Ramy Al-Asheq: Here pass the dogs of memory

fot. Stefanie Heim

Ramy Al-Asheq is an Arabic poet who told Presto that he did not belong to any place where he had lived so far. He also called writing as exile. Presto talks to him about poetry and life. The poet will meet the Polish audience on Friday 4.10 at 18:00, in the Library "Przy Zawiszy" in Warsaw, Aleje Jerozolimskie 121/123 (entrance from the back of the building).

The Dogs of Memory

We knew the hole that was in the back of the head
would try to swallow up whatever we threw behind us
like a vacuum cleaner
to return it to us in the form of dogs that bite us and bark
eat the flesh of our joy
play with the bones of songs
and give birth to sad puppies
spread out dancing between the convolutions of the present
pissing in every corner of the head
and leaving their signature behind:
here pass the dogs of memory

Translated by: Dr. Levi Thompson

Władysław Rokiciński: How is it with writing poems: "the tap turns on" and they “flow”, or is it blood, sweat and tears?

Ramy Al-Asheq: It is individual. For me, writing is like masturbation – from the religious point of view, I mean. It is a high dose of pleasure followed by a strong guilt and shame feeling. I enjoy writing only while writing, but whenever I finish a poem, a text or publish a book, I feel guilty. I do not like what I write and I am not proud about it. I wish that I’ve written them in a different way. I will say the same about my answers in this interview.

What about your roots? In one of your earlier interviews, you said that you were shaped by the Syrian revolution. And what about the 20th century history of the Palestinian nation?

I was born in the United Arab Emirates in the late eighties of the last century, my father was born as a Palestinian refugee in Damascus, my mother is Syrian. I grew up in Damascus, in a refugee camp called Al-Yarmouk which is no longer existing as the Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad has bombed it down completely, at first besieging it for years, and letting my people die of hunger. I must remind you with the dates, I am not talking about the first world war or the second one, I am talking about 2013 until 2018. So, when you ask me about my roots, I immediately remember my childhood photos. All of them are gone now after the destruction of Al-Yarmouk. I cannot prove that I was a blond, blue-eyed, fat child. I cannot prove that once I was a child! How someone without any childhood photo would talk about the 20th century history? How someone without a passport or a homeland would talk about nation?

I do not fit into any category. I was born in a place I don’t belong to (UAE), with my grandmother’s stories about a place I don’t belong to (Palestine). I grew up in a place I don’t belong to (Syria). I studied in a place I don’t belong to (Lebanon). I lived with my first girlfriend in a place I don’t belong to (Jordan). And I live now in a place where I don’t belong to (Germany).

So, you are a Palestinian/Syrian/Arabic poet in exile. For the Polish readers, this is nothing new, because the greatest Polish poets of the 19th century had to emigrate. Does the life in exile oblige to anything? Or, the poets are just free – they have no obligations?

I think, we need to be careful when we say: “nothing new”, because this can be understood as ignoring and normalizing the catastrophe. It is a huge disaster when there is more than 60 million people who are nowadays refugees and live in exile. The humanity didn’t learn from the history and we are still repeating the same mistakes. Let’s look around us, everywhere there is fascism, racism, islamophobia, anti-Semitism, patriarchalism and homophobia. The world is telling us that every place is an exile now, even in our homes, between families and in our bedrooms.

I can tell you some rosy stories and make you sure that exile has no obligations, but I will be lying. Writing itself is an exile. We leave our reality to create an uncertain world based on beauty, ethics, language or imagination. That is because we are not satisfied with our reality ever since we exist on this planet. So, we created gods as wishes for justice. We created paradises as a wish for a “better” world and we created the whole story about our existence here on this planet since Adam and Eve as Exiled from Paradise.

What are your poems about? Can it be somehow generalized, or sorted? Should one at all do such things, segregate poems? But there must be some power - some powers - that push you to write them. What kind of?

I hope that I do not disappoint you and the readers when I say: There is no power that pushes me to write. I’ve heard a lot of this stories, some poets told me that they hear a voice which tells them what to write. I don’t believe in that. Writing is a talent and a craft together. I write and enjoy writing while I am doing it. I enjoy reading even more. I don’t know what my poems are about. I wrote about love, war, freedom, death, aging, sea… Sometimes I write epic poems, sometimes very short and simple, but you could say that they are all melancholic somehow. I think the sadness is more valuable in poetry than happiness. Virginia Woolf said: “I like people to be unhappy because I like them to have souls”.

You will meet with the Polish audience, with Polish poetry lovers. This is an initiative of the student Arabist’s Scientific Circle from the University of Warsaw, which is very active in promoting the knowledge of the Arab world and its culture. If you were to read only one poem, only a few verses from it - what would these words be?

I am half of my light
the other half
my absence.

(Translated by: Dr. Levi Thompson)

We thank you for your time and we wish you a pleasant stay in Poland.

Polish version HERE

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