Most readers don’t realize that it is the Koranic, religious tradition, which shapes modern Arabic poetry. But the greatest Arab poets were non-religious according to the most commended poet of the Arab world, Adonis.
“Poetry at that time was existential, a poetry of being… After Islam this came to an end.” Adonis discusses the negative impact religion has had on Arab poetry, stating that the greatest Arab poets didn’t follow the Koran. Their religious independence made it possible to discuss subject matters such as the supranatural, sex and what else was on their mind. This is why some of the most magnificent Arabic poetry is pre-Islamic, according to Adonis: “Islam corrupted poetry, like all other religions by the way.”
Conclusively, as an example of one of the great pre-Islamic Arab poets, Adonis cites an anecdote about Abu al-Ala al-Ma’arri who lived between 973 – 1058.
Ali Ahmad Said Esber (born 1930), known as Adonis, is a Syrian poet, essayist and translator. He took on the name ‘Adonis’ at age 17 when he was rejected by a number of magazines under his real name. Adonis is often seen as a rebel, who modernized Arabic poetry, following his own rules. In 1955 Adonis was imprisoned in Syria as a result of his beliefs and political conviction. Following his release from prison in 1956 he moved to Beirut, Lebanon and has since resided primarily in Paris, France. From 1980-1981 he was a professor of Arabic at the Sorbonne in Paris. Adonis became a leading exponent of the Neo-Sufi trend in modern Arabic poetry and has been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature many times since 1988 and is widely reputed to be the greatest living poet of the Arab world.
Adonis was interviewed by Hanna Ziadeh at his home in Copenhagen, November 2014.
Camera: Klaus Elmer
Produced by: Christian Lund
Edited by: Kamilla Bruus
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2015
Supported by Nordea-fonden