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Legendary Arab poet in-residence at U-M

By Dana Budzaj

Actors Nelson Franklin, left, and Christopher Gorham rehearse a scene during filming of the movie "Answer This!" at Ashley's on South State Street.

The story of the poet Adonis (right), born Ali Ahmad-Said, began in 1930 in a Syrian village.

The eldest of six children in a farmer’s family, Adonis worked in the fields for most of his childhood. Educated at home, he discovered poetry through the teachings of his father. At the age of 14 Adonis read one of his own poems specifically written for and to Syrian President Shukri al-Kuwatli. Moved by the young child’s words, the president granted Adonis’ wish to go to school and arranged for him to attend a French-run high school.

That is how one of Arab’s greatest living poets began the formal studies that transformed him into the internationally renowned intellect he is today.

Adonis will give a public reading of his poetry at 5 p.m. Monday, Oct. 11 at Helmut Stern Auditorium inside the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

Adonis is the International Writer in Residence at U-M. The program is part of the MFA Program in Creative Writing’s Zell Visiting Writers Series.

Adonis’ work is innovative, and even radical within the context for change and attempts to “modernize” Arab poetry. The provocative content of his experimental poetics sparked great controversy in the Arabic world and has inspired contemporary poets to rethink traditional poetry.

His poetry is filled with striking imagery that provides a greater understanding and sense of connection for the reader. Elements of nature are widely found in his work with reoccurring imagery related to space, water, fire, earth, star, stone, sea and wind. He finds creative ways to synchronize and connect various themes, such as purpose of existence, fantasy, humanism, and spiritual redemption.

In addition to poetry, Adonis is a professor, translator, and literary critic. He has published numerous collections of poetry, along with books of criticism. Among his noteworthy and award-winning work is: “The Pages of Day and Night” (1994); “Al Shi riyya Al-Arabiyya” (Arabic Poetics, 1985);  “al-Thabit wa al-Mutahawwil” (The Static and the Changing, 1978); and “The Songs of Mihyar the Damascene” (1961).

Adonis has been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature and also has received many awards, including the first ever International Nâzim Hikmet Poetry Award, the Syria-Lebanon Best Poet Award, and the Highest Award of the International Poem Biennial in Brussels.

He has studied in several countries and received his Licence es-Lettres in Philosophy at Damascus University (1954) and a Doctorat d’Etat at St. Joseph University (1973). Adonis is a professor of Arabic literature and has taught at Lebanese University, Damascus University, Georgetown University, University of Geneva, Collège de France and at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he currently lives.

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