Saudi poetry of ‘daily life’ has no interest in regional issues

The effect of the revivalist discourse is felt in the lack of audacity in the publishing world.

Sunday 15/03/2020
Cover of Hussein al-Muafa’s “Life as Wide as a Pack of Cigarettes.” (Courtesy of Hussein al-Muafa)
About daily anxieties. Cover of Hussein al-Muafa’s “Life as Wide as a Pack of Cigarettes.” (Courtesy of Hussein al-Muafa)

RIYADH - Saudi poet Hussein al-Muafa recently produced his first poetry collection (published by Miled Publishing House), bearing the title, in Arabic, “Life as Wide as a Pack of Cigarettes.”

In his poems, Muafa deals with daily anxieties, such as when fear grips farmers at the slightest prospect of a draught or the city dweller’s constant need for money, this besides his inner thoughts tainted with absurdity and angst.

“I write and complete my prose poem the moment I get inspired,” Muafa told The Arab Weekly. “I live in Jizan in the south of Saudi Arabia, where I find God, the fields, mothers and poems that do not sleep. I like literature that reveals life.”

“From my point of view, there isn’t much good poetry. Most of what we have right now resembles artificial flowers, which lack the natural texture and smell that we usually feel in the flow of life in a good text,” he said.

“I can’t really say that there is a poetic scene (in Saudi Arabia) right now, especially among the new generation. There are limited efforts on social media platforms and on very limited spaces in some print dailies, which, by the way, rarely devote to us, young poets, space for our poetry.

“There is a big gap and a severed link between our generation and the generation of the poets of the 1980s. I think the main reason for that was the very conservative discourse of the religious revivalist era, which aborted the aesthetics of non-dominant and innovative artistic forms, while people elsewhere were encouraging these arts because they knew their civilisational and human value.”

Despite the hegemony of the hard-line revivalist discourse, which has lasted for more than 40 years, Muafa said such discourse reached its end. Despite its decline, its effect is felt in the lack of audacity in the publishing world. Nevertheless, he said: “We, the new generation, are wearing the cloak of a new cultural awareness and coexistence that are intertwined and shared with the cultures and customs of the peoples of the world.”

Muafa agreed with critics who argue that the problem with new texts is the absence of major over-arching and cultural issues. Texts are focused on poets’ personal and daily experiences.

“Today, there are no longer true region-wide issues that touch the souls of the poet or writer in general and that’s why they write the way they do,” Muafa said. “Every generation has its own life experiences, which will surely be reflected in the texts it produces. Poetry now is the poetry of daily life, which the poet experiences in all its good, bad, luxurious and powdery details.”

Muafa expressed pessimism about the future of initiatives by the Saudi Ministry of Culture to support cultural creativity.

“As long as neighbourhoods in the country are lacking public libraries, there will be no support or attention paid to any intellectual entity or cultural sector,” he said, “but poets and writers are still innovating and creating, even though they often may not have the means to support themselves for a month or pay for the health expenses of their children and not even enough recognition and gratitude to feed their self-esteem.”

Muafa was asked how the new generation of poets looks at changes sweeping the Arab region and whether it was possible to talk about an effect of the “Arab spring” on Arab culture, about whether we can talk about a collision between new and traditional tenets of Arab culture.

“The ‘Arab spring’ carried screams, objections and slogans, whether it was in the form of peaceful or absurd protests or both at the same time,” Muafa said. “In spite of the changes, losses and deaths, it has at least produced a creative and realistic language, more closely and deeply attached to the sad and miserable reality of the Arab man with all his inner anxiety and weariness. It is an earthly discourse full of themes of loss and death so that a new generation can have a life of freedom and rights.”