More Modern Than Modern
Syrian poet Adonis gives a rare interview to The National, in which he discusses poetry, history, and politics. In a conversation about his new Selected Poems, he says that the translation of his work into English does not simply allow English-language readers a new view of Arab poetry, but is a personal opportunity for a new view on his on work:
"The reader is the 'other', the person I am trying to reach. And that 'otherness' is also a part of me. I'm interested in the perception of non-Arab readers because they may allow me a clearer perception of myself."
He goes on to talk about his influences, and how reading Sufi mystic poet al-Niffari in the 1950s revealed to him the hidden modern and surrealistic side of Arab poetry. He argues that the question of modernity has been debated for a thousand years, and that “traditional” Arab verse has been haunted by it:
It wasn't, then, so much about making Arab poetry modern; more about discerning the modernity that had always been a part of it. Isn't it an irritation, though, the way many western critics conflate modernity and the west, so that if Adonis's poetry is modern, it must be western? Adonis laughs: "I've always been caught between two poles of criticism. What you say is true of some western critics. On the other hand, traditionalists in the Arab world say that I have destroyed Arab literary tradition."