Great wings indeed!
Fatherhood by Adeeb Kamal Ad-Deen, Seaview press, Adelaide. 2009
Review by Anne-Marie Smith
Born in the ancient city of Babylon in 1953, Adeeb Kamal Ad-Deen is an Arabic language poet, journalist and translator. After finding that his work, journalistic career and family were discriminated against, he had no option but to leave Iraq for Jordan – later Australia in the year 2000 – protesting against Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. Soon after he eventually arrived in Townsville, Karen Ingram of the Townsville Bulletin interviewed him. She quotes him saying ‘There are wonderful writers here, but unfortunately most Australian literature never reaches Arab countries.’ 1
Reading Adeeb Kamal Ad-Deen’s poetry took me back to the days of my French education. The poems in Fatherhood reminded me of symbolism, of Baudelaire and of timelessness. The language he uses expresses his vision and he deals with the human condition through universal themes. The titles of his poems are testimony to this: Loneliness, Boredom, Losses, Isolation, Waiting, Joy, Laughter, Meaning and Time.
In the aptly titled ‘Graves of Meaning’, many an image associates a colour with an emotion for maximum effect, for example ‘The yellow uncovers the colours of my torture’ (34) .The same poem goes on to describe how the forest, like a woman, plays tricks on the old man. He makes use of anthropomorphic similes. As the ‘female’ likes to tease the hero, so does the ‘forest’:
Time of female, give me a banquet!
Do you play with the forest near me
While I tear into times of desires?
On the other hand we see the hero identifying with the element of water:
Until I have ascertained that water
Partially represented my shape
That same body of water finally mingles with the sea and becomes the vessel that takes him to his death. After the initial fast pace with its sharp movements and splashes of colour, the poem suddenly gives way to a dimmer setting: ‘The forest is ambiguous days breaking at night.’ This contrast between daylight and night time evoke a darker world and leads to images that also suggest the rites of passage in the hero’s life. An innocent child becomes a freak and the freak in turn becomes a freak of nature.
So at ten years old I become a boy
At twenty years old I became a monster
At seventy years old I turn into a cave. (35)
The argument builds up step by step. The use of aphorism as a linguistic device brings to mind the cryptic words of ancient oracles. This technique adds some mystery to the poignancy of the poetic statements.
In the poem ‘Fire and Sinbad’, the last line of the stanza entitled ‘Family’ illustrates for me the journey of someone who has suffered, to the point of agony.
But who are you
You who keep screaming all the time: ‘Help! Help!’
Are you my son or my father? (43)
The efforts of soul-searching shape a never-ending pain that hits the reader in this final line.
At this stage, the fate of the poet in Baudelaire’s ‘Albatross’ comes to mind. The weight of the hero’s agony as he attempts to define his place in the world seems to stand in the way of his progress. Baudelaire spells out the poet’s trauma in the second verse of this well-known poetic piece:
Riding the storm above the marksman's range;
Exiled on the ground, hooted and jeered,
He cannot walk because of his great wings. 2
The combination of Adeeb’s well-argued stanzas with the emotional responses he elicits touches with acuity. It feels as if a raw nerve is exposed and this further compels the interest. I seemed to know where the poet was taking me. Along with welcome allusions to the lore of world literature Adeeb Kamal Ad-Deen’s poetry uncovers the depths often reached by intense marginalisation. It opens the wound that the feeling of alienation has caused to many troubled souls.
Over the many challenging years of his life, the author developed a poetic style that made semantic use of the letters of the Arabic alphabet. Adeeb explained that he studied the Qur'an, the Bible and the Talmud and also looked into other beliefs and cults of Magic. From these readings he found universals across cultures. He felt that the core of the personality, the suffering could be symbolised by letters, and each letter could offer an explanation for the poet’s suffering. The letter ‘N’ was first published in 1993 in Baghdad as was The Dot’s first edition in 1999.This interpretation assigned some letters of the alphabet a significance based on personalisation of emotions. Some letters become symbols that carry a special message expressing the poet’s frustrations, or selected metaphors show that a sense of serenity and a feeling of protection have been accorded to the poet. He also sees the importance of diacritics such as the dot (‘.’) as this symbol is able to take on multiple roles in the written word, especially in the Arabic script. This semantic development is not unlike the use of secret languages, a common occurrence in oppressed societies. Scholars from Arabic countries from Iraq to Morocco have studied Adeeb’s poetical use of letters and personification arguing that he has altered the reading of poetry in the Arabic language. He has created a new system by giving a new meaning to letters of their alphabet; hence he has been referred to as ‘The Man of Letters’. 3
Once in Australia, Adeeb suffered from a dislocation phase – a hiatus, until the pull of the letters and the Internet, or both, saved him. Jude Aquilina in her introduction to Fatherhood points out his work has been translated and critiqued. He started writing again, and also translated some Asia Pacific literature into Arabic. In his own words ‘Poetry is life’. 4
Lately some of his poems have been published in The Best Australian Poems 2007 (edited by Peter Rose), Meanjin, Friendly Street Poets and in the anthology Culture is … Australian Stories across Cultures.5
It is reassuring that Adeeb Kamal Ad-Deen has published some of his poems in English for Australians to access. To quote Rosie Scott, co-editor of Another Country (Sydney PEN’s 2004 Anthology), ‘The writers who inhabit this country have only their state of exile in common. There are distinguished poets and fiction writers like Adeeb Kamal Ad-Deen and Nasrin Mahoutchi, refugees now living permanently in Australia.’ 6
Azminah Publishing in Jordan has just released Adeeb’s tenth Arabic language poetry collection entitled Forty Poems about the Letter (2009). This collection, written in Sydney and Adelaide, deals with love, dream, exile, and death. The English language collection Fatherhood offers the English-speaking reader a sample of his older, as well as more recent, poems.
Reading Fatherhood gave me a ping of recognition. It was like the response of a computer system that has just been electronically ‘pinged’. In electronics, this signals the start of sound, language, colour, images, kinetics and importantly contact with the wider world. It simply means there is life, which is Adeeb’s definition of poetry.
Try reading Adeeb Kamal Ad-Deen’s poetry … see if it pings for you too.
* 1 - Multicultural Diversity, June 2003: 21.
* 2 - ‘Le Poète est semblable au prince des nuées
Qui hante la tempête et se rit de l'archer; Exilé sur le sol au milieu des huées, Ses ailes de géant l'empêchent de marcher’
‘L’Albatros’, Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Baudelaire (1857). (Translation: www.geocities.com/Paris/Metro)
* 3 - The Man of Letters: 33 Critics Write about Adeeb Kamal Ad-Deen’s Poetry, ed Dr. Migdad Rahim, (Amman: AIR books, 2007).
* 4 - Personal communication, June 2009).
* 5 - Ed. Anne-Marie Smith (The Multicultural Writers Association of Australia, Wakefield Press, 2008).
* 6 - http://www.pen.org.au/index.php?menu=Writers in Detention&subMenu= Another Country
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