Monday, 7 March 2016

Eat With Adonis - Mint Café

Richard Wilcocks writes:

Richard Wilcocks, Marcos, Ian Harker   Photo by Xavier
Mint Café is not exactly the most capacious of venues, and is split into a front and back section, but it holds up well: the acoustics are good, making it possible to project to both sides from a position in between, the Lebanese food is delicious and an ambiance can be created which is appropriate for the appreciation of poetry from the Arabic world. This evening I shared a reading in English with the poet Ian Harker of just a few of the poems of the great Ali Ahmad Said Esber, who for most of his long career has used the pen-name Adonis, because his muses are pre-Islamic and pan-Mediterranean. There was an introduction before we started, of course. Here is a summary of it.

Born in the region of Latakia in what was then French-controlled Syria, he currently lives in Paris, is eighty-six, fragile, and still productive: one of his fairly recent (2002) achievements was to publish the first complete translation into Arabic of Ovid's seminal narrative poem Metamorphoses. That's fifteen books and two hundred and fifty myths covering the period from the creation of the world to the deification of Julius Caesar, which took place just before Ovid was born. Adonis has played an important role in the evolution of free verse in Arabic, has been influenced by the likes of T. S. Eliot, has been nominated regularly for the Nobel Prize for Literature, was imprisoned in the Fifties for belonging to a party which advocated the creation of a progressive society governed by consensus and with equal rights for all, has advocated a view that culture should be dynamic rather than imitative and is an expert calligrapher. Predictably, a poet and intellectual like that has received plenty of death threats, for example from an Egyptian member of the Muslim Brotherhood for being outrageously non-religious and from members of the Syrian opposition (the ones supported by the Saudis) for having the audacity to have been born amongst the Alawites.
Adonis   أدونيس

I read A Time of Ashes and Roses, The Beginning of Speech, Desert and The Wound (all translated by Khaled Mattawa) and Ian Harker read The New Noah (translated by Shawkat M. Toorawa) and Celebrating Childhood (translated by Khaled Mattawa). We finished with a reminder that we had been reading translations, which are always  flawed mirrors. Marcos (who originates from Lebanon) read I Have a Seat in the Abandoned Theatre, by the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish in the original Arabic, followed by the version in English.

Audience Comments
Food was fantastic!!! Venue is good! Acoustics good. Presenters clear and audible. 

Interesting background information and poetry.

Poems are elusive on first hearing, especially with little distractions (Mint Cafe's interesting bric - a - brac, and people eating). I would have got more from the reading if one or two poems had been announced in advance, so I could read them before the performance.

Food - delicious. What a pity there was so little Arabic, and no Arabs reading the translations.

Great food. Intriguing poetry.

Very moving poetry.

Thank you.

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