Mahjoob Kabalo: The Poet Who Made A Secretary For Fields

Mahjoob Kabalo: The Poet Who Made A Secretary For Fields

By: Mohamed Najeeb Mohamed Ali

- Arab Modernist criticism is the forerunner of the new creative experiences.

- The concept of poetics transcended the limits of linguistics and broke the frame of the poem.

- Creativity is an individual expression in which different times overlap in complex ways, and I do not believe in the concept of generations in art.


KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - Mahjoob Kabalo is considered one of the pioneers of prose poetry in Sudan during the last decades. He contributed in literary criticism and is known for his audacious and controversial opinions. He was part of the youth movement in the 1970s. He writes stories and radio plays, and recently published a poetry collection entitled Secrtair Al-Hogool “Field Secretary”. The collection was released from “Dar Rafiki” in South Sudan, and was available in the Khartoum International Book Fair. Sudanow met him and discussed with him his experience, vision and issues of contemporary prose poetry.


SUDANOW: “Field Secretary” is the title of your last collection. Why this ambiguity regarded by some as inseparable from prose poetry?

Kabalo: The title is only a name for the creative product, and the name cannot be described as ambiguous. The ambiguity begins with the sentence at its lowest stage in the text. And then spreads little by little till it rolls the whole text. Regardless of all this, if we consider the title significance and detect its strategy, the translation of the word (secretary) to its literal equivalent in Arabic is (secret trustworthy), and the expression (fields’ secret trustworthy) clarifies the strategy of the title and its aesthetic dimensions. Hence, the title refers to the dialectics of modernity and tradition, of the Arab world and the global world. Evoking the foreign term (secretary) side by side with the Arabic term (fields) may lead to the recall of a larger number of dichotomies.


Q: Despite all that you have said there are objections to the ambiguity that characterizes prose poetry?

A: Objections to the ambiguity in poetry did not begin from prose poetry. In the past, Arab poet Abu Tammam (Abbasid era) was asked why he did not write what one could understand, and then he answered why one could not understand what he wrote; it seems that one does not understand by laziness. In fact there are two different perspectives regarding the issue of ambiguity in poetry. The first is that all arts tend to the ultimate abstraction, which is music, which is itself the full manifestation of abstraction since it is devoid of any linguistic connotations. Language, in this case, does not produce signs; it is a raw material for the construction of texts such as colors in drawing and granite in sculpture. I think this is the approach of Syrian poet Salim Barakat and the last generation of young poets, especially the (Itiniya) group in Sudan. The other perspective is the main stream poetry; it adopts poetry as an aesthetic linguistic structure. This perspective does not see that the meaning is the objective, but still, it recognizes its presence.

Field Secretary front cover

Q: Some see that the reference of prose poetry is not Arab?

A: I do not see any stronger reference to any of literary genres than the reference of language. That is, language is not neutral; it is the container of the thought, the soul, and the spirit of the culture it speaks. So, as long as prose poetry is purely Arabic, any other assumptions are devoid of evidence. It is interesting to note that the question of reference frequently confronts prose poetry despite the presence of poetic prose in the work of the Sufi scholars Al Nafari (Abbasid era) and Ibn Arabi (Al-Andalus) and others. What is strange is that the question of the reference is not raised about other genres such as the novel which completely has the Western identity. I say this, but we all contend that culture is the legacy of all humanity.


Q: Has Arab Modernist Criticism been able to keep up with the new creative experiences?

A: Arab Modernist criticism is the forerunner of the new creative experiences. The influence of works such as Syrian poet Adonis’s “AL-Thâbit wal-Mutahawwil” (The Stable and the Changeable), Edward Said’s “Orientalism” (Al Istishraq), and the translation of French critic Suzanne Bernard’s “Prose Poems” has been significant in shaping the new sensitivity. This coincided with the emergence of the structuralist movement in the mid-eighties in Sudan, and its important role in introducing new concepts and announcing modernity. Sudanese criticism continues to foster new experiences with remarkable discoveries and intelligent insights. Prose poetry has had a great deal of interest from imminent critics with high scientific and cultural competences such as Dr. Abdul Majid Al-Habub, Dr. Ahmed Al-Sadiq in general criticism, Dr. Hashim Mirghni in narration, Dr. Hisham Omar Al-Noor and Mutawakil Mohamedain in philosophy.

Q: Egyptian Poet Ahmad Abdul Muti Hijazi called the prose poem the “dumb poem”, and Mohammed al-Makki Ibrahim said it is a poem that is read but not heard. What do you think?

A: The description of Ahmad Abdul Muti Hijazi is randomized and he did not provide the slightest effort to demonstrate it, despite choosing it as the title of a small book of rhetorical criticism. Simply put, his description lacks the most basic rationality and does not withstand the first question that comes to mind about whether poems have senses such as hearing and sight. I think that what Hijazi said was a jealous satire. Meanwhile, the description of al-Makki is more likely to be neutral, and I do not see any prejudices such as the previous one or any jealousy like that familiar among different schools. His description is open to discussion.


Q: Adonis wrote: this is the era of poetry, how do you interpret this saying within the absence of the public and the absence of the poem?

A: The concept of poetics transcended the limits of linguistics and broke the frame of the poem to encompass all artistic genres such as drama, music and composition. Poetics is the element that converts the utilitarian act to an aesthetic act. It is the element that determines the difference between the seat of an ordinary bicycle and that same seat after Picasso's intervention for instance. I think that it is how Adonis sees the domination of poetry on all arts and it is from this understanding that he said this is the era of poetry.


Q: The 70s generation called for experimentation and transgression in the Arab world but did not establish a creative project?

A: I do not believe in the former Manifesto and the like of previous calls and glamorous promises of creativity that is still in the womb of the unseen and has not yet moved from the presence by force to the stage of actual existence. I also do not believe in the concept of generations in art in general. Creativity is an individual expression in which different times overlap in complex ways. So, projects are individual, and designs are inspired from different times. Hence, I do not think there is a collective project for the 70s generation or any other generation.


Q: How do you see the current poetic scene in Sudan?

A: This is the stage of the roar of the rose of poetry, and I believe that what is written now has fulfilled my prophecies of the nineties. I think that the Sudanese poetry, since Tijani Yusuf Bashir, suffered a complete vacuum of poetics till the emergence of the writings of the prose poem in the nineties and the third millennium. In general, I think that progress is compulsive, and man is doomed to freedom and development no matter how powerful the oppressor is, that is, he cannot enter your walls. In my life, I bet on my friendship with simple people, the world and society are very rich. I feel sheltered by simple people from the pretending class.


Q: How do you see the future of poetry in the Arab world?

A: The dialogue of people on the streets will be poetry, and their walking will become ballet. French language is now moving towards poetry and I think that Arabic too.




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