THE WORLD MIRROR / SPOTLIGHT
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.
Shurouk Hammoud and Hanna Hirvonen, interview
Where are you from and where do you live now, Deema Mahmoud?
I was born in Saudi Arabia in 1972, but I think that the real birth was when the primitive man discovered fire, then invented writing on the banks of the valley. Now I live between Khobar city in Saudi Arabia and Cairo, Egypt.
Did the place you live in have an impact on your new book I tease the horizon with a violin?
Of course the place, I mean any place, has an impact on writing, let alone the house which is our jail and our world, as the poet Gaston Pachlar said. He also said that the greatest fears are generated by reassurance itself.
But if you mean a wider place like homeland, I think that within the world we live in the concerns of the human, his pain and his problems are similar. So if we assume that some critic was interested in calling up the geographical place where my text was written, he would not find big difference between the poems I have written in Cairo and those which were written in Khobar. Because, as I mentioned before, the concerns are similar and all the places are rigid. We are the ones who award the places a language and a tongue.
Why do you write poetry?
I would not say that I am sick with poetry, but I find the answer of the novelist Sarah Groen, when she was asked the same question. She answered The only thing which drives me mad more than writing is not to write.
What is your new book about?
To ask a poet what are his or her poems about is one of the most difficult questions. Meaning is no longer ours as it was in the past. I guess poetry readers will answer this question better than I do.
What are the conditions you have experienced during writing your book?
I live my life normally and I know that at a certain moment something relatively mysterious will drive me to sit behind my little computer screen to start writing, because I do not write just to unload my heavy burden. So the poems of my second poetry collection came out in the form of cases I have experienced. I tried as much as possible to grasp their recurrences, their convulsions and their shades to present them all to the reader; reader may see what I saw and live what I lived.
How did you publish your book? Is it self-published or was there cultural institute or some other institute or organization which helped you?
Frankly, I have the right to laugh broadly about the possibility of having such foundation which may fund publishing a poetry collection or even help to release it. We are in the Arab world where the creative cultural and enlightenment work is its last interest and goal. And as an answer to your question: I published my book at al-Ain publishing house in Cairo and of course the whole cost of publishing was from my own money.
Where can we find your new book?
You can find it in many libraries of downtown Cairo – like Omar book stores, Aklam, Afaq, Tanmya and Sanabel libraries. And outside Egypt you can find it in most book fairs where al-Ain publishing house participates like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Jordan.
Are you the same person than before writing I tease the horizon with a violin? And did it add something to your personality and experiences?
In every step I take next to a new text I find myself stumble then go, involve then manifest, write, then erase. So, change is inevitable.
What do you usually feel when you publish a new book?
I feel that two sensations are screaming inside me; a sensation of joy because I accomplished what I wanted to, and a sensation of anxiety because of the question I ask myself: how will the literary circles and the readership receive my writing? But I quickly go beyond all this and remind myself that each new book is nothing but a brick I place in order to build a big house. I hope this lifetime will help me to form its structure the way I see it.
If you were not a poet, what you would like to be?
First of all, poetry is not a job. Secondly, I remember now what I have said in my poetry collection: the poet is a farmer with one leg. Maybe then I would…cultivate the land with an axe and non-truncated legs…Going to the farm at dawn…And coming back at night.
So, believe me; life is more poetic than poems and only poets know that.
What poem you would like to share from I tease the horizon with a violin with Kosmi readers?
As a raw butterfly, I float at home
In the time of the kitchen,
Cutting a piece of it for poetry that is beyond curtain.
Nobody knows that a poem melted down from me
Whereas washing dishes,
A storm of words swept me, while cooking okra.
I, sometimes, don’t have any explanation for the momentum covering me while grilling fish.
Like pendulum, the stanzas vibrate in my head,
I want them likewise, swinging and stressing,
Not to be polished by the vapor of frying and the smell of cleaning powders,
May I wrap them in a towel, not to be wet by moisture while cooling in the fridge.
Scarcely, I hurried to write down my stanzas
That spouts from the kitchen, on the mobile notes.
When my home day ends, I look at the mirror,
Touching my eyelashes, eyes, lips and my roses.
So, I have rapture from my lissome completion.
The idols of poetry that tempted me at the kitchen,
Lurks in my braid and refuses to get out.
I try to remember but in vain, as if fell in the soup plate
Of my husband who swigged it saying:
Explain to me why some of your food is more delicious than others.
In other times,
He winks me flirting at the mirror,
Pulling out the poetry stanzas from my gypsy hair,
Printing them with his music on my lips,
Then, I want to step to complete the poem.
Poem Deema Mahmoud, I tease the horizon with a violin, 2017.
Translation from Arabic Soha El Sebaie.