The Lebanese poet residing in Australia Wadih Saadeh (born in 1948) – one of the contemporary Arab modernist poets – talks to his friend, the Lebanese poet, journalist and translator Iskandar Habash, about a long life and creative experience, to which is added living with the place (in Lebanon: childhood and poetic breakthrough, and Australia: The last of exile and the second of the homelands), as the two most important stations in the career of an Arab poet who won international awards.
Diaries and fragmented scenes, in which cities, travels and exiles scattered about the poet Wadih Saadeh, who has settled in the place since 1988 in Australia, carrying the banner of poetry in the face of lawlessness and human ugliness, and the place narrowed him and expanded his imagination to the universes of poetry and its spaces. Read also The City of Beginnings and the Paris of the Middle East.. On Poetic Modernity in Beirut Poetic modernity between form and content Amjad Nasser in “The Kingdom of Adam”: A travel in the catacombs of earthly hell and its torments
“Between Two Banks”
The book, recently published by the publishing house “Lines and Shadows” in Jordan, was titled “Wadih Saadeh.. A Prose of a Life Between Two Banks.” Through Facebook, about childhood memories and several poetic and cultural issues and topics.
Under the title “An Attempt to Search for Wadih Saadeh”, Iskandar Habash writes an introduction to open his talk book, in which he notes that he cannot forget Wadih Saadeh’s voice (on the phone) for the first time in 1985, while the “Happy Republic” (meaning: Lebanon) The one in which they lived is drowning in death and destruction, each one lives in a different area, where the roads are cut off, and no one can reach the other.
Habash adds, “I had never met Wadih Saadeh before. All I know about him are some poems, some articles I read, and he definitely didn’t know me. I was at the beginning of writing, and all I published were a few poems and articles in the “As-Safir” and “An-Nahar” newspapers. At that time, Saadeh had published his first book “Evening has no brothers” himself in 1973, where he wrote it in his own handwriting and distributed it, before it was republished in print years later.
“Poetry and Childhood”
Wadih Saadeh links poetry and childhood as two complementary worlds, as he believes that poetry is something from childhood. On the other hand, he sees in childhood something of poetry, “We must preserve this childhood, whether we are poets or not.”
Saadeh addresses those who say that we live today as “the death of poetry”, believing that poetry dies when human feelings die, but there are still human feelings, and with them poetry continues, despite all the tragedies, wars, imbalance of values, the prevalence of corruption, injustice and hatred.
He expresses his complete alignment with poetic modernity, which is one of its most important contemporary voices, stressing that he does not care about any discussion put forward – albeit in a light way from the above – between the forms of classical Arabic poetry, free poetry, or prose poem, indicating that such a discussion is outdated.
Reading and Literary Awards
As for what the French Max Jacob Prize, which he gave him for his collection “The Text of Absence and Other Poems”, translated into French and issued by Act-Sud publications, he says that he views the award as a celebration of new Arabic poetry in general, and not only With his hair in particular.
With regard to the International Arkanah Prize for Poetry in Morocco, which was awarded to him about two years ago, he expresses his appreciation for this award and its organizers, “because it is an award that honors poetry and poets,” while most other Arab awards “completely neglect poetry,” he says.
Wadih reads all he can get, both poetry and non-poetry, as he states, that “reading makes time pass less.” In answer to the question “influence/first readings”, Saadeh says that his readings were multiple, for more than one writer, and in this context he stresses that it is important for the poet to have his own voice,” before adding, however, that I do not believe in cultural estrangement. Many undoubtedly influenced me. .
Saadeh reveals that, in his early poetic beginnings, he began writing metered poems, but their fate was that he tore them up a very short time after writing them.
And he continues in this context: I said to myself if poetry means freedom, why does he restrict himself to these restrictions. As for his writing of free poetry after that, it was simply completed, as he let the writing “go as it was, without weight or rhyme,” as he says.
Saadeh believes that one of the tasks of poetry is to ask the world questions, often unanswered questions. On the other hand, the world continues with or without poetry, but “if it continues with poetry, it will be beautiful, and if it continues without poetry, it will be deficient in beauty,” as he put it.
And between poetry and politics, and whether the poet necessarily has an interest in politics and interacted with it or not, Saadeh believes that “poetry is also politics”, or in other words “indirect politics”, not in the general sense of this word. Any issue raised by poetry is politics in one of its meanings, whether it is a social or individual issue or otherwise.
Regarding his writing habits and his best times, Saadeh reveals that he usually writes at night, not in a room but in the garden of the house, believing that “whoever enters his inner world” busy with writing will not have left the outside world, within a literal rupture, but – the most likely. He will then see the outside world more clearly.
Is happiness written on paper or on the computer? Here he reports that he is writing on paper, as he feels that in the rustle of the pen he has a life that he does not feel on the computer. As for deletion and correction, it is not included in him. “I rarely correct, and if I see a flaw in the poem, I often tear it up.”
And whether he thinks about the reader and works to satisfy him during the writing process, Saadeh admits that when I write, I do not think about the reader’s opinion or satisfy him, but this does not mean that the reader is absent.
And how “Wadih Saadeh” came to writing, he answers frankly that he “does not know exactly how he came to it”, but he believes that his father’s burning death, is what prompted him to write, or “perhaps the fields in which I ran, and the peasants with whom I lived, and perhaps the uprooting of place, and the subsequent injustice.”
Recalling his early beginnings, in their village home, Saadeh states that his “discovery of reading” is nothing more than “textbooks only”, and hearing his father’s friends recite what he said about him as “distorted prose from Al-Zeer’s story”. As for the first books he read – after that – they are for: Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Albert Camus, Sartre, and others, poets and non-poets.
In the village, the school where Wadih attended elementary school was one room and one teacher, he went to it every morning, walking for half an hour, crossing “a long path of woods, in the cold and in the rain.”
The excavation continues in the memory, at the urgency of Iskandar Habash’s questions, when Saadeh spoke about childhood tragedies and their memories, especially a scene unforgettable in the memory of “his father’s burning death”, when he was returning from the city of “Batroun” where he studied complementary, to his village “Shabtin”, When I got up, I saw him on the sofa, a black skeleton, supporting his knees with his hands.
In “Batroun”, Wadih remembers that an Arab teacher, who has literary inclinations, encouraged him to write poetry. According to Wadih, literary gestures are established in the poet from a young age, and then grow with age, experiences, readings, and so on.
Wadih remembers “Poetry Magazine”, which was the source of his first reading, after he moved to Beirut in 1968, “it was the key to my introduction to new poetry.” Through it, he had relations with: Youssef Al-Khal, Shawqi Abi Chakra, Issam Mahfouz, and Sargon Boulos.
And then his relationship with the poet Onsi al-Hajj, “the tendency to solitude.” As for the Iraqi poet Sargon Boulos, Saadeh says that he was the closest to him, and he saw similarities between their two lives. After the magazine “Sha’ar”, Wadih says that “Mawaqif” and “Al-Adab” magazines also caught his attention at the time.
Wadih moved to Beirut at the age of 20, and there he taught elementary classes for two years, worked as a distributor for films at the Kodak Company, and entered the press as a freelance writer. Beirut in the sixties was a city of accelerated modernity, which caused Wadih to “shock modernity and love Beirut,” as he recalls.
Despite his nostalgia for his village “Shabtin”, which he said he misses along with its people, Saadeh reveals that he prefers to stay in Australia with the family. As for what remains in the memory of “Shabtin” it is a “confused place”, as “Shabtin” is no longer a village, nor has it become a city. In sum, Wadih believes that “the whole land has become an exile.”
Saadeh says, “My children only know Lebanon through the sporadic news,” stressing that they grew up in Australia, and enjoy all citizenship rights, so they “feel a sense of belonging to Australia.” Although they visited Lebanon twice as a child, “they feel that it is a country they do not know.” All in all, Wadih laments about Lebanon: “It was and will not return,” speaking of a “beautiful lie whose name was Lebanon”, ravaged by sectarianism, corruption and the loss of people’s rights, and dreams of a “secular state” evaporated.
Wadih Saadeh translated 3 books for each of: the Japanese Kenzborough Oi, the Albanian Ismail Kadareh, and the Nigerian Chinua Achebe, but the translation project stopped at these, and Wadih did not complete the journey. . Then, after immigrating to Australia, Wadih was busy with other matters, so he no longer had the nerve to do work that required effort, including translation, he says.
Wadih Saadeh reveals a “miserable” childhood in a poor house with no toys or a library, except for a toy from a car tire (I roll it and run after it around the house or use it as a steering wheel), and another game “I used to punch an empty sardine can, tie it with a string, and put small stones in it.” and his reward.” However, the most distant thing in the memory of the happiness of childhood absence, death, and disability.
By restoring Wadih’s first collection of poetry, “The Evening Has No Brothers,” he says that he did not have the money to print it and issue it from a publishing house, so he issued it in his own handwriting, and also sold it with his own hand on the street. As for the final speech of the dialogue, Saadeh says, “This world is mired in an abyss, and nothing will save it, neither poetry nor anything else.”
Iskandar Habash divides his dialogue book with Wadih Saadeh into: an introduction, questions that took the most space, especially questions of poetry, selections from Wadih’s poetry (10 poems), and an appendix of pictures (17 pictures), that the dialogues project will continue, and there are dialogues that will soon be issued to Habash about Lines and Shadows itself, with the UK-based Iraqi Kurdish poet Salah Faeq.