- Sudan is the gateway of the Arabs to Africa; and Africa’s gateway to the Arabs
- Sudan’s civilization did not get the fame it deserves
- I worked as a baker, ironsmith, shroud salesman, copper gifts maker and photographer
KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - “Whoever wants to lead a happy poetic life should live in the Sudan”, words uttered by Iraqi poet, writer and traveller Basim Furat, during a cultural event organized at the premises of the Iraqi Writers Union in the historical Iraqi City of Najaf in 2014.
Basim Furat is one of the most shining Iraqi poets and writers. He has published quite a lot in poetry, travel literature and biography. Many critics had tackled his writing experiments. Furat had won the Ibn Battuta Award for Travel Literature for his book “a Resident Traveller in the Depths of the Ecuador”. His book: The Bolivar Dream ..The Grand Colombia Journey” had won the first prize for travel literature. His works were translated into English, Spanish and other languages.
Furat has been living in the Sudan since 2014. His latest poetry book is “The Herdsmen’s Inkpot”, published by the Khartoum-based Almusawwarat Publishers. This collection contains several titles inspired by his life in the Sudan that include: Sudaniyyoon (Sudanese), Khartoum, Omdurman, the Omdurman Fish Market, Jebel Albarkal, the White and Blue Niles, Watch Out and others.
He says in his poem ‘Khartoum’:
“I love this city,
its river and its dusty roads,
its porters and its street vendors,
its rebellion obsessed drivers,
the children at the traffic lights carrying baskets of destitution to fill them with beseeching at days end,
I love its towering trees as they comb the shy breeze in the elbows of the Nile!
I love the women who came together in African solidarity,
selling minted sweet tea along the roadways!”
Basim Furat has his presence in the Sudanese cultural scene and its forums. Sudanow has talked to him about his experiment, the Sudan, poetry writing and travel literature:
Q: You have said at a certain Iraqi cultural event that whoever wants to lead a happy life should go to the Sudan. You have been living in the Sudan since 2014. What has prompted Poet Basim Furat to say that?
A: That was at the Iraqi literary Writers Union, Branch of the City of Najaf. And it is a fact. For ever since I arrived in Sudan in August 2014 up to now I have seen nothing but hospitality and love. That should not mean there are no frustrations. But the filled part of the cup is nearly nine tenths of the cup.
Q: Your collection: ‘Herdsmen’s Inkpot’ carries a lot of titles: Khartoum, Omdurman, Kosti, Jebel Albrakal..etc .. All of these are place names. How do you perceive the concept of the place in the poetic experiment? And what about Sudan’s geographical diversity?
A: I was born and raised in a city. That could be enough reason for me not to harbour grudge towards cities. Moreover, my city is not so distant from the countryside. We could just trek to be there. And that has reconciled me with places. In addition, I have shuttled quite a lot between places and cultures. Every place is familiar to me. I can sow seeds of memories and love everywhere and reap familiarity and nostalgia. Nostalgia is fidelity. About the geographical diversity of Sudan, from what I saw in the wide expanses of the Sudan, I can say that a gigantic tourist project can make of the Sudan one of the world’s most splendid winter resorts. It can be the place of preference for all the peoples of the world where ice covers the earth in winter, to spend their winter vacation here.
Q: In a published article you have said the Sudanese society is a museum of cultural and ethnic diversity. You went further to say that this diversity is the source of Sudan’s richness and creativity?
A: Every diversity is a richness, whether it is environmental or linguistic. Sudan truly deserves to be described as the museum of linguistic and ethnic diversity. The clear disparity in colours, complexions and the nature of bodies appeals to anthropologists. This is what has endowed the Sudan with Novelist Tayeb Salih and many other creative writers whose shyness and humility has barred them from attaining their deserved fame on the Arab literary scene. This diversity is worth celebration and spotlighting. It deserves to be spotlighted at the local and international level. That is because in this diversity rests the strength and solidity of the society. Here I don’t just mean the Sudan. I mean every country with linguistic and ideological diversity. Such societies enjoy a richness, strength and openness that guards the society against barrenness, seclusion and individualism. That is because the individual in such societies grows, sees, touches and lives with this rich diversity.
Q: You have visited many of Sudan’s archaeological sites. Some of these have inspired some of your poetry: Kerma, Karima, Meroe, the Musawwarat, Alnaqa’a, Nuri and others. In some of your articles you spoke about the injustice incurred upon the Sudanese civilization.
A: My trips to Sudan’s archaeological sites were sure an intellectual and aesthetic experiment that led to the writing of many poems I embodied in my 7th collection “The Herdsmen’s Inkpot”. I have increased my knowledge about the culture and history of the Sudan. What pained me was that the Sudanese civilization is semi-obscured or at least did not get the fame their neighbouring or distant civilizations had acquired. I have strived via the Facebook to introduce this culture. I published a big sum of photos I shot for Sudanese monuments and artefacts. I have written several articles about the Sudan in Arabic magazines and journals. And whenever I receive readers’ messages extolling the beauty of the Sudan and expressing their wish to see it, I find myself torn between happiness to have presented a positive image of the Sudan and between a state of sadness that this beautiful country is unknown to others. Very much the readers and commentators would ask me in wonder: Is it true that there are pyramids in the Sudan? This state of wonder would even increase when I tell them the land of the two Niles does in fact have 220 pyramids.
Q: You have served in different occupations: a baker, a maker of copper gifts and finally as a photographer. As a poet, how would you perceive the relation between the profession and writing?
A: Working at an early age and the numeracy of occupations allow the writer to feel the pulse of people, the depths of the society. This would not be attainable to those who spend years at school and then go to work in air-conditioned offices. Mine was a long experiment I started as a baker at seven. It gave my poems the odor of life. In it I could feel the flavor and smell of marketplaces. I was not surprised during Mohammad Mahdi Aljawahiri’s Festival (2018) when a friend told me that: Had I not known you before, I would have said that the poet of the poem you recited had never trodden outside Iraq before and had lived all the calamities of war, the siege, the tyranny, the injustice and the disintegration that befell Iraq as a land, a society and as an identity. The relation between working in the bazaars (baker, smith, shroud seller, copper gift maker, the dangerous poisonous substances and photography) and writing does indeed pump a gushing spirit in the wording of the creative text. Here the reader feels the candidness of the text and the warmth of the life experiment reaches him, casually and without intermediaries. Here rests the value of long hard work that takes many years from the life of the writer and, in return, lends him high credibility.
Q: You are a composer of prose poetry. There are some critics who say the creative project of this poem hasn’t yet taken roots in the Arab World, though it had started a very long time ago by poets Saleem Barakat, Mohammad Almaghout, Ensi Alhaj and others?
A: Talk knows no end about the prose poem and its legitimacy, neither will adversaries of this poem keep silent and nor will its proponents. It will continue to fight for decades to come. Despite the accusations, it will continue to go ahead, never backing down, nor will the ready-made accusations leveled against it. We hear that hundreds had tried it because it is simple, easy. That is a weak accusation, because these are not real poets. The real poet should be a careful reader of the heritage, knowledgeable about the basics of writing, foremost how to put the coma, the full stop, the exclamation mark etc. So, this type of creative genre can never be shelved simply because it has no meter or simply because thousands had tried it. This is the problem of these writers, not that of the prose poem.
Q: There are some critics who consider this poem’s origin is Western, not Arabic?
A: We have to believe in the intermarriage of cultures as we believe in the intermarriage of literary genres. To say that this poem should be excluded because of its Western origins is an imbalanced call and will not stop its continuation.
Q: You are an advocate of experimentation in poetry writing. And you have said that experimentation is a rejection of hackneyed language in the poem. What do you mean by this and what is the value of experimentation?
A: The hackneyed language is the language used in excess by poets and, because of that, it became repetitive such as “My head was inflamed with grey hair” and so on. There are tens of such expressions, repeated by tens of poets. Experimentation means distancing oneself from such idioms and creating a special language, new poetic sentences, a novel style. In other words, the poet should write his own language and should not allow somebody else to sing inside his throat!
Q: The struggle for identity in the Arab World poses many questions. How would you see this problem?
A: The struggle for identity is a global problem par excellence. But it emerges more in less stable and less prosperous countries. It lacks in the foundations of the democratic civil society that believes in the freedom of faith. Here you would not find a family which is upset when one of its members quits the family’s faith or moves to another faith, for instance. Moreover, most countries that suffer from a struggle for identity do lack many established research centers. They, in addition, lack elite cultural traditions and readerships that are aware about linguistic, religious and geographical diversity. That leads to the accumulation of errors and allows hardliners in the society the opportunity to perpetuate extremism. This leads to arrogance and hate. Real exclusion is to refuse to believe that we, all of us, are the heirs of our past with all its glory and pride, and also with all its violence and mistakes.
Q: You have said that the Sudan is the Arabs’ gateway towards Africa?
A: It is also Africa’s gateway towards the Arab World. Sudan’s geographical location is indeed very distinct. It is my wish that the universities and research centers study this strategic location and exploit it to the most. This will bring about too many riches to the Sudan. Despite the nonchalance of many Sudanese, it is my conviction that if the matter is subjected to academic examination and plans are drawn for the translation of literature from African languages and the introduction of Arabic literature in African languages, a lot of good can come through. What is needed is a firm scientific process to do so. We have to remember that the Sudan was the route of West African pilgrims to the Red Sea and then to Mecca. This route needs to be revived and propagated throughout the Arab and African worlds. I am saying this because when I talk about this route, I could not find someone to tell me he had read about it except a Sudanese. This is a route that can become a symbol of Afro-Arab cooperation.
Q: There are some critics who consider travel literature a confluence of a lot knowledge. It is a historical, geographic and cultural record. Tell us how did you manage as a poet to win the award for travel literature twice. Is there a relation between creation and inscription?
A: I am the son of cultural inscription. For the Arab culture does possess the biggest written heritage among the world’s languages. I believe the verbal literature is destined to diminish. What remains is written or recorded heritage. Navigation into the different cultures grants you a deep awareness, an encyclopedic culture. I have found that cavities created in my imagination, my awareness and my thinking after moving around many countries and across many cultures have increased. But I must admit that many luminous points I had considered to be the outcome of this wide travel were no more than the seeds I sowed at my birthplace and had grown up and flourished away from home. I have discovered this upon my return to Iraq after many long years away from my country.
Writing is a documentation, a proof of a certain activity, be it individual or collective. In writing we can learn the truth, or part of it. One of the prerequisites of creativity is writing (inscription). The relation between creation and writing is essential for the preservation of creative work and the rights of its makers. It preserves the rights of the coming generations to see this product of the fathers, grandfathers and the ancestors.
Q: Throughout your presence here in the Sudan and your involvement in the cultural movement, how could you interpret the Sudanese creative works?
A: Rich creative works, no doubt about that. It needs marketing. I have read and listened to good poets. I also read for story writers and novelists and critics. The youths among these are worthy of praise, though their experiences are still young. I hope the spark of creativity would never dim down and their enthusiasm would never wane.
Q: Many of your works were translated into English, Spanish and other languages. Do you think translation is the way towards internationalism?
A: Translation is the best way for that. It is my hope that a ministry of translation could be created in every Arab state. This is in addition to my call upon the Arab League to reduce its political concerns and concentrate on the sciences, the arts and translation. Part of this could be the launching of institutes that graduate a huge elite of translators with in-depth knowledge of Arabic and other languages in different specializations, not just works of creativity. I am very enthusiastic for the preparation of necessary cadres to translate tens of thousands of medicine books of sorts and for the translation of the best medical, scientific, technical and intellectual periodicals. The Arab creative works are rich, but politics had done them a lot of injustice, because the general view about the Arabs is not positive. It was no surprise to me to read that former U.S President Obama had perceived the Arabs as nomads and that the real civilization was that of Persia (today’s Iran), whereas it is a fact of life that the Poet Alfirdosi (of Arab origin) was the best Persian poet. It is wide translation built on scientific planning that can change this negative attitude and create love and cooperation between the Arabs and the West. All of us need this love. Love is our only way for a bright future.
Q: Sudanese poet Tijani Saeed says that if you come across a happy poet, you have to learn that he is not a poet. What do you make of that? And how do you see the poets’ happiness?
A: I respect all thoughts. But it is me who wrote twenty years ago that “Nobody can sing in my throat”. For that I have no molds to go through, and no sayings that I believe in. I am the son of myself, its disciple and its teacher. But I concede sadness that is about to destroy my life. My childhood was bitter, the worst of bitterness is to become aware of things around you and you have no parents. That is tremendous emptiness I could not get rid of. This big emptiness stains my life, cuts from my happiness. But I am a fierce fighter. I fight sadness with love and joy and with reading, creativity, travel and contemplation.
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