Born in 1948, Qassim Haddad is a Bahraini poet who is well-known in the Arab world. He published his first collection in 1970 and has since published a further 24 books of poetry and prose. His published work includes a book of poetry and paintings, Majnun Laila, and a book of poetry in collaboration with Saudi photographer Saleh al- Azzaz. In 2007, Haddad prompted controversy when he reworked the Arabic classics Layla and Majnun, with Marcel Khalife. His book was criticised by some as being insulting to Islamic morals. Haddad is the co-founder and chairman of the Bahraini Writers' Union. His website is qhaddad.com
SJ Fowler interviews Qassim Haddad for Poetry Parnassus
SJF: In its sheer scope the Poetry Parnassus offers a unique opportunity for you to interact with fellow poets from every corner of the globe. How do you think this collective experience will benefit those who attend, to be exposed to so many different traditions of poetry, to hear poetry in so many languages?
I always say that poetry can be achieved in the human relationships that arise between the poets in any literary meetings or festivals. It is not that important to recite our poems then leave the place, the most important thing is to carry with us new friendships with other poets as well as with the audience.
I feel that diversity in the large number of the poets of the world is a unique opportunity that our current life needs, not only for cultural reasons, but particularly because of human necessity.
It is expected to recognize such artistic diversity in different literary experiences.
SJF:The Parnassus is one of the largest poetry events to ever take place, over one whole week with over two hundred poets in attendance. The nature of its design, to bring one poet from every country participating in the Olympics, means, to a certain extent, you are a representative of your nation and its poetic culture. How do you feel about that idea?
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the management of Parnassus for inviting me to participate, with a great pleasure, in such magnificent event, which will open a new window of art and knowledge.
I am very enthusiastic to witness this event, with a hope to present our Arabian poem in a way that it could contributes effectively to the global dialogue needed by human beings.
SJF: You have published poetry for over 40 years and become one of the grand figures of contemporary Arabic poetry. How do you feel your approach to poetry has changed over time?
For certain, my approach has changed over the years, and each book represents a different form and content. Personally, I cannot write my poems the same way in every new experience. I don't see any necessity in writing and publishing a book which does not add something new to the previous writing.
Compared to the different styles of my earlier works, my recent texts seem very distant and different from those works, not only in the intellectual and philosophical vision, and my view of life and reality, but also different in the forms of artistic expression and methods of writing.
SJF: Your reworking of the Layla and Majnun story caused some controversy in certain circles. What did you set out to achieve with the adaptation?
When the Lebanese composer Marcel Khalifa wanted to adapt the text, he incorporated poetry, music, songs and dance in one show. The show caused a shock to some of the conservative mentality and religious circles, who reacted ferociously, attacking both the show and the text.
In this work, I wanted to recreate the famous old love story in a different way, to formulate a long poem glorifying love, the love that became more joyous and free than the old one, and the woman (Layla) also became freer and more daring and beautiful than the old Layla. This is what provokes them to attack the work, demanding to ban it.
However, such attitude has led some liberal groups to defend the right of expression, and to weaken the campaign, which eventually failed. It was an act of censorship attempting to seize public and personal freedom, and to suppress cultural activities.
On the personal level, this aggressive reaction deeply affected me. In our society, any fundamentalist can turns a writer to an enemy of the public, and this writer finds himself subject to humiliation and oppression simply because he spoke freely about love.
SJF: And what are your feelings about reading before an audience in London and visiting the city in order to share your work?
This will be my first experience to recite my poems in front of an intelligent, subtle, audience in London. It is really very interesting for me. The very idea of participating in this event fills me with excitement and enthusiasm.
SJF: The parnassian ideal that really centres the Poetry Parnassus project reaches back to the Poetry International festival held in London in 1967 which sought to address notions of free speech, community and peace through the artform of poetry. Do you believe this tradition needs to be maintained in 2012?
At this moment, more than ever, I feel that our world needs badly to talk more and more about peace, tolerance and coexistence among human beings. The lack of communication will lead people to indifference and isolation. Through poetry, and other forms of art, people can communicate deeply and intimately. And away from slogans and political speeches, I believe poetry is capable to open a fruitful dialogue between different communities.