Dammam – “On the way towards the poem’s doors”, the paths meet at the threshold of the experience of Saudi poet Ali al-Damini, who actively contributed in the establishment of the modern poetic movement in Saudi Arabia and became a prominent name in the stumbling modernity project.
Two years ago, the elite of poetry, criticism and literature met to present their appreciation for the poetic and literary experience of Damini, and his dedication to the modernity project. They poured all their gratitude in a book called “On the way towards the poem’s doors… Ali Al-Damini, studies, readings, and testimonies on his poetry and cultural experience”.
Dr. Mojab Al-Zahrani described him as a “transparent lyricist whose original poeticism is expressed when he talks about love.” Poet Fouzia Abu Khaled meanwhile described him as the rebel poet in both form and content just as the sea winds that cannot bear the burden of stability.”
Asharq Al-Awsat met Damini at his Saudi residence in Dammam to talk more about the modernity project, his poetic and literary experience.
– You were the voice of the stumbling modernity project in Saudi Arabia. How do you look at this project today?
Modernity in accordance to its values that govern the sovereignty of rationality, freedom, democracy, liberation of the self, and creative existence from the burdens of heritage, customs, style, and social and political oppression, can only be achieved in general within a system of dialectical and integrative interactions between the cultural, social, economic and political component of any society. It is not limited to thought, literature and arts alone, although the latter maintains a different privacy and independence.
We have therefore seen that the effects of modern thought, philosophy and creativity have accompanied the Renaissance and contributed to the emergence of modernity in the West in general. To a much less extent, the intellectual and literary interaction in the Arabic capitals, from Cairo to Beirut to Baghdad, has been affected within the particularity of the superstructure. This superstructure has since the beginning of the 20th century been open to all that is new in the world, with output that is outside the Arab world intellectually and literary, despite the lack of Arab cultural, social, and political structures.
– How is the project of modernity born from the womb of a tribal society and how can it grow in a fundamentalist environment?
We can look at our society in Saudi Arabia where we witnessed Mohamed Hassan Awwad’s loud voice in the stronghold of fundamentalism and tribalism to usher in a new era that looks forward to freedom, free thought and new creativity. He was a pioneer in writing free verse poetry in the Arab world. This happened despite the ferocity of confrontation with socially and politically conservative structures. Many names can be stated here, especially in the fields of literature, social thought, and creativity, such as Abdullah Abdul-Jabbar, Hamza Shehata, Abdulah Al-Qassimi, Ahmad Sbaie, Abd Al-Kareem Al-Juhaiman and many others.
– What about you?
If we talk about the field of poetry specifically, I count myself as a branch in the tree of renewal, freedom and renaissance in the whole world. I consider myself as one of those who walked on this long path in our country, such as Hasan Qureishi, Ghazi Al-Gusabi and Mohammed Al-Ali.
– Can a modernistic experiment in literature be accomplished in isolation from society?
The journey of modernity in literature and poetry in our country precisely cannot be accomplished unless all components of society are integrated to reach the values and mechanisms of modernity in its different aspects. Here comes the part of poetry and other arts to play an enlightening role in this stage and context.
– What did this project achieve at the public level?
I affirm that the project of literary and artistic modernity in our country has overcome all the violence from all social and official sides. Despite all the obstacles, it was able to draw a bright picture that we cherish in literary criticism, poetry, narration, experimental theater and new cinema.
Concerning poetry in particular, we can name some prominent poetic names in the Arab world, such as as Mohammed Ali, Mohammed Al-Thubaiti, Fawzia Abu Khaled, Ahmed Mulla, Jassim Al-Saheeh and Ali Al-Hazmi and others.
– You supervised the cultural appendix “Almarbad” in the climax of the battle between the modernists and their opponents. To what extent did you succeed in embracing the marginalized voices at that time?
There were many newspapers at that time along with Al-Marbad, such as Al-Yamama, Riyadh, Al-Jazeera, Okaz newspapers, and then Iqraa magazine. Al-Marbad, despite the limited resources, was able to embrace many creative pens in poetry, story and criticism. It was an early platform for the publication of poets in our country who suffered from marginalization.
– Where are the voices of modernists today?
Those following our cultural platforms in newspapers, literary clubs, art associations, social networking platforms, libraries and book fairs, will hear the high voice of modernity in various fields. We have recently prepared a special file on the poetic movement in the Kingdom. It will be published soon in the Moroccan magazine, “House of Poetry”, and you will be delighted by its rich creative innovation and the multiplicity of sources. Poetry is written as a vertical poem, free poetry, and prose, in addition to the modern popular poem. As for literary criticism, we are living in its brightest stages, especially among our youth as seen in their masters and doctorate theses.
– Opponents of modernity raised the issue of religious sensitivity to block its movement. What did the modernists do to avoid falling into this trap?
The opponents of modernity used every possible way to stand against us, from fabricating charges of westernization, to vandalism, and distortion of the language of Quran. But modernity has won despite all odds.
– Do you still chant: “My blood is thirsty, and the stones of the valley are my tongue”? Are you still haunted with worries?
Yes, I’m still haunted with worries, looking for new aesthetic poetic paths that quench my thirst on the long path towards a better tomorrow, which I do not see today, but I never doubt it is born in every moment to shine on our bloody existence.