Poetry can ‘save Arab world’ says Nobel Prize hopeful

Speaking at the Gothenburg Book Fair, Syrian poet and possible Nobel Prize contender Adonis said that religious fanaticism is 'destroying the heart of the Arab world', but sees salvation in poetry.

Poetry can 'save Arab world' says Nobel Prize hopeful
The Gothenburg Book Fair. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Noted Syrian poet Adonis' name surfaces regularly as a top contender for the Nobel literature prize, which is handed out annually in Stockholm. The 86-year-old, who lives in exile, made the comments at the Gothenburg Book Fair in western Sweden on Sunday.

He was equally scathing about the West's role in the conflict in his homeland which has claimed more than 300,000 lives over five years.

“The Americans are not looking for solutions, they are seeking problems,” he told the AFP news agency in an interview.

“The Americans do not have a coherent vision. Neither do the Russians, who are only driven by self-interest. The Arab world is strategic, an area of riches and the Arab people are just a means” to oil wealth, he said.

The poet, who is Alawite, the sect to which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad belongs, wrote to the leader in 2011 calling for a democratic transition. Now he sees hope in poetry.

“Poetry cannot slit a child's throat, nor kill a man or destroy a museum,” said Adonis, whose real name is Ali Ahmad Saïd Esber.

Calling for a separation between the state and religion, he said poets could play an important role in bringing this about.

“Arab poetry has always been against God,” he said. “There are no great poets in our history who were great believers like for example [Paul] Claudel in France.”

“The future lies in secularism,” he said. “I had said one cannot stage a secular revolution with people emerging from the mosque to demonstrate. A revolution is one thing and the mosque another.”

Adonis said poetry would never be stifled.

“As long as death is there – and death exists – there will be poetry,” he said. Poetry will never be silenced.”

Adonis, whose real name is Ali Ahmad Saïd Esber. Photo: AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini

Adonis, who is also an acclaimed critic, painter and essayist, moved to Paris in 1985 and has been named a Commander of France's Order of Arts and Letters.

He was Ladbroke's favourite as Nobel Literature Prize winner in the year of the Arab Spring in 2011.

His name frequently comes up in the annual run-up to the top literary award but it has eluded him so far.

Born to a farming family and with no formal schooling in his early years, Adonis has come a long way from the poor western Syrian village where he spent his early years.

“I'd never seen a car, electricity or a telephone till I was 13. I always ask myself how I was transformed into this other person; it was almost miraculous,” he said in an interview a few years ago.

The winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced next month.