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.