>> Every time I see another report on the terrible events in Syria, I’m reminded of Syrian poet Adonis. He lives in self-imposed exile after being imprisoned in 1956 for his involvement in an opposition party, but, writing from his Paris and Beirut bases, he’s often regarded as the greatest living Arab poet.
His work isn’t often literal, but it feels a little as if a poetic response to the current troubles is necessary from Adonis. He did something similar after the fallout of 9/11, producing an ambitious poem almost TS Eliot-esque in its despair (“The present is a slaughterhouse/and civilisation a nuclear inferno”).
I spoke to him in The Mosaic Rooms earlier this month; the London Gallery are celebrating his work with an exhibition of his art alongside his poetic vision. We did touch upon his political views – he believes that among contemporary Arab writers and poets there is an obligation to cause change to happen – so perhaps that poem will come.
Adonis’ time has certainly come in the West: a few days later a compendium of works from throughout his writing career, translated by Khaled Mattawa, won the Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation. I was at the ceremony too; it was fascinating to talk with Khaled about how translating isn’t about being literal but getting to the spirit of the original text. Which, in Adonis case, is to find some sort of inner beauty via poetry.