Modern Arab writers: Adonis

"At times, Adonis's poetry is both revolutionary and anarchic; at other times, it approaches the mystical." Kamal Abu-Deeb

Adonis, the poet

One of the greatest poets in Arabic literature, Ali Ahmad Said Asbar (better known as Adonis) is also something of an iconoclast. His prose writings have aroused much controversy in the Arab world, particularly his views on the Arab heritage. There can be no doubt as to the influence of his ideas about innovation and modernity on a whole generation of poets. Equally important is the leading role he played in revolutionising poetic language, imagery, and approach. 

He was born in al-Qassabin, Syria, in 1930. As a child, his father encouraged him to memorise poetry. He began to write his own poems and in 1947 he gave a recitation for the Syrian president, Shukri al-Kuwatli, which led to a series of scholarships, including a place at Damascus University where he graduated with a degree in philosophy in 1954.

The following year he was imprisoned for six months for belonging to the Syrian National Party. He then moved to Beirut where, along with fellow poet Yusuf al-Khal, he founded a poetry magazine, Shi'r. In 1968 he founded the avant-garde magazine, Mawaqif (Situations).

1960-1961: Studied in Paris
1970-1985: Professor of Arabic literature, University of Lebanon
1976: Visiting professor, University of Damascus
1980: Moved to Paris to escape the Lebanese civil war
1980-1981: Professor of Arabic at the Sorbonne, Paris

He is often tipped as a candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Works by Adonis

If Only the Sea Could Sleep;

The Pages of Day and Night;

A Time Between Ashes And Roses;

An Introduction to Arab Poetics;

Sufism and Surrealism;

Translated poems online

Adonis: Selected poems 
Translated by Khaled Mattawa

Three poems 
Translated by Adnan Haydar and Michael Beard

Articles about Adonis

Adonis – a literary profile
(Poetry Foundation)

Biographical essay 
By Kamal Abu-Deeb, from the Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature (Routledge, 1998).  

Adonis: a life in writing
'A creator always has to be with what's revolutionary, but he should never be like the revolutionaries. He can't speak the same language or work in the same political environment'. Interview by Maya Jaggi, The Guardian, 27 January 2012

Adonis: Selected Poems
Review by Stephen Watts, Banipal 41

Adonis Indicts Arabic Poetry, Past and Present  
By Elie Chalala (al-Jadid, Vol 2, No 3, January 1996)

Adonis - a poet responds  
Etel Adnan, a Lebanese-American poet and novelist, takes issue with Adonis. (al-Jadid, Vol 2 No 4, February 1996)