Thursday, May 6, 2010

Poetic scene in Yemen has promising future, Dr. al-Maqaleh

In a special interview with recently awarded Dr. Abdel-Aziz al-Maqaleh by the al-Owais Cultural Foundation for top award for poetry category 2008-2009 and one of Yemen’s brightest intellectuals, poets and critics, al-Maqaleh shares his views and critical analysis about the award, contemporary poetic landscape in Yemen and cultural challenges for poetry and novels in the Arab world. He also provides updates on his upcoming annual award for best poetic and writing works in Yemen. Yemen Observer sat down with Dr. al-Maqaleh to share his story of success.

Yemen Observer (YO): What’s your thought about the latest award you received, al-Owais Cultural Foundation’s top award for poetry category 2008-2009?

Dr. Abdel-Aziz al-Maqaleh (AM): With all my respect to awards givers, I normally keep my personal reservation about awards in general.

YO: You apologized for not going to United Arab Emirates to receive the award. Why?

AM: I have apologized to several organizations and countries before for not attending in their countries to receive awards. Why? Because of many reasons. I’ve been already to Europe and many other countries. I’ve spent around 15 years abroad, away from Yemen so I feel I’m satisfied enough with traveling. I feel I could travel the whole world through books and now through television channels. In our current era, one can easily see the world while he’s sitting in his home. So why would he bother himself traveling. In addition, I have serious health issues that compel me to follow certain diet and sleep in a certain time, get up in a certain time, and I write in certain time and I’m in this system for too many years and I can’t do something out of that system. If I do, my whole system will distort. And frankly, I’m so attached to Sana’a and my grandchildren that I can’t leave. One time my granddaughter traveled abroad for studies reasons and I ended up calling her every day.

YO: What could you tell us about al-Owais’ award?

AM: I was very happy about the award accompanying group than receiving the award itself. I divided the award to my two families. First to my family, who has always been a great support to my work and me. The other family is consisted of Yemeni authors and poets. There will be an annual award for Yemeni authors and poets especially the youth who needs encouragement and support. The award will be into three categories, best book of collection of poems, best novel, and best book of collection of stories. We established a committee of critics and great poets in Yemen who will be responsible to examine and evaluate what’s being published every year of such publications and they will choose three great works. This represents an encouragement to young creative people in Yemen.

YO: Do you think your award will get a success?

AM: I very much hope that it gets an impact and popularity because I continuously find new published poetic work for youth. Most of the work impresses me and I get very happy to see their work. Those creative and artist youth needs encouragement and support. For example, I just read a book for Mohammed al-Shalafi and I was very delighted to see how creative he was.

YO: What will the award’s name be?

AM: We still didn’t decide what the award’s name will be, but may be it will be the “Creativity Award”... (humbly he says) I don’t like my name to be associated to it but we will see.

YO: What’s your view on Yemen’s current poetic scene?

AM: I can say with a complete objectivity that the reality for poetic scene in Yemen through continuing studies to Yemen’s creative poetry, poetry in Yemen will pose a high position not only throughout local compass but also throughout the whole world and this is not only wishes but it’s a certain feeling towards the huge amount of poetry that Yemenis especially the young ones from girls and boys who travel towards future carrying a massive real ambition that’s based on distinguished talents.

YO: How do you judge Yemen’s contemporary poetry?

AM: Modernizing poetry has begun in Yemen later than when it did in the other Arab countries but it was able to in a short time to catch up the poetic advancement in the Arab world and even to come over. This is a critic judgment not wishes as I already mentioned.

YO: Part of modernizing is translating poetic work into several languages, what do you feel about that?

AM: I’m with modernizing. My work has been translated into English, French and Italian. I’m glad when I see my work translated.

YO: There is a typical notion that says poetry is more appreciated in the Arab world than it is in the west but novels are appreciated in the west unlike how they are in the Arab world?

AM: There is a misunderstanding about Arabic novels. It has been always existing but in different forms and shapes. However, in modern era, novels were greatly influenced by novels from the west. That only happened for the modern Arabic novels not for the classical Arabic novels. This influence meant to be for modernizing.

YO: Do you think that novels will have more popularity than poetry in the Arab world just like what’s happening in the west?

AM: Poetry has been always and is still the biggest influential factor in Arab’s culture. You can simply watch the television channels and see the many programs for the Arabic poetry. There are many competitions and people follow those programs passionately. Those channels could have cared for novels but no, they care about poetry. Novels have a great place among intellectuals but poetry in all its form does so, among intellectuals and public.

YO: Is there deterioration in cultural scene that greatly impacts the Arabic language and its teaching practices?

AM: When I held my PhD and got back to Yemen I had too many reservations and objections in teaching literature in schools and university in Yemen back then. They used to teach students the old and classical poetry at schools and teach students the modern poetry in university which was illogical. It had to be the way around. Understanding the contemporary poetry facilitates understanding the old and classic one. In addition teaching Arabic was in an out-of-date practice. I wanted students to interact not only memorize. When a student learns, interacts, grasps invisible details about poetry and Arabic language, that’s the updated teaching practice. There are many teachers who sought and still seek to improve things, but it will take some time.

YO: You call for modernizing but isn’t against keeping traditions?

AM: I call for modernizing so that we could live our current era but that doesn’t mean we neglect our history. Essentially, each time has its language and traditions so there must be development to literature and poetry in the Arab world. I respect our traditions but we must live our era. Modernizing is essential for all walks of life.