Translated poetry from Syria and Finland
”There is no censorship within me, and I don’t think of limitations while writing. I couldn’t let my writing suffer from those – nor any taboos. For me, poetry comes first”, Aref Hamza says. Even after fleeing from his home country Syria to Germany, war is a strong presence in his writing.
The poems of Syrian poet Aref Hamza are often acute descriptions of brutality – so acute they will haunt the reader’s mind. ”I lived through rought times under dictatorship – I was a refugee even in my own country, Syria. It takes time to find a way of life that is free from the pain I write about and hurt my readers with”, the poet says.
Aref Hamza’s latest collection of poems, I do not want anyone to save me, was published in Beirut, Lebanon, in 2014. According to the poet, the book is about life under ruins. ”I speak about people weary of carrying the pain caused by war, who are forced to get used to it, when war takes over their lives.”
Syrian poet Aref Hamza remembers only little of his childhood. ”I was out on the streets more than at home”, he says. At the age of six Aref had surgery, and in preparatory school, as a teenager, he wrote a poem about the disappearing Palestine. Read Hamza’s poem Childhood, written in June 2003.
”Every poem I have written is close to my heart when I write it. After it has been published in a magazine or book, it becomes distant – the relationship becomes more neutral”, Syrian poet Aref Hamza says. Read a poem from Hamza’s collection Like a needy hands from 2007.
Aref Hamza sees himself first and foremost as a reader of poetry. ”Also when I’m writing I feel the reader within me – his enormous curiosity and the power to remove and add. I feel the reader looking at me, the poet.” How did Hamza define longing?
”The ax cries on you / The one which –in the back- / Has cut your heart / In half …”, wrote Aref Hamza in August 2004. War has always been a part of the writings of this Syrian poet.
Once Aref Hamza finishes a poem, he wants to be alone and go outside. ”I feel an immense need to run. If I stayed in the house with my poem, I’d feel like it was invading my loneliness”, the Syrian poet says. Read a poem that describes the thoughts of the narrator of a poem before a soldier’s departure.
Originally, Aref Hamza wanted to be a novelist. He is in no wonder though, as to why he became a poet instead: ”Living in a place like Syria, constantly seeing injustice, pain, poverty, and the abuse of women, paves the way for becoming a poet.”
”When I was a little boy / I did not see the sea / I did not adore it…” Syrian poet Aref Hamza writes. His work has been translated into English, French, Spanish, Turkish and Kurdish – and now, in Kosmi, also into Finnish! Read a poem from Hamza’s first book Exposed to sniping’ life, from the year 2000.
”All in all, I do not wish to die yet, even when this thorough fragility must be a symptom of the beginning of an end somehow – one doesn’t want to live as a vegetable, without the ability to express, to think. But I still express. I still think. The summer still exists, more bewildering than ever”, Finnish author Aila Meriluoto wrote on June 2nd, 1992. These thoughts were published in a journal Tältä kohtaa (Right Here, Siltala, 2010). The same thoughts also inspired a poem…
The search for a committed, equal relationship has marked author Aila Meriluoto’s life. With Jouko Paakkanen, a Professor of Economics, she found what she had been looking for. The couple married and lived together over two decades. In 2004 Paakkanen passed away, and Meriluoto wrote her loneliness into a book of poems called Miehen muotoinen aukko (A hole in the shape of a man), published by WSOY in 2005. Read a poem from the 14th collection by Meriluoto.
”I have written poems again. Or perhaps just experienced them, even the old ones, in a way that has put another collection on the horizon. This one will be a very simple and easily comprehendable book”, Aila Meriluoto writes on May 18th, 1972, in her journal Vaarallista kokea (Dangerous to experience, WSOY, 1996). In the works is the poetry collection Elämästä (On Life, 1972), where the poet returns to her childhood surroundings of Pieksämäki, for example.
”Right now, in old age, one is free to understand new things. Maybe it’s the brain going off its usual tracks. This is a handsome new experience, but is it possible to express it anymore. Expression is so damn important, my whole life I have reached for expression”, writes Aila Meriluoto on July 23rd, 2000, in the journal Tältä kohtaa (Right Here). Three more poetry books have been published by the Finnish author since these thoughts. Read a poem from the book Kimeä metsä (Shrill Forest, 2002).
Aila Meriluoto lives through the situations she is given with all senses tuned in deeply, and the wish to share the experience with others has always been a force that carries the writing. Life, lived, is a strong presence in Meriluoto’s poems. In the book Kimeä metsä (Shrill Forest), Meriluoto senses the nearby surroundings in Pieksämäki, Finland. The war in the author’s youth never left her mind…
”However, I’ve had one intensely positive experience. It was a poem which, after a long while, finally satisfied me. A poem that was fun to write. Was born on its own. I don’t mean to say it’s a good poem. I don’t even feel the need to look at it that way. That it happened was enough. And the book of poems will be done this autumn after all, in a couple of weeks already”, Aila Meriluoto writes on October 27th, 1969, in the journal Vaarallista kokea (Dangerous to experience). The book is Silmämitta (Approximation, 1969), which includes the poem Todistus (Testimony). In it, Meriluoto talks about her passion as a writer, and of giving testimony.
”Idle echoes, my love: / uttered words forgotten, / repeating themselves…” Finnish author Aila Meriluoto lived in Sweden from 1962 to 1974. It was a productive time for poems; Meriluoto wrote four collections in Sweden, one of which was Tuoddaris (In the Fjeld) in 1965. Read the poem Hyvästi (Farewell) from this book.
”I write to reach clarity, to control, to live my own life”, Finnish author Aila Meriluoto clarifies the importance of writing on January 30th, 1962, in her journal Vaarallista kokea (Dangerous to experience). No matter what happens to the author – moving house, getting married, becoming a grandparent – without writing the author feels useless. Working with words always reminds the author that she is – alive! Read a poem from the book Asumattomiin (Into the Uninhabited, 1963).
Aila Meriluoto’s collection of poems Portaat (Stairs, 1961) was painful to write: ”Now I have left the manuscript with WSOY, resigned myself from the battle. For a battle it was: I wrestled with poem after poem, threw them overboard and each time felt more relieved. Once I dared to let go (without asking any advice from anyone), new things emerged.” (Comment from the journal Vaarallista kokea (Dangerous to experience), dated September 6th, 1961) One of the poems from the book Maamme (Our Land) shows Finland’s nature in a devious light.
Dreams have always played a part in Aila Meriluoto’s poems. And whenever the author has been able to remark ”Every possibility exists, inside. One is ready to move forward”, like in the journal Vaarallista kokea (Dangerous to experience) on October 24th, 1961, life has appeared bright even when awake. The kind that a poem might be received.
For Aila Meriluoto, when a poem is born, it is received. The moment is solemn, sometimes festive. A poem requires a push of some kind to emerge; Kivinen jumala (The Stone God, from the book Lasimaalaus, Stained Glass, 1946) was set to motion in the mind of the young poet after the capital of Finland, Helsinki, was bombed in 1944. Meriluoto saw masses of people climbing out of shelters, cellars, gateways…
”…My grandfather feared the drought too / But at least he trusted the mulberry tree / He hugged it / Whenever it felt guilt / As for dad, he likes to travel / Since he did not travel much…” When the Syrian poet Rami Zakaria writes, the rest of the world disappears. ”I don’t feel the world around me – poetry overtakes all my senses”, he says. The following text will make the reader thirsty, too.
Even though Rami Zakaria moved away from Syria before the war, the tragedy in the home country has an effect on his writing as well…”I have left the river and the current / Laid procumbent on my face / The caring exhalation dries me up / I do not want to revenge from the whales anymore / So, relax / O damned body…”
”I hope my poems can be a haven for those who seek serenity in worlds that are different from our restless reality”, says the Syrian poet, Rami Zakaria, currently living in South Korea. Read his poem Intermixture from 2015.
Syrian poet Rami Zakaria reflects on how most of his latest poems do not stem from moments of happiness. Recently, he wrote a poem called Escaping man’s features, which as a poet he is pleased with, but it is also an example of how the poems are becoming more melancholic.
”…An old man told me
That a bomb had fallen in the place
I am now…”
Painting by Syrian artist Raed Zeno.
Rami Zakaria, currently residing in South Korea, feels like he has the freedom of speech. ”I feel free from religious, ethnic and social binds – and therefore lucky. I got this freedom little by little, by chance, but today I see it as a necessity, without which I couldn’t work as a writer”, the Syrian poet says. Read Zakaria’s flash poetry.
”For me, poetry is an aesthetical need and psychiatric therapy. Even though poetry has its roots in the real world, it is a parallel and independent world, where a different language is spoken. Poetry has its own rules”, says Syrian poet Rami Zakaria, describing the meaning of poetry, and writes the following…
”You will need a great effort to realize
How vile this world is
But you need a short memory
And some myths
Which are filtered in a honey jar
To say: the world is still okay…”
When Rami Zakaria begins to write a poem, he feels like he is diving. ”Entering a poem is quick and surprising, but getting out of it is gradual”, the poet describes the process of writing. After a poem is finished, its words remain as echoes in the mind of their writer.
The Syrian poet, Rami Zakaria, currently residing in Seoul, South Korea, gave us his poems from 2015 to 2016 to be translated. In the following poem he wanders about, wondering how these orange trees happened to grow where they do…
”Go to the river / But do not drink / Do whatever you want with / A song you keep in mind…”, writes Syrian poet, living these days in South Korea, Rami Zakaria. We have interviewed him for Kosmi, but publish his poetry first. Like this you will meet Zakaria through poetry first…
”Writing is organizing one’s own thoughts. And when I am organizing myself, I’m organizing the world. And why do I do it? Because it is really fun. Then again, writing is almost like a compulsion of mine, a condition of living. If I don’t do it, I get anxious”, a Finnish poet Susinukke Kosola says. The following poem he wrote to someone.
”you live, / not because you have to / but then a finger pressed into a foggy window / melts a period to the end of your sentence / you peek through it as if through a peephole, / into a party you weren’t invited to…” Read a chilling poem of Finnish poet Susinukke Kosola.
The poets showcased in The World Mirror project have mostly chosen the poems to be shared themselves. Susinukke Kosola had questions: ”I wonder whether I want to aim at universalism, texts that are tied to a certain time and place in the most minimal way. Or, should I take the direction of personal poems in concrete situations and places? Click here to find out which poem Kosola chose.
”When I can share my poems with just a couple dozen people, and when someone understands, that is enough to satisfy my urge to share. Then I want to focus on writing again”, a Finnish poet Susinukke Kosola says. Kosola has no need to be as popular as possible. ”Except of course in the sense that I view my books as politically important.” Read an excerpt from his book The Space Cats’ Plaything (2016).
Susinukke Kosola’s Space cats’ plaything brings forth an idea that even though society pressures us to stand out, in the end we are all very alike. ”We are pushed to emphasize our individuality. I wanted to write about the other view: actually we are all in this together, even if we are all alone”, the poet says. Read the first poem published in Kosmi, of Kosola.
During the spring and summer, we have enjoyed wandering in the world of Finnish poet Kristiina Wallin. Now it is the time for her last poem in Kosmi – the poem closest to poet’s own heart. Click the tittle, read the poem and visit seaside with Wallin.
”All in all, what’s important about poetry is that it’s quiet and slow talk, a strike back against the hectic world of achievements. That idea is the nucleus of my poems”, Finnish poet Kristiina Wallin describes. Click the tittle and read Wallin’s poem from her book Weight of Light (2016).
Deceased family members of Kristiina Wallin, visit in her fifth book Weight of Light. It is clear that through the years, Wallin’s work has become more solemn. ”Sometimes I miss the playfulness of my first collections”, the poet admits.
”Spatial thinking is important for me. When I write, I often imagine words dropping in, into a room, a city, the corner of a field or some other space or view. Many writings begin that way”, Kristiina Wallin says. But what kind of place is verge? Read this poem and find out.
In her poem, first published in 2012, Kristiina Wallin is imagining one way to get old – in the wilderness. ”A stone must be found to sit on. The waiting must be lured into the body, to be a lichen-body, a lingonberry-body…”
In her poem, Finnish poet Kristiina Wallin, is wondering how silence sounds like – and how it used to sound in the past. ”Silence grew into a new architectonic layer, unfamiliar…”
Events of the book Weight of the Light are situated in an island. The childhood home of poet Kristiina Wallin wasn’t in an island, though. ”I needed the island to describe my feelings, to describe sorrow”, poet says. Read the first translated poem from the book, which was written after death of poet’s father.
”This city is strange. Yesterday we went astray eight times, each time better than the last. The night tightened the streets like copper wire. We met a woman who bore a tropical garden in her stomach…” Click the title and read a poem.
”The ones who, without any preliminary notice, let their hair grow into a forest
are nearly impossible to encounter.
For the most part, they lay low, sit in the corner table of a cafe…”
Longing can be sensed in the writings of Syrian poet, Soliman al-Sheikh Husain; he misses Damascus the way the capital was before the war: ”I think while going to Damascus / Does the jasmine which I used to / Scent out with / Still wants to give me its blossoms…”
The last six years have affected poems of Syrian poet, Soliman al-Sheikh Husain. ”Before, my poems were long and full of metaphors. Nowadays intensity and sparing use of words are clear in my writing”, poet says. These days he mostly writes flash poetry.
There is warmth
Even the sun
Is not able
To give me
Poem Soliman al-Sheikh Husain.
Translation from Arabic Shurouk Hammoud, 2017.
From the home of Soliman al-Sheikh Husain, a view opens across the town, over the Ghab plain, and the wilderness of Homs city. Before this view, in a montane vinyard, most of al-Sheikh Husain’s poems are born. ”I do not want to get away from it at all. It gives me the expanse when it overlooks the life and greenery so tenderly. This place and its trees are an endless memory of my father.”
Soliman al-Sheikh Husain has written poetry for 45 years. He hasn’t tired of the wondering he began as a little boy. Everything he has written in his lifetime has included the same, acute question: ”Why can’t we humans live with dignity, carrying love to the earth and to the sky?” Read Loneliness Poems of al-Sheikh Husain.
”The difference is that other places respect creativity and poets are free to express themselves”, Syrian poet al-Sheikh Husain compares the work between the poets who remain in Syria and those who have left. ”In Syria, pain and loss have become part of the cultural and poetic writings overall.” Read Sidewalk Poems from al-Sheikh Husain.
Why are you writing poetry, Soliman al-Sheikh Husain? ”When I write poems, I feel like I am regaining my human emotions. At the same time, I am lighting candles on a path of happiness,” the poet answers. Check what he wrote about darkness.
In his Time Poems written in 2016-2017, Syrian poet Soliman al-Sheikh Husain is missing his loved ones and building vulnerable places. ”O time / That wind bleed / On my window / I put my beloved ones / In your hands…”
Lend me a moment of safety
I will give you tears in change
The ones which have been hanged
In the folds of the heart
Poem Soliman al-Sheikh Husain.
Translation from Arabic Shurouk Hammoud, 2017.
”wind passes over me
my skin is frozen
veins like a skim of ice
heart like a crust…”
Poem by Inger-Mari Aikio. Click and read more.
Talking about new poetry collections
Liza Khudr says the focus of her second poetry collection is on the women of her homeland Syria, who live among all kinds of hustle and bustle, rebellion and sorrow, just like the poetess herself. ”War infected my poems with the stench of chaos”, Khudr remarks.
Matti Kangaskoski’s second book The Skull Negotiations explores humanity through the mind and bodily functions. ”Poetry has the opportunity to name things in existence and produce lasting insight”, Kangaskoski defines. Among other things, his book takes a look at how, conflictingly, a thing can be of utmost importance in one moment, yet insignificant in the long run. Read an interview of Matti Kangaskoski and a poem from The Skull Negotiations, translated from Finnish into English.
Syrian poet Narin Derky wrote her first poetry collection Bitter Orange during a time when death became a part of every Syrian’s life.
”…No river goes through Chenkal
To save the deer’ babies
No occurring cloud has mercy on the death
Maria Matinmikko’s Colours is the last part of a trilogy. The book was published in February and now the poet looks at her own work in amazement and also a bit suspicious. ”The writing took the form of an item, through which it communicates with the world. It is a very strange feeling”, Finnish poet says. Read an interview of Maria Matinmikko and an excerpt from her book Colours.
”The most beautiful thing in my life has been being able to present myself as a poet who has published her own words”, says Syrian poet Farkad al-Salloum. Her first book I have just committed to life speaks of a homeland, war and martyrs, but also the joys of life. Read an interview of the poet and a fragment from her first book.
When Egyptian poet Deema Mahmoud publishes a new book, she feels two sensations screaming inside her; joy because she accomplished what she wanted to, and anxiety because of the possible reactions of literary circles and readers. Mahmoud’s latest poetry collection, I tease the horizon with a violin, came out this year – it carries a poem called Butterfly, which Mahmoud wanted to share with Kosmi readers.
“I do not write poetry but I am written by it – to regain the childhood of the world”, poet Abd al-Hady Rawdy says. In his interview with Kosmi, the poet speaks about his latest book called Higher than a downfall (2017).
When the Egyptian poet Ashraf Algammal published his latest poetry collection Under a mined moon (2016) he felt satisfaction. “I had said something I think is beautiful – I had put a small brick in the aesthetic construction of the human awareness,” poet says. He also wanted to share stanzas from his poem Fatal lust of a drunk general.
WINDOWS and SPECIAL CASES
Poetry projects and phenomena
Forest’s Daughter song is a cooperation between Finnish musician Mia Skön and Syrian poet Shurouk Hammoud.
Egyptian poetess, Deema Mahmoud, performs Arabic poetry in two social media channels, SoundCloud and YouTube. The poetess describes her project as a seed which is still looking for its features. One thing is clear from the beginning: Mahmoud chooses poems, with whom she desires to interact as they were her own writings.
”The pleasure of reading the literary text, while interacting with it, can only be imagined by those who discover it. Then you become a triad of the reader, the text and the writer together…”, Mahmoud describes. Read and interview and click yourself to Mahmoud’s channels.
The thing which drives an Egyptian poet, Deema Mahmoud, mad – more than writing – is not to write. That is why she is writing poetry. Mahmoud also wanted to share one of her poems with Kosmi readers in the Shake hearts column. ”I become a fetus / Roll on myself like a ball…”
Tommi Parkko is a poetry advocate, who does a lot for poetry – besides writing and reading it. During this year of centennial jubilee of Finnish independence, he sits behind the driving wheel of a bus and drives a group of poets around Finland – determined to bring poetry to new audiences. Read a reportage about poetry activism in Finland.
Mostapha al-Hamdawy, a Moroccan writer now living in the Netherlands, Tawfika Khador who is fighting for freedom of speech in the Syrian capital Damascus, and Jyrki Vainonen who is questing after the faded rebellion in Finland, will tell us in this article.
Poetry is not faring well in Egypt, because publishing houses aren’t releasing poetry books and readers are few and far between. Poet Abir Abd al-Aziz decided to intervene with an impressive campaign: Every month this year, she launches a new happening, designed to lead poetry into the minds of Egyptians. It all began with a tree of poetry…
POET’S IDENTITY CARD
”Through my indisputable individualism, and only so, can I express the general. At least that is my aim”, writes Aila Meriluoto in her journal Vaarallista kokea (Dangerous to Experience). The desire to bear witness to her own life as well as contemporary events has carried her decades-long career; the author gives us a personal view on human life. Doing so, Meriluoto has put herself and her relationships at stake ‒ trusting that exactly that is her duty as a writer.
A Finnish poet Susinukke Kosola is working on his third book, which is ”a hybrid that can be thought of as a collection of poems or short stories, but just as well as a novel or an essay.” The book is a story about storytellers; Kosola included true stories collected from the streets, schools, and buses of his home town Turku, and from his own personal history and relatives. Even if a certain person is only mentioned as an aside, everything is based on what the poet has heard and documented – it is not made up. Read an interview of Susinukke Kosola.
Soliman al-Sheikh Husain’s fifth book of poems is meant to be published this year, provided the Media Ministry gives it the seal of approval. ”Some of the poems contain a bit of my private life, the people I love and how much I miss them”, Syrian poet says in this article.
Within the world of Kristiina Wallin’s poems, one has permission to hide from all kinds of performance pressure and to take time to sense the environment as well as one’s self. ”When I write I must be vulnerable, and reveal the inner self again and again”, says the poet in her portrait.