A Tribute to Adonis: Award-winning Syrian poet visits the UK for exhibition and literary events

Adonis, the Goethe prize-winning Syrian poet who was widely tipped to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2011, is visiting the UK for a series of literary events and an exhibition of his exquisite drawings.

“His vision is extraordinary. His poetry sublime… He is for me a master of our times”
—V.S. Naipaul

Adonis is one of the most influential poets of the 20th and 21st centuries, and is seen as the Arab world’s answer to T.S. Eliot. However, many western readers may not have heard of the Syrian poet until last year. Winner of 2011’s €50,000 Goethe Prize and a favourite for the Nobel Prize for Literature (eventually picked up by friend Tomas Tranströmer), Adonis is recognised as the man who led the modernist movement in the Arabic literary scene in the past 50 years and brought Arabic poetry the international recognition it deserved. He is also famous for his critical views on Arab culture, politics and current affairs and even today, at 81 years of age, he retains his fresh and critical outlook on the events in his homeland, attracting controversy and debate because of his cautionary and critical views on the Arab Spring.

Adonis was born Ali Ahmad Said Esber near the city of Latakia, western Syria, in 1930. He had no formal education for most of his childhood, learning the Quran at the local mosque school and memorising classical Arabic poetry, to which he was introduced by his father. His formal education began after he impressed the then President of Syria as a teenager by reciting one of his poems. He was given a scholarship to a French lycée and went on to study philosophy at Damascus University.

In 1956 he was forced to leave Syria after being imprisoned following his involvement with the Syrian National Socialist Party. He moved to Beirut and together with Yusuf al-Khal, set up the legendary Shi’r (Poetry) magazine, one of the Arab world’s most influential literary journals. Adonis then studied in Paris before returning to Beirut and taking up a post teaching Arabic Literature. In 1982, he and his family relocated to Paris as a result of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and they have remained there until this day.

In light of last year’s success, and thanks to a recent drive to translate his works into English (Yale published his Selected Poems in its Margellos World Republic of Letters series in 2010), Adonis is fast gaining the worldwide acclaim and attention he deserves (The Guardian have been a particular advocate – read this fascinating interview by Maya Jaggi).

Following on from this success, the Mosaic Rooms in London is hosting ‘A Tribute to Adonis’s, an exhibition of Adonis’s exquisite drawings and a series of literary events celebrating his life, poetry and criticism.

The Mosaic Rooms’ series of talks will reflect Adonis’s influence on poetry, literary criticism, history, Sufism and politics. Topics will range from the relationship between literature and revolution to the evolution of the Arabic language after the birth of Islam and the influence of English modernism on Arabic poetry.  The talks will take place alongside an exhibition of 100 pieces of Adonis’s works of ink on paper, inspired by and including sections of poetry, handwritten in Arabic calligraphy and collaged with layers of found objects such as old parchments, rags and paper fragments.

With his UK visit, growing recognition from literary critics, and the paperback edition of the award-winning Selected Poems  being published in June, 2012 looks to be a particularly exciting year for Adonis and his poetry.

Talks not to miss…

A Tribute to Adonis: Open Evening
7pm, Friday, 3 February 2012

Adonis will be speaking alongside Khaled Mattawa, Libyan-American poet and translator of Adonis’s award-winning Selected Poems (published in 2010 by Yale). The evening will include readings in Arabic by Adonis, and in English by Khaled Mattawa. This event kick-starts a series of literary events with Adonis and an exhibition of his exquisite drawings.

A Tribute to Adonis: Adonis Artist’s Talk
12pm, Saturday, 4 February 2012

Accompanying the exhibition of Adonis’s exquisite drawings, the poet will be in conversation with Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Co-director of Exhibitions and Programmes and Director of International Projects at the Serpentine Gallery, London.

A Tribute to Adonis: Islam, Sufism and Arabic Literature
7pm, Tuesday, 7 February 2012

In his 1992 book, Al-Sufiyya wa Al-Suryaliyya (Sufism and Surrealism), Adonis argued that the deeper sources from which symbolism and surrealism flow are identical to those of Sufism. This evening Adonis will be in conversation with Omar Al-Qattan, discussing his influential book, as well as other important works of literary and cultural history and criticism.

Adonis: Selected Poems

Adonis: Selected Poems

Visit the Mosaic Rooms website for full details on ‘A Tribute to Adonis’

Adonis: Selected Poems is out now from Yale University Press. The paperback edition will be available later this year.


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