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|Adonis: The Avatar of Avant-Garde Arabic Poetry|
|by P. G. R. Nair|
“Tailor, my love is torn-can you sew it for me?”
Adonis like the great Mexican poet Octavio Paz is intelligent in fathoming and distilling the essence of one’s poetic heritage and polymerizing it with modern techniques to create a brave new poetry. In his case, it is the ancient Arabic poetry including mystic verses that he had read and listened to during his childhood that has acted as the womb for shaping his imagination. The Arabic poetry of 13th century Iraqi mystic poet Abn al-Jabber al-Niffari has been influential in imbuing his poetry with an inner cadence particularly in his long narrative poems which are full of fierce energy, paradoxes and strange metaphors. The dazzling poem “Unintended Worship” is a classic case to cite his influence. In this poem the body of the lover becomes “a cup of intoxication”, the way God fills a mystic. He believes that our body is a source of knowledge. Adonis seeks convergence of bodies to break the barrier between body and spirit. He echoes this philosophy in many passages such as
Again there are abundant imageries in the poem such as ‘Push, ‘grow’, ‘reap’, ‘ripen’, ‘adorn’, ‘fill’ which illustrate that the body can be a liberating container and an end in itself for our growth and deliverance
Another poet he identifies as his doppelganger in shaping his poetry is the greatest poet of pre-Islamic Arabia, Imru'l-Qays, the sixth-century prince who roamed in exile until, it is said, he was murdered with a poisoned shirt that he was given. Abu Nuwas, the ninth-century court poet of the Abbasid caliphs, a bisexual, a hard drinker and a poetical innovator, is another pantheon of Adonis. So is al-Ma'arri, the eleventh-century misanthropic skeptic and satirist. Despite his Arab tradition, one cannot resist the feeling that Adonis has the tutelage of European masters in shaping his poetic intelligence to impart the ephemeral tone and rebellious energy seen in his poems.
In his poem titled “Beginnings” the poet mourns the anguish in the voyages of love:
The image of the body of a lover treated as space for the partner to explore and get extinguished recurs here as well.
His poems are full of dizzy intoxication of love, madness and erotic bliss. Many passages have the quality of words falling into a vortex to annihilate everything. His lyricism is enthralling even in difficult passages
His poetry also reveals interesting contradictions. In the poem “Love”, he says
We do not judge literature by its powers of premonition, but there are occasions when a writer articulates events long before they take place. His prophetic poem, "A Tomb for New York," written in 1970 could be said to have imaginatively anticipated the events and aftermath of Sept. 11.
One could go on to quote dozens of lines that seem like a pre-emptive imaginative response to the attack on Manhattan. Here are a few such examples:
Adonis shows in such poems a visionary zeal to turn all order into topsy-turvy to create a new world order based on his own canons.
In the poem “Dialogue”, he writes
One can understand his radical, mutinous and an iconoclastic spirit echoing in them. He is the omnipotent when he hollers
Adonis uses a technique of mouthing his ideas and philosophy employing human characters (Eg: A woman and a Man; Transformation of Lover). The conversational mode creates a spoken aloud impression. We both read and listen at the same time. This poetic tactic accentuates his writing. The voices add depth to the written word, providing us with something that is almost tangible. The spoken words seem more believable, more human.
Despite its magnetic appeal, many of his poems have their own ambiguities and call for a sophisticated poetic sensibility on the part of reader to fully savor it. There are many passages in his great poem “Transformation of a Lover” that require re-reading and delving deeper to decipher the meaning. Many literary pyrotechnics such as chaotic rhythm, subversion of order of words, surrealistic illustrations, fantastic imageries, Oxymorons – Example:
used in this poem make each stanza a dynamite in poetic design. This reminds me of a statement of Adonis “I come from a land where poetry is like a tree which watches over man and where a poet is a guard who understands the rhythm of this world”.
A dissident himself, there is touching sadness and pain for mother country in some of his poems. In the poem tilted “A Homeland”, he makes this elegiac toast:
We sense his pain when he says,
Again in another poem titled ‘Tree of Fire ‘, he cries
Adonis is a cultured and fiercely independent poet who is vocal in maintaining his cultural identity. In a speech delivered at Dartmouth College in 2001, he remarks:“The truth is that identity is not in itself a barrier to openness and connectedness; to the contrary, it is a prerequisite for them. The more we maintain identity the larger the scope for openness and connectedness becomes and the more consolidated diversity becomes. In the absence of that, openness becomes capitulation, exchange becomes tutelage, and interaction becomes defeat.” He thus reiterates here that exposure to different cultures does not mean annihilation of any (a fear prevalent in Islamic World) but on the contrary it can be immensely productive and rewarding. This is very true in his case as his identity as an Arabic poet made a new discovery in the poetic splendor of European poets such as Baudelaire, Rilke, Rimbaud, Nerval and Stephen Mallarme after his migration to Lebanon and then to Paris where he lives now. He strongly believes that Cultural creativity has no borders. “Creativity liberates not just the ‘soul’ but also the body”, he asserts.
A universal poet, he embraces many elements of nature to adorn his poems. Some of the recurring imageries in his poems are related to Space, water, fire, earth, star, stone, sea and wind. He has embarked to transform Arabic language beyond the borders of imagination with innovative uses of rhythm, experiments with syntax, use of jolting metaphors and juxtapositions. This Avant-garde poet of Arabic language has a tinge of sadness when he confesses that “I write in a language that exiles me.” He pronounces it in his poems as well
He believes that his language does not reflect his past or his future nor is it a mirror capable of returning to childhood. For the poet, language just helps to put him in motion towards the unknown and towards everything strange
Meanwhile, Adonis continues to build his scaffolding of inventive literary forms around which a new Arab poetics could be built.
|More by : P. G. R. Nair|
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Comments on this Poem Article
N S RAMACHANDRAN
12/24/2016 00:00 AM
Madathil Rajendran Nair
10/01/2012 00:00 AM
10/01/2012 00:00 AM
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