers of gifts to us, poets and friends, through which we try to compensate a little for the collective and individual loss, for wars and death, and for the losses large and small, which constitute each of our days.
Thus, the book is organized to some extent by searching for a balance and a confrontation between loss and loss, at all levels, and between the gifts that friendships, paintings, music, poems, and trips give us, as well as between our awareness of loss and permanent loss in the soul and the moment of overcoming all that, as Bach transcends the pain Christ is towards the uninterrupted continuity of his holiness in existence, towards the affirmation of life born of love and moments of poetry.

After many poetry collections, do you have your own poetic dictionary? Is poetry for you an exercise in writing about vocabulary such as: memory, cruelty, pain, rapture, window, absent, music, city, whiteness, and others?

* What is the use of exercise, if not exercise in absence? There is no doubt that, despite the years, I continue to have an interest in a number of themes and a sensitivity towards some moments, such as moments of rapture, traces of loss, and searching in cities for their layers of meaning. But I do not intentionally practice that, and I did not seek to limit my lexicon, conscious (according to one of the titles) of what poetry cannot say, and what it can.
What I see most important when I look at my various books, the first of which was published more than twenty years ago and was written before it, is the question of grammar. The dictionary is, after all, broad and we can admire new vocabulary or search for it to accommodate changing experiences. But the issue of grammar, syntax, syntax, and rhythm, is more revealing to me about the changes that are happening to me, and it still opens wide spaces for exploring the possibilities inherent in a language so many rules that it accepts almost any form of freedom afforded by different rules.

What love do you write?

* How can we call beauty a face, a horse, music, an evening and morals? In the same way, the concept of love poses the same problem about the different types of love that can be collected in this vocabulary. But perhaps the common denominator in what I am looking for and writing is at the same time the identification of the subject of love (a specific person, or a particular painting) and the openness of the space that love creates in terms of energy and angle in looking at life beyond the individuality of its subject and my individuality. This also justifies that we write and publish for the public what emanates from an intimate private that is guarded by the guards.

Fadi Al-Abdullah
A poet, lawyer, interviewer, writer and music critic, born in Tripoli in 1976. He has worked on a wide range of performances and published books, and has published a number of poetry books, including “A Stranger with a Camera in His Hand” 2000, “We Are Comprised of Infatuation” 2005, and “I Share the Pain for a Moment and a Long Time” 2015.

As an artist, writer, and critic, Al-Abdullah has participated in numerous exhibitions and performances, including “Revolution vs. Revolution”, hosted by the Beirut Art Center (2012) and “Signatures”, Home Works 5, organized by Ashkal Alwan, Beirut (2010). He also collaborated with Bilal Khbeiz and Walid Sadek on “The Tuesday Collection” to present work for Sharjah Biennial 8 (2007) and “File: Public Time”, Home Works 3, organized by Ashkal Alwan, Beirut (2005). He supervised the book “Listen to the Orient” (in French, 2020) on the occasion of the exhibition presented by the MECUM Museum (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations, in Marseille) in cooperation with the Foundation for Research and Documentation in Arabic Music (AMAR) and participated in its seminars.

Al-Abdullah’s published work ranges from articles on law, music, and films to those centered on literary criticism. He has developed a special interest in traditional Arabic music and its link with social and economic systems, and is an honorary editor of the electronic magazine Ma’azef. Prior to assuming his current position at the International Criminal Court in The Hague (2008-present), Al-Abdullah taught law at two institutes of international business law, Cairo, and Mellon Center, University of Paris II Panthéon Assas (2002-2004).