Syrian poet Narin Derky wrote her first poetry collection Bitter Orange during a time when death became a part of every Syrian’s life. The current home of the poet, Montreal, also left its mark on the book. We asked the poet about the recently published collection and how it came to be born.

Shurouk Hammoud and Hanna Hirvonen, text
Milla Selin, translation from Finnish to English


Where are you from and where do you live now, Narin Derky?

I was born in 1974 in the very North of Syria, in Derbassiyeh town, in Qamishli. I have lived in many places: in the Middle East, Europe, and Canada. The first time I moved it was from Derbassiyeh to Damascus when I grew up. Then I moved to Montreal, Canada, where I have my small family. I lived in Montreal for ten years. After that, I lived in Sulaymaniyah, in the Iraqi Kurdistan, until returning to Montreal eight months ago.


Does the place you live in have an impact on your new book?

Where you live often has a profound effect on the poet or writer, in both the positive and negative sense. This happened to me also, when I moved from place to place, to cities which are contradictory on all levels. This left its imprint on my inner world and especially my poetry.

My book Bitter Orange (2016) has been born like essential oil in the pressure between two different places, the small and primitive but spontaneous Sulaymaniyah, and the metropolitan Montreal.


Narin Derky KUVA
According to the poet, the place you live in often has a strong effect on the writing. Photo: Samia Sayda


Why do you write poetry?

I am trying to identify with myself.


What is your first book about?

It is a firsthand account of a woman’s distress during wartime.


What were the circumstances during the writing of this book?

The poems of my first collection were written during the past five years, more precisely this endless Syrian shock, where death, homelessness, treachery, and all kinds of oppression have become a part of every Syrian person’s life.


How did you publish your book? Is it self-published or did you receive funding from a cultural institute or another organization? Where can your book be found?

I published my latest, which is also the first, poetry collection at the Al-Takween publishing house in Damascus (with my own money, of course). You can find my book at the Al-Takween publishing house in Damascus and in book fairs in both Arab and other countries where the publisher is participating.


How did you feel when your book was published?

It is definitely like a new life.


Are you the same person you were before writing the book? Did it add something to your personality or experience?

Every sincere work is a great addition to a writer’s experience, and after this first poetry collection, Bitter Orange, I am like a bitter orange myself.


If you weren’t a poet, what would you like to do?

To be a shepherd in the mountains.



No river goes through Chenkal

Because escaping between the mountains
Requires fitness and agility;
My mother tied my younger brother on my back
With trembling hands
And hanged her mascots necklace
On my chest,
Incensed me with her last breaths
Let me carry her messages:
Rare perfume of her sweat,
And on my shoulders
A heavy pouch of motherhood;
Because escaping between the mountains
Requires fitness and agility
But she forgot to draw a river, for us,
Which shows us life


No river goes through Chenkal
To save the deer’ babies
No occurring cloud has mercy on the death
Over rocks
No shadows


Chenkal is the city occupied by ISIS in June 2014, where they displaced the people, killed them, captivated thousands of the city’s women and sold them in slave market. 

Narin Derky, Bitter Orange, 2016. Poem translation from Arabic Shurouk Hammoud, 2017.


SPOTLIGHT introduces recently published poetry and shares poetry news from Finland and Syria.



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