Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

The Poetess of Naïveté – Interview with Syrian poet Maram Al-Massri.

[This article is a translation from the Italian edition of Three Monkeys Online. To read the original, in Italian, click here.]

Maram al-Masri came to me, wrapped in a yellow envelope, from Genoa. Both of us trembling. For this meeting, happened by chance, via email first and then through her work, through the act of opening the envelope, and in her eyes that tell a story from the cover. The polymorphic relationship between reader and author, that can take thousands of different directions, combining in unthinkable ways, in this case has all the potential to overflow. If it’s not just people that relate to each other through texts – but their universes, mostly – then I arrive in Syria, and she in some way emigrates here, into my life, made of western and local imaginative worlds. I open, and already can hear the music: the arab signature and retrò photo of the author announce it. I can already see landscapes. And it’s not just through some gratuitous taste for the middle east, or a blind love for the foreigner. But for the verve, which is something you read and trembles. And for all that hybrids carry behind them.

A Red Cherry on a White-tiled Floor. A promise, a vertiginous title. Something so small and swollen, turgid, bloody, set against the coldness of an unstained surface. Both ready to devastate each other. Unmoving, they threaten each other. A tiny body pregnant with the blood of life, that can crush itself, cut itself, rot, and injure itself. And suddenly bloodstain the undamaged universal. Suddenly, overflowing and dirtying a solid, perfectly functional foundation. Could the tiles be the ‘truth’ of Nietzsche? “Illusions which we have forgotten are illusions”? Could they be the architecture taken for granted and on which we move losing sight of the artifice? A small galaxy made of fruit and ceramics, a shaking tension, a hidden movement – held back – in the quietness.

You open, I was saying, and inside the cover you find the Times. Big names, it makes you think, undeniably. You find a writer from the Times talking about the violence that this woman opposes of the taboos (presumed and real) of her birth-place, of the feather-like details with which she pierces – lightly – the universal impulses.
In Italy, a few lines in the local news of some attentive newspapers, to coincide with readings. But independent winemakers make the best wines. And so, in the unsuspecting silence, in May of 2005 the work of Maram al-Massri is published by Liberodiscrivere, the small Genoese publishing house of Antonello Cassan, who has already been far-sighted in the past, with other promising authors. A Red Cherry on a White-tiled Floor was first published in 1997 in Tunis, and immediately garnered critical acclaim, winning, the following year, the Prix Adonis from the Lebanese Cultural Forum in France. Already translated into Spanish, French, English, and Corsican, in Italy the book is included in the catalogue ‘naked poetry’, with the arabic text alongside the Italian translation by Francois Michel Durazzo.

One of the first things that comes to mind to ask the author, unfairly, is about her relationship with beauty. Maram is a beautiful woman, and this naturally matters in her work. I wonder how she relates to herself, how she managed hedonism in the culture in which she was born, and in what way this glamour stamps itself on her poetic, on her outlook on things.
And I discover as ever that beauty is a simple theory of the body, of movements, of the take on reality most of all. A lightness of thought, a gift of awareness. So a natural way to rest yourself upon objects, and – at the same time – a manner in which the things of existence penetrate us. Like light, in the case of this author. I was rereading Maram’s response, while traveling, and the sound of her words gave me small and fresh shocks of knowledge, of the essential. Her words evoke the eternal flow and the place of small men and women, in this vastness. “I’m mistaken? – she asks in her Creole like French. – Isn’t it the other that gives me this beauty?”. An external virtue that doesn’t exist in itself, surely not the property of the one who carries it. “I’m nothing – she underlines – without the gaze of the other. I have this face that gives form to my soul. I don’t hold illusions about my beauty, because it’s fragile. Some love it, some don't, for it hurts them. But thanks to it, I’ve received compliments that have moved me, flowers offered in the street by people, poems in its honour: people who have understood that this beauty is generous and free. It’s a gift that expects nothing.”
And then love, that has nothing to do with perfect features. The men that Maram writes of are ready to abandon, to forget. Moreover, to stay put, to cease knowing how to observe. “Once I said to a friend that I would rather to be loved than to be beautiful. And she replied that she'd rather be attractive and alone. But what do you do with your beauty if you are on your own?!? When she met me, a poetess spitefully said: she is too beautiful to be a poet. Sometimes I sense that people doubt. That they punish and neglect me, and this hurts me. But there is what I write, and this is important. My poems have in front of them the time to be loved and appreciated. I don't have as much time. And so I love to celebrate my existence, my life. I am aware that my face will change, and that the beauty of the most splendid flower is destined to fade.”

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