Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

The dialog between Najet Adouani and Katerina Anghelaki Rooke about Penelope

Introducing the two poetesses to each other due to having written their respective version of Penelope, that is a meeting of minds while sensing how the blood flows in the veins of poetry made by women who know a lot about both pain and pleasure.

When I read over the phone to Katerina Anghelaki Rooke (she stays during the summer months on the island of Aegina) the poem 'Travel' by Najet Adouani, she responded immediately in recognition of a fellow poetess. With this recognition goes an appreciation of great poetry. Thus to bring these two poetess into a dialogue shall be a pleasure as they have so much to give to each other. While Najet Adouani senses the freedom to live in Greece despite the economic crisis and the hardships it brings with it, she reflects the transition her country of Tunesia is going through. Ever since the Arabic spring has ignited the hope for a life in dignity, the realization that freedom comes often at a huge prize, one which especially women have to pay and this most dearly, that is the staggering truth about this world.

It is apt that reference should be made to Katerina Anghelaki Rooke's interpretation of Penelope should be made. In her poem there can be found that whiff of revolt against all usual interpretations. It begins by transforming the endless weaving and ondoing of the dress at night into writing and re-writing. It is a transition not akin to the back and forth of the ferry boat between Aegina and Pireaeus, but it is one between day and night. The significance of that is the rhythm of time which alters from waiting passively to waiting actively. Already this indicates a different art of living, namely never to wait but to wait with patience till the time is ripe and it is the moment when to speak up. Often it goes in the poetic life of Katerina Anghelaki Rooke with knowing when to leave the room again, the room she has entered to select poems she will take with her when exiting. For poems to make it into daylight is like being blinded in the eyes when the sudden sunlight startles one. And it is not self understood that all will make it. There are the ones too shy to stand the public glance for daylight is also the audience. Like any audience it notices the small nuances in a poem if true to the point and really made, as would say Michael D. Higgins. Therefore all the waiting of Penelope becomes an anticipation of poetry to come and once out there in day light, then even the friars who had been waiting for a final word by Penelope, they will know the answer. It is resistance at its best, a resistence every woman has to know and to practice, and this mainly free from any preacher or code of ethics, since what the heart, body and soul says, that is a personal dialogue in need to be listened to even if no one else will hear what is being said. For Penelope is an invention of a dialogue of the self and therefore creates the most intimate space imaginable.

This is where the beauty of Najet Adouani's poem comes in. Already the title 'travel' indicates here the matter of being a slave and therefore thirsty for freedom indicates the plight of women who cannot travel like the men have done. Leaving the women behind to cope all by themselves but once the men return must subjegate themselves again humbly as if there was no time in between being gone and now back, that is the unbelievable residue of many narratives. Penelope does stand for that other half too often silenced not only by the winds or circumstances but by a society believing it is always day or just night and therefore no time will meet since there is no waiting allowed and no going either, therefore worse than a standstill, there is this image of being tied to the desert whose borders are ephemeral and fictitious, and still hard enough to make themselves be felt. As in any world of illusions marked by Fata Morgana, there is no escape from this kind of disorientation. It is like not knowing whether it is night or day time. Other things are needed, therefore, before orientation can be found. Thus songs are sought but they have been stolen. Mother and father have not given a hand. And yet the travel ends like Odysseus on an island but this time it is towering over the stranded figure. Incredible is therefore the ending: washed ashore, the poem ends with a most powerful image, namely as the one stranded on airports. In this amazing transition to modern times, it does underline a new silence when the engines of the airplanes roar and those close by cannot hear what the other says. It is an engine which blows a hole in the space of sound. Here the poetess from Tunesia would say, it matters to know where you belong to even when just a traveler.

Hatto Fischer




by Najet Adouani

My passport is a green pistol
A bell fastened to my body,
I pass through a country whose legend is written in ashes.
My mother calls upon a lost life,
My father recovers for me the old toys.
To whom shall I sell my existence?
Oh thirsty sea gull, see
How the sunset is burning on my cheek.
And on your milky wings I shed my last hope.
I am hanging on a red thread of the night dress
Walking towards me backwards as if I am lost in a trance
to become the face of a sad wave which has just thrown
her body on the hard stones and my legs.
On my knees nests the frost
and camels wail in-between the storm and the wind.
Oh my green country,
They stole your songs
And sown me onto a desert
marked by imaginary shores,
which let me hunt the mirage
Till nothing is left in my hand.
Only a tree over my head, near the moon,
full of blossoms as if in a field of orange trees.
Tomorrow, or on any other day, there will explode
his rose in my face

with the sun on my shoulders pulling out thread after thread
like the spindle of Penelope.
The Olympus spreads his wings to embrace the island.
The island towers around me. I wear the clothes of an old guide
and address myself as if a sweaper of airports.
Do I go out like a crow on wings and dance?.

Cyprus - Nicosia
23 April 1987



Najet Adouani

Mein Pass ist eine grüne Pistole

An meinem Körper ist eine Glocke angebunden.

Ich reise durch ein Land dessen Legende in Asche geschrieben ist.

Meine Mutter ruft ein verlorenes Leben herbei,

Mein Vater holt für mich hervor alte Spielsachen

An wem soll ich meine Existenz verkaufen?

O durstige Möwen, schau

wie der Sonnenuntergang meine Wangen glühen lässt
und ich mit letzter Hoffnung mich auf Eure milchigen Flügeln runter lasse;

ich hänge am letzten roten Faden des Nachtkleides

das auf mich rückwärts zukommt als wäre ich im Taumel verloren

und so zum Gesicht einer traurigen Welle werde die soeben

ihren Körper auf die harten Steine und meine Beine warf.

Auf meinen Knien baut der Frost sein Nest

und dazwischen schreien Kamele inmitten Sturm und Wind.

O mein grünes Land,

sie haben Dir die Lieder gestohlen

und mich an jene Wüste genäht

die von imaginären Küstenstreifen markiert

mich nach der Fata Morgana solange jagen lässt

bis ich nichts mehr in der Hand habe.

Nur noch einen Baum über den Kopf, nahe dem Mond,

voller Blüten als sei das in einem Feld voller Orangenbäume.

Morgen, oder an irgend einem anderen Tag, da wird

seine Rose in meinem Gesicht explodieren

während die Sonne, brennend auf meinem Rücken,

Faden nach Faden aus mir zieht,

gleich der Spindel von Penelop.

Der Olympus streckt aus seine Flügel, um die Insel zu umarmen.

Die Insel türmt über mich. Ich trage die Kleider des alten Helfers

und verhalte mich als sei ich ein Abstauber von Flughäfen.

So gehe ich wie eine Krähe auf Flügeln hinaus und tanze?

Zypern - Nikosia
23 April 1987




A poem by Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke (1939—)
trans. by Karen Van Dyck

And your absence teaches me
what art could not
                 —Daniel Weissbort

I wasn’t weaving, I wasn’t knitting
I was writing something
erasing and being erased
under the weight of the word
because perfect expression is blocked
when the inside is pressured by pain.
And while absence is the theme of my life
—absence from life—
tears and the natural suffering
of the deprived body
appear on the page.

I erase, I tear up, I stifle
the living cries
“Where are you, come, I’m waiting for you
this spring is not like other springs”
and I begin again in the morning
with new birds and white sheets
drying in the sun.
You will never be here
to water the flowers
the old ceiling dripping
under the weight of the rain
with my personality
dissolving into yours
quietly, autumn-like…
Your choice heart
—choice because I have chosen it—
will always be elsewhere
and I will cut
with words
the threads that bind me
to the particular man
I long for
until Odysseus becomes the symbol of Nostalgia
sailing the seas of every mind.
Each day
I passionately forget you
that you may be washed of the sins
of fragrance and sweetness
and finally all clean
enter immortality.
It is a hard and thankless job.
My only reward is that I understand
in the end what human presence is
what absence is
or how the self functions
in such desolation, in so much time
how nothing can stop tomorrow
the body keeps remaking itself
rising and falling on the bed
as if axed down
sometimes sick, sometimes in love
hoping that what it loses in touch
it gains in essence.

Translated into English by Karen van Dyck


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