Title: Interview: A Woman in the Blowing Questions
Author: mustafa mudathir
Date: 09-20-2013, 06:51 PM
Many thanks to ElFatih Mirghni for conducting this interview and allowing me
to publish it on this board as a token of our commitment to contribute and share.
A Woman in the Blowing Questions
Interview with Arab poet and information icon.
Prepared and conducted by Mr. Elfatih Mirghani
A Woman in The Blowing Questions
It is somewhat difficult to precisely entitle an interview due to the fact that press
dialogues, contrary to articles, have open outcomes and always prompt divergent
topics as questions branch out. So, often times, the interviewer or even the paper’s editor may settle for extracting a key phrase from the body or folds of the dialogue.
I based my choice for the key phrase “A Woman in the Blowing Questions” from the paper Dr. Parween Habib had presented to the George Washington University on the fourth of May 2011.
I was driven to this choice by two considerations. The first is that the person interviewed enjoys exuberant creative momentum. Dr. Parween is a published poet and a literary critic with a vision. She is a journalist/writer with clear impressions on several Gulf newspapers and magazines.
She is also a TV program presenter with an elegant appearance and presence.
And above all that, she is a serious academic who participated with research papers in many forums, including the George Washington University where she won the Dynamic Woman Award. A person so rich in creative momentum surely motivates one in various aspects of dialogue.
The second consideration is that I felt the title of "A Woman in The Blowing Questions," gives me a degree of flexibility, a greater latitude, to digress and elaborate with a person accustomed to dialoguing with others, reaching with them and by them to the distant harbors of joy, to the furthermost limits.
Related to this is my adoption of a projective style in some of the questions to free the dialogue from the confines of the traditional style.
Dr. Parween, welcome to Japan! I would like to admit that I came to this interview possessed by a sense of anxiety. It is not a poet or a novelist that I am going to interview. Not a journalist/writer either or an academic researcher. It is, at one and same time, a combination of all these in mosaic. So, let me start by asking a question you probably were asked before. Where, in the thick of all this creativity, does Parveen find herself and how?
Thank you, Ustaz Fatih. Indeed I was often asked this question. Not only by the press but also by the information media at large. My colleagues in the media see me as a poet and an intellectual. This arbitrary partitioning makes me feel twice a foreigner. There is no contradiction in being a media figure or a poet and an academic researcher, all in one. Or an intellectual in the terminlogy of the medium of culture. But this case has become problematic par excellence and is fit to be a model that reflects the imbalances in the way we view things.
Does this mean that you see yourself as having equal measures of each of the components of your mosaic?
Of course not! To be precise with you I find a huge vent in poetry because it reflects me candidly and unceremoniously. It represents the moments of love and sublimity; moments of breakdown and fear; moments of joy and sorrow and moments of escape to and from one’s self. All these moments we encounter and express with different emotions. Poetry in itself is emotion and interaction. In short, it is the rhythm of life.
The text “Chopsticks”(1) in your novel “Dantilla Less Than The Desert” was striking to me because, apart from being a utensil in the Japanese cuisine, chopsticks have a deep spiritual connotation in the collective consciousness of the Japanese people as they had only been used in religious ceremonies before they were made public lately and included in curricula that teach etiquette and the proper use of chopsticks. Is it possible to say that one of your "Parweens" has a fantasy for Japan?
(Laughs) I am a fan of Japanese sushi! I came to Japan with little knowledge of the distinctive features of this country. I read Kawabata’s The House of the Sleeping Beauties. I read Basho, the most important haiku poet. I know a little about the qualities of the Japanese people, not a lot but I would like to transcend this. This people, who were defeated in World War II and faced the tragedy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki .. then, what? For me everything here invites one to reflect and classify. I am, sometimes, led by my curiosity!
You like sushi and read Kawabata and Basho! Then you do have a Japanese fantasy! I learned that you will be giving a series of lectures in Japan under the title My Experience. Would you throw some light on this?
These were the lectures I presented at the George Washington University in 2011 under the title "A Woman in the Blowing Questions". They are intended to involve the Japanese women in the Arab women’s experience and concerns. As an exchange of experiences.
You are described in research forums as the woman who killed Nizar with research. So the late poet Nizar Qabbani represented a significant milestone in your creative and academic life. What have you found in your diligent research about the personality of Nizar?
First of all, I do not agree with the argument that Nizar had been killed research-wise because his was a human experience and human experiences remain open to different readings. No one, whatever abilities he has, can monopolize the right to research this personality, kill it with research or stuff it like a mummy. As for the things that I've found in Nizar as a distinct creative experience, they are many and I have approached them in my book The Techniques of Expression in The Poetry of Nizar Qabbani in which I cited, for example, Nizar’s ability to poeticize life and things. In his poems, Nizar took interest in things that make up the details of our daily lives, such as a cup of tea or coffee, the implications of colors and costumes and the color of shoes. Even in his elegy to his late partner Balkis, he seemed to want to bring her back to life in the best of her dresses and jewelry, transcending the real view of her dead body which was burnt black in the bombing of the Iraqi embassy in Beirut.
In an earlier interview you mentioned something to the effect that most women in Nizar’s poems were of the Christian Dior, Stefano Gabbana, Versace and
Giorgio Armani type of women. You wished he had written about peasants or working class women. Was this a critique of Nizar?
Not necessarily. Not as much a critique as it was a wish. I attributed things to Nizar’s urban upbringing and to his background as a diplomat. These two factors must have had their effects on forming his poetic imaginaire.
(Interviewer: I agree with Dr. Parveen that a poet is the son of his environment. I have learned from prof. A. M. Khalifa, author of Ancient Anthems and translator of The Divine Comedy, that the life of distinguished Sudanese poet, late M.A. al-Qurashi, into a very rich family had reflected in his luxurious poems and lofty songs which carried such titles as "The God of My Art" and "Life’s Tune is From You” and "Elhalim Saba-na”!)
In your dialogue with the Iraqi poet Wafa Abdel Razak you reported that when she got the ‘poetic labor’, as she put it, her husband would take the children and leave the house to the garden. My dear friend, the Sudanese poet Ahmed Elghali, known for his poem “Aynaki lee Souqia, Your Eyes Sate My Thirst" related to me that when he got that poetic ‘moan’, he would suffer a condition akin to extreme insomnia and tension. How would you describe the late Nizar when he got this creative condition?
To my knowledge, there was not a specific state that Nizar had when he got poetic inspiration, as was the case with many poets. But he preferred to pen down his poems on colored paper! Of course, this was not a ritual to summon his poetic talent as much as you can call it a ‘taste’ or a ‘poetic delicacy’!
Your eyes sate my thirst
Make our meeting sweet
When absent are my friends
and left, a beaten heart;
stripped of all the toasts
I try to steal a drink
but empty are the cups!
There are those who believe that prose poetry is devoid of music and can not displace traditional verse. What is your take on that, Dr. Parween?
I do not agree with that. The fact that ‘prose poetry’ does not abide by the laws of meter and rhythm does not mean it has no internal musical sounds or loses the text’s music and creative portrayal. ‘Prose poetry’ is the most read genre today. This, if anything, shows that prose poems address the taste of a wide range of audience interested in meaning, not structure. As for the idea of displacing traditional poetry, it is an inaccurate premise by which some bigots try to mummify and attune to a different rhythm and language the taste of other people and their right to creativity. Prose poems address the rhythm of our present era, and poets who write prose poems have the most presence in the literary scene. In spite of this, I don’t see ‘prose poetry’ as a subtraction from vertical traditional poetry.
"leave my elbow alone! .. let me pass to my heart .. alone here, under the sun of my days, under the shade of violet, the fragrance of an ancient evening passed away. No face have I, no name. No home to gather dust from my own song. Leave me here, on my first estrangement, in the sun of my words, I have from the scent of the alien language when evening falls upon my heart, a (P) that lamented an ‘R’, an (O) that leafed out an (I) across the boards. The sun is wine, to an idea, served in a vessel of N.”
I liked this poem on a personal level; it seems like a melancholically flowing waterfall. You were not content with emotional expression, so you scattered the letters of your name in between the folds of that melancholy, as if they were offerings. Like in the ancient mythology, or like some of the manifestations of the Sufis as happens in my country, Sudan. What is the reason for this?
There's no specific reason to justify this. Perhaps, it was a poetic state whose contexts demanded that the letters of my name be dispersed between the verses of the poem. The poetic state or poetic necessity may, sometimes, require many things the poet may not have a hand in. But, certainly, it is not a state of mysticism.
I do not know if Ibn Arabi and/or Ibn
al-Roumi did a similar thing, but in Sudan, Sufi poets consistently signed their names at the end of their verses to show love to prophet Mohammed.
You managed the TV event "News in The Time of Digital Boom” whose purpose was to examine the challenges facing Arab media, often described as lagging behind. Where do Arab Media stand under the shade of proliferating satellite TV channels and the events of Arab Spring?
I will talk about television as a modern tool, regardless of what it presents. The projects that TV deals with, transmits or contributes to, decide whether the people behind it, running it, have a modernist or a decadent vision. It must be noted that the Arab satellite upsurge required the search for stuff that could last long hours of broadcasting and necessitated the hiring of ever-increasing numbers of Arab media-trained people. In this climate of feverish satellite growth, the demand for cultural programs has increased. Therefore, a big role has to be played by TV, in particular, and other media generally, depending on the ability of those in charge to steer TV in the right direction to serve cultural and societal issues and make satellite TV a genuine window that opens on all sides.
From Parween’s experience with Dubai TV and her interest as a presenter of cultural talk shows, what does Parween aspire for her viewers?
So far, I have accumulated 15 years of experience in the field of media. It began in Bahrain TV by my program entitled “Shrapnels of Creativity”. Then, in Dubai I presented the programs: “Sawary Eng. Masts” and “ Wujooh Eng. Faces”. Last but not least, of course, is my program We Meet Parween Habib on Dubai’s satellite TV.
My interest in cultural programs is based on two things. First is my personal interest in TV as a tool of communication and interaction with the community. The other thing is my loyalty to cultural issues and my desire to extract a wider space for culture on TV from under the unfair domination of commercial advertisement and light programs that seem to replace every other type of program.
You hosted in your program We Meet Parween Habib a large number of artists and writers, including the famed Algerian novelist Ahlam Mostaghanmi before her last novel Black suits You Well was published. An Arab literary magazine (Al Muob-di-oon), allocated the front cover to you picture with a caption below that read: Media icon Parween Habib says: Mostaghanmi annoys me! I wonder what was the source and the reason for annoyance, if any?
There was no cause for concern and I discarded the whole matter. You know that some newspapers and magazines often seek to adopt sensational and thrilling styles as a way to achieve wider distribution!
Despite the active translation movement that pervaded the literary scene in the past two decades and despite the fact that the IT revolution has made reach and interaction possible, some believe that the Arabic novel, with few exceptions, is still stumbling on the road to international acclaim. How do you see this?
In my opinion the Arabic novel and the extent of its success can not be measured by obtaining international awards. The Arab novel’s map is fully populated by creative works that seem to be limitless. And just as poetry is the accumulation of experiences, the novel is. There is a generation of novelists now who have fascinating writings. You were telling me yesterday that in Japan 70,000 books are printed every year. However, the Japanese novel does not cover a large area from the perspective of award winning. But does this mean the Japanese novel does not have the ingredients for spreading? It is well-known that Japan rests on a huge prolific cultural, civilizational and creative inventory.
Your visit to Japan is short; of course not enough to get to know all aspects of life in Japan. What are your impressions up to this moment?
Everything here seems to revolve regularly as if the rhythm of life is set to a watch. There is a striking quietness in people. Even the street are quiet. I liked the cleanness of places, the organization and the accuracy. I wish I had enough time to visit the city of Kyoto. I have heard so much about its beauty. I am fond of travel, of visiting places. Places leave a strong impact on me.
Kyoto is one of the most beautiful cities in Japan. It was the capital city in the eighth century. When the capital was moved to Tokyo, Kyoto retained its religious glow. When the United States was deciding on dropping atomic bombs on Japan, Kyoto was on the list of cities targeted by military commanders for two reasons:
- The first: it was close to Tokyo.
- Second: Kyoto’s style of wooden buildings will aggravate the fire and affect more casualties.
But George Marshall, U.S. Army Chief of Staff at the time, strongly objected to hitting Kyoto; he described it as "a beautiful city with a spiritual impact on the minds of the Japanese people." Thus it was removed from the list of targets.
I noticed that you give particular attention to ‘places’ in both poetry and novel. Is there a special reason for this attention?
Is there anything in existence that is not contained in a place? I’m fond of locations and how they remain fixed in memory with their details and images, maybe even smells. I have written about the relationship between the poet and time and place (space-time) in Dantela Less Than the Desert. I quoted Egyptian poet Ahmed Shawqi in what I saw as very expressive of the correlation between poet, time and place:
"Age may be trifled save for a certain hour; earth may be trifled save for a single place.”
It occurred to me a while back to ask what the name Parween meant? Do you believe in the significance of names and their effect on the fates and destinies of human beings?
(Laughs): My name means butterfly in Farisi language. I do not believe in the impact of names on destinies and fates of human beings but some people see good omens in certain names. Perhaps my father wanted and wished for me to hover above and over Parween physically expressed this flying movement which was sniped by my accompanying photographer Mr. Makutu in such a way that his flashing camera seemed to succeed in stalling the wheel of the present tense.
Writes Elfatih Mirghani, the Interviewer:
As a gift, Parween Habib, gave me a copy of her poetry book,“The Butterfly”, in which were inscribed some friendly words. The truth is that this book contained a poem,"The Stranger", of which I have made several quotes in the contexts of this dialogue. It was a poem that aroused in me, from the first time I read a critique of that book done exclusively for Dar-Al-Hayat in 2012, those hidden sadnesses, for that poem, has touched in my conscience, the similarities of overriding circumstances; of alienation; remoteness from one’s own home country; the burning moments of passion; the failures and the unshared joys of orphaned successes. Then the longing; the Sahabi(2) longing that supported me in the gloomy nights. On the copy of “Dantila Less than The Desert” that she presented to me, Parween Habib wrote: ‘What delights me in particular is that the book has been introduced by the famed Algerian novelist Wasini Al Araj, professor of literary studies at the University of Sorbonne and author of the novel “The Jasmine Collar” to whom is attributed the statement "It seems that everything is against us, including us."’ ‘ He wrote in a paragraph on my book," Parween’s bet in these texts that defy classification, is not the event despite its value, nor is it the city that has received stolen yearnings. Not even the face that slips from memory to the borders of an exhausting and variable present. It is the language! Language is the ability to awaken a limitless quantity of hidden beauties and charms.
Language is able to speak the secrets of things, of disappointment, of fear and love. Then Parween would accept the harsh losses and a charming hand would take her by the wings and put her in the deep flame of the lamp hanging on the gates of the spirit.”
(1) Chopsticks: short, frequently tapered sticks used in pairs of equal length, which are used as the traditional eating
utensils of China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. (courtesy wikipedia.org)
(2) Sahabi: an adjective that described the early believers in prophet Mohamad’s message who stayed with him as companions.