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International Reflective Writing


Faraj Bayraqdar: Political Poet of Syria

Faraj Bayraqdar was born in 1951 in the village of Tir near Homs, central Syria. He published two collections of poetry, You Are Not Alone (Beirut, 1979), and Golsorkhi (1981), before his arrest in 1987 for his political affiliations and imprisonment without trial until 1993 when he was sentenced to fifteen years’ hard labour for belonging to an unauthorized political association. He was eventually released in 2000 after an international campaign. 

In 1997 friends published a small collection of his poetry Dove in Free Flight. Bayraqdar was the winner of the 1998 Hellman-Hammet Award, the 1999 International PEN Award from PEN American Center West, and the 2004 Free Word Award from NOVIB, in the Netherlands. After his release he published Asian Recitals(Damascus 2001). Selected Poems, translated by the New York Translation Collective, and an interview by Muhammad Ali Atassi introduced by Elias Khoury, were published in Los Angeles in 2004 by Beyond Baroque Press.

Source: Banipal: Magazine of Modern Arab Literature:

Statement by Faraj Bayrakdar made at a press conference on 28 November 2000 after being released from prison:

I salute you with open arms and my heart filled with the sound of joyous bells.

The distance between nightmare and dream is equal to that which exists between prison and liberty. And I don’t know how to express my gratitude to you and hundreds of friends who have helped me to pass from the river of nightmare to that of dream.

I well know that repression is across the world and that liberty must be all around. I hope also that you will welcome me into your ranks, now that I have recovered to some extent my freedom, so that we can follow the road together. For, although I am now out of prison, many still remain inside, in my own country and in numerous other places.

My dear friends. Certain detained journalists and myself have benefited from the particular attention of yourselves and that of numerous other organisations and personalities. I must remind you that this has allowed us to escape the grasp of forgetfulness, this symbolic death that so menaces prisoners.

After having written much for death, I would like now to write for her sister, life. Yes... I entered into prison ready to die and here I am, 14 years later, putting my dreams back in order, ready at last to live. As the sand can only unite with the mirage, hence, the dream must unite with freedom.

Once again, my gratitude to you all and all those hundreds of friends who I know or not... and my affection.

Your friend Faraj Bayrakdar



Here I am you alone

In this mad, gaping 


Here I am you alone and death altogether 

With its predators and its seers and the informers

Perhaps I am arriving at 

The limit of my possibilities 

For you to arrive at the last 


Flare up until you see me and

Become complete until I see you

My rose between two fires

Inflaming me 

Hopefully I am inciting wisdom

In this ruin
I have tried

To the end of the flower and the fire, 

Then, how have they isolated my voice 

And your silence?

Have you leaned on a belated 


Or have I been exchanged--one absence for another?!

Here I am you alone--while you are but I 

I was not before me but you were after you 

The shadow has shed the blood of the sun 

On the horizon and the night has hissed 

The night has hissed 

How you have been delayed . . . changed . . . 

And you would not be laid bare--

Take no offense from me
You have your shrouds 


With thorns the guard caresses 

Your sparrows 

And the state bestows upon you 

A precautionary death, 

And enough of the darkness 

For you to go -so go 

You are aware of the insanity of death, 

Thus the music breaks out

And your myths are shaken 

his other body is in the arena, 

Are you asking me 

Who has splattered a name . . 

And the throne with blood . . . ?

No time . . . 

This other body 

Who has taken it from me 

And who has taken me from it? 

And who testifies that death 

Has grown weary?

The obscure caresses its vacancies 

with wires and blasphemy

I have tried often. . . 

As the constellation has mourned the horizon of a poem

I said I have tried often 

And with lilac, I have caressed
your night 

The river has been choked with the tears of a woman 

Whose son was 

More pure than she had hoped for 

But her dreams were fractured in the night . . .

God was in a seventh slumber,

As was her son 

For who would disturb him 

Before the dawn call to prayer?!! 

And who, Sister. . . . 

Now bestows upon you

A palm of his stature 

A cloud of his laughter

A breadth of his hands?!! 

The river has been choked with the tears of a woman 

She resembles my mother, 

Just as You resemble me, 

And you are now alone 


Extinction has escaped you . . . 

How the night has shed light on you 

And the blossoms are darker. 

And the wind has enfolded you 

How the wilderness prays for you 

And forgetfulness has been hailed 

To where 

Shall I proceed with your pledges?

I am not asking about places, 

My prison is a place,

Except that the times 

Have been divested of their right

For a free journey and of 

Their right of place 

Having dried up in my coat 

Are seven clouds and your memory . . . 

Are you mourning 

The salt of your tears and the poet 

In the reach of his poem 

He writes it 

Or let me say: it writes him 

Or both write: 

Perhaps you are bringing me flowers 


You will not find after you 

One who brings yours 

Our night brings to the surface its elegy 

On the long verse
I see my course on the waves 

Or is this your face? 

The salt of your tears, 

So permit me to 

Close my eyes a little 

And a little . . .

And a little. 


I have not yet handed over my directions 

To the judgment of the sand . . . 

Behind me a time 

Ashamed of the deceits of geography . . . 

Thanks to the sparrow 

That built a nest on the other 

Window and flew. 

Breaker of my back 

Your shadow is now a spent tomorrow 

Upon which I disperse my thoughts

And I call to you with what is in the spirit 

From the groan of the horse . . . 

Do you hear me . . . ?

I am calling 

I am not searching for a collective grave

Rather . . . for my country

February 1993

Read more:


Adonis: "Desert"

Adonis: About “Desert”

Breaking with the tradition of formal structure in Arabic poetry, Adonis experiments with free verse, variable meters, and prose poetry as he engages themes of exile and transformation, in a voice at once playful and prophetic. In a 2010 interview with Charles McGrath for the New York Times, Adonis stated, “I wanted to draw on Arab tradition and mythology without being tied to it,” adding, “I wanted to break the linearity of poetic text — to mess with it, if you will. The poem is meant to be a network rather than a single rope of thought.” Publishers Weekly described Adonis’ collection Mihyar of Damascus: His Songs as a “seminal, startling, volatile, founding work of Arabic-language modernism.”
Ali Ahmad Said Esber, also known by the pen name Adonis or Adunis, is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including Adonis: Selected Poems (2010, translated by Khaled Mattawa), Mihyar of Damascus: His Songs (2008), If Only the Sea Could Sleep (2002), and The Blood of Adonis (1971), which won the International Poetry Forum’s Syria-Lebanon Award. Adonis is also the author of the seminal work An Introduction to Arab Poetics (2003).
Adonis has won the first ever International Nâzim Hikmet Poetry Award, the Norwegian Academy for Literature and Freedom of Expression’s Bjørnson Prize, the Highest Award of the International Poem Biennial in Brussels, and the Syria-Lebanon Best Poet Award. In 1983 he was elected into the Stéphané Mallarmé Academy.
Adonis has taught at the Sorbonne, Damascus University, and the Lebanese University. He lives in Paris.

Translated by Khaled Mattawa

The cities dissolve, and the earth is a cart loaded with dust
Only poetry knows how to pair itself to this space.

No road to this house, a siege,
and his house is graveyard.
               From a distance, above his house
               a perplexed moon dangles
               from threads of dust.

I said: this is the way home, he said: No
               you can’t pass, and aimed his bullet at me.
Very well then, friends and their homes
                in all of Beirut’s are my companions.

Road for blood now—
               Blood about which a boy talked
               whispered to his friends:
                              nothing remains in the sky now
                              except holes called “stars.”

The city’s voice was too tender, even the winds
would not tune its strings—
The city’s face beamed
like a child arranging his dreams for nightfall
bidding the morning to sit beside him on his chair.

They found people in bags:
              a person                                                 without a head 
              a person                                                 without hands, or tongue
              a person                                                 choked to death
              and the rest had no shapes and no names.
                             —Are you mad? Please
                                                             don’t write about these things.
A page in a book
              bombs mirror themselves inside of it
              prophecies and dust-proverbs mirror themselves inside of it 
              cloisters mirror themselves inside of it, a carpet made of the alphabet
                             disentangles thread by thread
falls on the face of the city, slipping out of the needles of memory.
A murderer in the city’s air, swimming through its wound—
its wound is a fall
that trembled to its name—to the hemorrhage of its name
and all that surrounds us—
houses left their walls behind
                                               and I am no longer I.

Maybe there will come a time in which you’ll accept     
to live deaf and mute, maybe
they’ll allow you to mumble: death
                                                and life
                                                and peace unto you.

From the wine of the palms to the quiet of the desert . . . et cetera
from a morning that smuggles its own intestines
               and sleeps on the corpses of the rebels . . . et cetera
from streets, to trucks
               from soldiers, armies . . . et cetera
from the shadows of men and women . . . et cetera
from bombs hidden in the prayers of monotheists and infidels . . . et cetera
from iron that oozes iron and bleeds flesh . . . et cetera
from fields that long for wheat, and grass and working hands . . . et cetera
from forts that wall our bodies
               and heap darkness upon us . . . et cetera
from legends of the dead who pronounce life, who steer our life . . . et cetera
from talk that is slaughter           and slaughter         and slitters of throats . . . et cetera
from darkness to darkness to darkness
I breathe, touch my body, search for myself
               and for you, and for him, and for the others

and I hang my death
between my face and this hemorrhage of talk . . . et cetera

You will see—

                say his name
                say you drew his face
                reach out your hand toward him
                or smile
                or say I was happy once
                or say I was sad once
                you will see:
                                 there is no country there.

Murder has changed the city’s shape—this stone
                                                                 is a child’s head—
and this smoke is exhaled from human lungs.
Each thing recites its exile . . .                a sea
                                              of blood—and what
do you expect on these mornings except their arteries set to sail
into the darkness, into the tidal wave of slaughter?

Stay up with her, don’t let up—
she sits death in her embrace
and turns over her days
                                              tattered sheets of paper.
Guard the last pictures
of her topography—
she is tossing and turning in the sand
in an ocean of sparks—
on her bodies
are the spots of human moans.

Seed after seed are cast into our earth—
fields feeding on our legends,
guard the secret of these bloods.
                               I am talking about a flavor to the seasons
                               and a flash of lightning in the sky.

Tower Square—(an engraving whispers its secrets
                                                               to bombed-out bridges . . . )
Tower Square—(a memory seeks its shape
                                                               among dust and fire . . . )
Tower Square—(an open desert
                                                               chosen by winds and vomited  . . . by them . . . )
Tower Square—(It’s magical
                                              to see corpses move/their limbs    
                                              in one alleyway, and their ghosts    
                                              in another/and to hear their sighs . . . )
Tower Square—(West and East
                                and gallows are set up—
                                martyrs, commands . . . )
Tower Square—(a throng
                of caravans: myrrh
                                               and gum Arabica and musk
                                                              and spices that launch the festival . . . )
Tower Square—(let go of time . . .
                                              in the name of place)

—Corpses or destruction,
                  is this the face of Beirut?
—and this
                a bell, or a scream?
—A friend?
—You? Welcome.
               Did you travel? Have you returned? What’s new with you?
—A neighbor got killed . . . /

 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A game /
—Your dice are on a streak.
—Oh, just a coincidence /

                                   . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

                                              Layers of darkness
                                              and talk dragging more talk.         

Source: Adonis, “Desert” from Selected Poems, translated by Khaled Mattawa. Selected Poems (Yale University Press, 2010);


Ali Farzat: Syrian Political Cartoonist

According to activists Ali Farzat, whose work is strongly critical of the government, was forced out of his car in Damascus, badly beaten and dumped at the side of the road, in 2011 BBC writes.

“In one of his latest cartoons, Ali Farzat shows President Assad sweatily clutching a suitcase while he tries to hitch a lift with the Libyan leader, Col Gaddafi, who is furiously driving a getaway car.

The Syrian cartoonist has produced a stream of images like this in the past few months that have directly attacked the Syrian leader.

In one, President Assad is shown patiently white-washing the shadow of a huge security thug on a wall, while the real man stands untouched. The caption reads: "Lifting the emergency law".

Another shows Mr Assad flexing in uniform in front of a mirror that reflects back a dominant, muscular image, overshadowing his puny figure.

For 40 years, Ali Farzat has been skewering the mismatch between rhetoric and reality in the Arab world.

In his meticulous drawings, mostly without captions, he has shown the overbearing brutality of bureaucracy, the hypocrisy of leaders, and myriad other injustices of daily life that have resonated across the Middle East.

When President Assad first took power, Ali Farzat was allowed to start an officially-sanctioned satirical magazine as part of what was intended to be a new era of openness. But it was soon closed down.

What has changed in his work as the Syrian uprising has grown is his readiness to target real people - President Assad above all - rather than archetypes of unfettered power.

His beating-up by security forces shows that he has hit home and that the authorities' tolerance for dissent is touching zero."

Source: GlobalPost.Com;

Background Information on Ali Farzat:

Ali Farzat was born and raised in the city of Hama, in central Syria on 22 June 1951. His first professional drawings appeared, when he was 14, on the front pages of al-Ayyam newspaper, shortly before it was banned by the ruling Baath Party. In 1969 he began drawing caricatures for the state-run daily, al-Thawra. He enrolled at the Faculty of Fine Arts at Damascus University in 1970, and left before graduating in 1973. In the mid-1970s he moved to another government controlled daily, Tishreen, where his cartoons appeared everyday.  International recognition followed in 1980 when he won the first prize at the Intergraphic International Festival in Berlin, Germany, and his drawings began to appear in the French newspaper Le Monde. His exhibition in 1989 at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, France, brought on him a death threat from Saddam Hussein, and a ban from Iraq, Jordan and Libya. The drawing that brought about the most controversy was called The General and the Decorations which showed a general handing out military decorations instead of food to a hungry Arab citizen.

In December 2000, Farzat started publishing al-Domari ("The Lamplighter"), which was the first independent periodical in Syria since the Baath Party came to power in 1963. The newspaper was based on political satire and styled in a similar way to the French weekly Le Canard enchaîné. The first issue of the paper came out in February 2001 and the entire 50,000 copies were sold in less than four hours. In 2002 he won the prestigious Dutch Prince Claus Award for "achievement in culture and development". By 2003, however, frequent government censorship and lack of funds forced Farzat to close down al-Domari.

2011 Syrian uprising

As the ongoing Syrian uprising—which began in March 2011—against the rule of Bashar al-Assad grew, Farzat had been more direct in his anti-regime cartoons, specifically targeting government figures, particularly al-Assad. Following the fall of Tripoli in late August to anti-regime rebels seeking to topple Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi, Farzat published a cartoon depicting a sweaty Bashar al-Assad clutching a briefcase running to catch a ride with Gaddafi who is anxiously driving a getaway car. Other cartoons Farzat published previously include one where al-Assad is whitewashing the shadow of large Syrian security force officer while the actual officer remains untouched with the caption reading "Lifting the emergency law" and another showing al-Assad dressed in a military uniform flexing his arm in front of a mirror. The mirror's reflection shows Assad being a dominant muscular figure contrasting with his actual slim stature.

On August 25, 2011, Farzat was reportedly pulled from his vehicle in Umayyad Square in central Damascus by masked gunmen believed to be part of the security forces and a pro-regime militia. He was then badly beaten and dumped on the side of the airport road where passersby found him and took him to a hospital. According to one of his relatives, the security forces notably targeted his hands with both being broken and then told Farzat it was "just a warning." His brother As'aad, however, claims Farzat was kidnapped from his home around 5am by five gunmen and then taken to the airport road after being beaten "savagely." The gunmen then warned him "not to satirize Syria's leaders." The Local Coordination Committee (LCC), an activist group representing the rebellion in Syria, stated that his briefcase and the drawings in them were confiscated by the assailants.

In response to news of Farzat's ordeal, Syrian opposition members have expressed outrage and several online activists changed their Facebook profile picture with that of a hospitalized Farzat in solidarity with the cartoonist. The United States condemned the attack calling it "targeted, brutal." According to the BBC's Arab affair's analyst, Farzat's beating is a sign that the Syrian authorities "tolerance for dissent is touching zero."

Source: Adapted from Wikipedia:

Ali Farzat's Cartoons

This is one of Farzat's most "provocative" cartoons according to observers. It shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad clutching a suitcase while he tries to hitch a lift with beleaguered Libya's Qadhafi who is madly driving a getaway car.





Lahab Assef Al Jundi: Arab Spring

Photograph by Melanie Rush Davis

Lahab Assef Al Jundi (لهب عاصف الجندي) was born, and grew up, in Damascus, Syria.  He published his first collection A Long Way in 1985. Assef’s poetry has appeared in numerous literary publications, and many Anthologies including: In These Latitudes, Ten Contemporary Poets, edited by Robert Bonazzi, Inclined to Speak, An Anthology of Contemporary Arab American Poetry, edited by Hayan Charara, and Between Heaven and Texas, edited by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Arab Spring, 2011

This year
I’m so waiting for springNo
Not the usual
I’m tired of the cold and wish for sunThis year
It is different
I’m craving the utter force of changeI want to witness
Earth cracking
Ground moving in a million waysI want the old to die
Revolutions to transform
Poems to flower out of blood-soaked dirt

This year
I want peace to be the violent birth
Let tears fall
After death has had its way
Let spring roar like a thunder river

A Date with the Moon

Last night I had a date with the moon.
I arrived early.
A small knoll by a high perimeter fence
topped with barbed wire.
“Prohibited.  Do Not Enter” sign
in red letters, hung on chain links.
In front of me, Texas Highway 281.
Beyond, airport runways graying
in faded evening light.

I sat waiting on hard thirsty earth.
Patches of spring grasses.
A few drooping wildflowers.
I squinted in the strong breeze
to keep dust out of my eyes.
Images of rebels on the road to Tripoli
seeped into my head.
They were battling a sandstorm
and killer mercenaries.
Fumes from passing traffic
drifted warm into my nostrils.
Tires hissing and growling along.
Oddly sweet.
Cries of the wounded in Dara’a and Hama
Teargas-choked gasps.
People screaming: 

Little by little sky darkened.
Lights shimmered brighter in the haze
of landing jet engines.
My anxious gaze scanned eastward
over runways and fields.
Neighborhoods settling down
for evening’s meal.

Out there
where horizon fades
between heaven and land,
moon warily emerged
bathed in crimson shades.

Boldly climbed.

Set night on fire.



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