Bahraini poet Ali al-Sharqawi looks to explore 'cosmic spirit' in his works

Bahraini poet Ali al-Sharqawi has been writing poetry since the second grade. [Mohammed al-Jayousi/Al-Shorfa]

Bahraini poet Ali al-Sharqawi has been writing poetry since the second grade. [Mohammed al-Jayousi/Al-Shorfa]

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The name of Ali al-Sharqawi is the first to come to mind whenever the word poetry is mentioned in Bahrain. With his prolific works in poetry, plays and diwans (poetry collections), he has become the literary icon of Bahrain.

"Abu Fi", as many like to call him, was born in Bahrain's capital city Manama, in 1948. He began publishing poetry in 1968, and soon his work spread in most of the local and Arab publications, both newspapers and magazines. His poems have been translated into several languages including English, French, German, Russian, Bulgarian and Kurdish.

Al-Shorfa spoke recently with Ali Al-Sharqawi:

Al-Shorfa: Can you tell us about how your career in literature and poetry started?

Ali al-Sharqawi: That might have been in second grade, when I started to fast during the month of Ramadan. Though my fast was not complete, it placed me with some of the boys, who were older than I was, and made me part of their group. This, in turn, facilitated my participation with them in preparing songs for Ramadan, such as "Hayyak Allah ya Ramadan,"and "Ya bu Aqraa wal bidyan".

This made me alter or distort the rhyme of those songs, and replace a word with another, which I was getting from my surroundings.

In the fifth grade, we were playing football, when the ball fell inside the garden of a Saudi poet, whose family lived in Bahrain at that time. I climbed the fence into the garden, when I saw a massive quantity of books, newspapers and magazines lying on the ground. I began to flip through them, and to read them, without paying any attention to my friend's screams, who were waiting for me outside. I stole one of the books, which was the Amr Ibn Abi Rabiah's Diwan. I then started to follow his style by writing my first attempts in what was called poetry.

Most of my writings were about scouts, a dream that I never lived, and then about the prophet and Ali ibn Abi Taleb. I also wrote about poverty and orphan-hood and others. I have not stopped writing, ever since.

I started publishing after the 1967 Naksah [the defeat that followed the 6-day war] on the "Tahiyyah wa Baad" page of the Kuwaiti Al-Taliah magazine, which was owned by the Arab Nationalists Movement in Kuwait. And from Iraq, where I went to study in 1968 on a scholarship from the Ministry of Health, where I worked at its laboratories for one year, I started to publish dozens of poems in the Kuwaiti National Student Union, the Kuwaiti Al-Taliah and local newspapers and magazines including "Al-Adwa," and "Sada al-Usbu" and "Hona al-Bahrain". I also wrote in Arab newspapers including "Al-Hadaf".

In 1975, I published my first poetry collection "Thunder in a Season of Drought". I have not stopped writing until this day.

Al-Shorfa: What is your latest poetry work?

Al-Sharqawi: It is the "The Sea Does not Apologise to the Ship" collection, which was published in 2011 by The Arab Institute for Research and Publishing, within a framework of the co-operation between the institute and the Ministry of Culture in the Kingdom of Bahrain, to which they gave the secondary name of "Some of the Repercussions of a Young Sailor". This collection comes out after the release of many other poetry collections, the last of which was "Water Rocks".

The Poetry Collection is 312-page medium size book. The cover was designed by artist Hussein Fakhr from the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Al-Shorfa: What are the most prominent challenges faced by writers and poets in Bahrain? And, in your opinion, what are their solutions?

Al-Sharqawi: After half a century of writing, the challenge now, in my opinion, is not external or objective. The challenge now is between the poet and his craft, the poet and his ability to reach deep into his infinite imagination, and between the people and the cosmic spirit, which he must know how to deal with. In the beginning our concern was national, then regional then class-related, but for me now, my concern is humanitarian. Each human being on this planet is an extension of me. Now, I do not believe in the "the other," because "the other" is an extension of my being. Now, I do not see barriers between man and the environment, between man and other creatures, man and the universe. To my mind, the role of the national, patriotic, revolutionary and class intellect has ended, and the turn for the universal intellect has arrived.

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    مراد شمس الدين

    2011-3-4

    The poetry of the literary movement in the Kingdom of Bahrain is progressing well, because Bahrain is largely concerned with poetry. It has a lot of poets who have a great vision and have wide-ranging possibilities in writing the finest poems. I believe that many of the festivals held in Bahrain have come to be among the most important poetic events in Bahrain and the Arab world. In my opinion, there is an interest in the movement of poetry and there is great support for it, which has facilitated its progress and prosperity.

  • خميس

    2011-2-16

    I swear that the literary and poetry movement, particularly in Bahrain, is doing well and meets our expectations. In fact, it satisfies the needs of young poets. Thus, the Bahraini government must enrich the literary movement through more support and more efforts to hold literary and poetry festivals, which offer an opportunity to poets, particularly the young, to show their creativity. Such festivals would be their space to establish a literary style for the future in Bahrain. They should be continuously held and on a large scale, so that their impact would not be limited to the festival period. Besides, the Bahraini media must encourage talented poets by bringing them to prominence, making them carry on, and encouraging others to do their best. Such measures are in the interest of the Bahraini literary movement.

  • ابراهيم

    2011-2-15

    Bahrain has become one of the leading countries in all things related to the social life of people, and in different fields, especially culture, to build a civilized human who has a high culture, sensitivity and good taste. Whoever observes the stages of literary development in Bahrain will note the evident possibilities in the new literary energies enjoyed by young people in Bahrain at the present time, especially in the area of poetry, which shows a great ability to compose poetry beautifully and enjoyably by every human being. It is known that the poetry in Bahrain reflects on a permanent basis the reality of society in Bahrain, depending on the traditional poetic legacy, but in new manifestations that address many of the situations of modern social life. Forums of poetry and literary associations have been established in Bahrain, and this creative and literary movement is a reflective mirror of the culture and development in Bahrain, as well as showing the government's role in supporting Bahrain's youth, who have literary talent, and encouraging them toward creativity and dedication, by providing all the means that bring the creative talents to light.

  • احمد صلاح

    2011-2-13

    There is a very big pioneering literary and poetry movement in Bahrain. In fact, Bahrainis tend to produce wonderful poems,and there are many poetry lovers and admirers in Bahrain. Thus, we notice that there are many Bahrainis who have excelled in this respect. In fact, there are many gifted young poets and authors who pioneered in this domain and contributed to libraries, and to the success of festivals, competitions, and poetry meetings. Bahrainis tend to prefer this intellectual, cultural and literary aspect, which helps transmit their poetic spirit to the Bahraini or any other brotherly Arab audience.

  • saad

    2011-2-13

    The literary movement, particularly poetry, is broadly active in Bahrain. This country is a true Arab nation, where people love poetry, and they tend to prefer Bedouin verses. Indeed, people of the desert are known for their love of all types of poetry. In fact, poetry and literature are part and parcel of Bahraini life, because they express their emotions and feelings. Thus, poets are very active in this country, since they have produced and printed many literary and poetical works. Besides, there are many prominent female poets and authors who have excelled at writing and chanting poems. Indeed, poetry is the essence of the human heart, which appreciates wonderful poems, particularly when they are read aloud in a fascinating way. Literature and poetry distinguish Bahrain from others. I also think that the poetry-loving Bahraini government is doing well, since it won the support of people. It is noteworthy that most Arab nations appreciate and even adore poetry. Thus, Bahrain, just like other Arab countries which care for poetry, is making much progress in this respect. In fact, many new poets are rising to prominence, so that poetry keeps developing everywhere.