Palestinian poet Dr. Kamal Ghoneim has called for a cultural revolution to boost Palestinian culture; explaining that the Palestinian cultural scene has many fundamentals, but still suffers a lack of connecting communication.
Ghoneim described the Palestinian cultural institutions as green oases in the middle of a vast desert, stressing that culture must be accessible to all people; that “the price of a book is still more than that of a loaf of bread or a glass of water, and as long as this is the case, culture will continue to suffer.”
'Arabstoday' met with Ghoneim for a chat:
AT: Please give us an introduction to Kaman Ghoneim the poet, and how did you start with poetry?
KG: My name is Kamal Mohamed Ghoneim, born 26/6/1966 in Gaza, holding a Ph.D. in Literature and Criticism from Ain Shams University and Al-Aqsa University “Joint Program – Egypt and Palestine”, in September 2001; Excellent with first class honors, holding a MA (with honors) in Literature and Criticism from Al-Nagah An-Najah National University in Nablus in February 1997, and a Bachelor of Arabic Language and Literature from the Islamic University in Gaza in 1991 with honors.
My introduction to poetry was as a result of my bond with reading and the world of books, as I have been a book-lover since childhood. My parents and brothers have paved the way for me, for they possessed a cultural intellect. My literary career started in the preparatory stage, thanks to my brother Mohamed who looked after my literary talent and refined it, as he too had literary tendencies. When my talent took shape with the start of the Intifada (Palestinian uprising), I turned to writing poetry, which was dominated by a political nature as my thoughts turned to the concerns of the Palestinian people.
AT: How do you describe the cultural reality in Palestine?
KG: The cultural reality is not very depressing; it possesses many fundamentals, however it still suffers from a lack of communication. It is as if we have all the components of an electric circuit, but still suffer from the cut wires leaving the circuit incomplete. We have a lot, but we do not have a link to tie it all together. We also have many cultural institutions, which while trying to work, spare no effort. Palestine needs a cultural revolution, for culture has to be accessible to all people. The price of a book is still more than that of a loaf of bread or a glass of water, and as long as this is the case, culture will continue to suffer.
AT: What would you say about the cultural institutions in Palestine?
KG: These institutions are green oases in a large desert. I applaud these institutions as many of them play a great role in promoting culture. It will not be fair to condemn those who work or try to initiate, but those to be blamed are the ones who neither work, nor do the effort, nor initiate.
AT: How do you view the poetic experiment of the poet Ahmed Matar through your book “Elements of Artistic Creativity in the Poetry of Ahmed Matar”?
KG: Ahmed Matar is a poet with great will, he was able to establish a new Arab Spring. The Arab Spring we see today is a response to the efforts of such commandos (feda’eyeen), including poets. Matar instigated the action. and has achieved its purpose, at least in part, for the Arab Spring needs poets and writers to take the leading role in shaping the civilisation.
AT: Did the division leave an impact on the current Palestinian cultural scene?
KG: The fact is that every positive contribution leaves a positive impact, and every negative premise overshadows everything else. The occurring division is a negative premise which has left an adverse impact on the Palestinian cultural scene, and the Palestinian Writer’s Union’s announcement of its inability to work at the moment is evidence of this fact. Let me say that if political division and difference has occurred, there is a lot of common ground between Palestinian intellectuals; for we do not find a single one agreeing on the alienation of Palestinian constants. Intellectuals of all sorts – together with poets and literary writers, including those who have engaged in political work within the organs of power – hold the same opinion. Thus I can say that the intellectuals form the real flesh of the remaining Palestinian society, and through them, the Palestinian wound will heal.
AT: Where do you see yourself in the arts? In poetry, drama, or criticism?
KG: I am currently writing new Maqamas (poetic assemblies) in the style of Al-Hamdhani and Al-Hariri; not in the linguistic demonstrative approach, but rather using new innovations in a renewed form. Poetry continues to be the most dominant presence, yet criticism and drama are not absent. I enjoy all of these forms of art; however poetry remains to be the bedroom I resort to.
AT: Who are the most prominent poets who have influenced you?
KG: We are the product of an ancient culture, and influence is inevitable. I have been influenced by many; Abu Qasim Al-Shabi and Ahmed Shawki on top of the list, however it is in my nature to do the effort to be briefed on all trials and experiences for learning purposes, whether or not I am fond of them.
AT: Which poems that you have written are dearest to your heart?
KG: They are all my sons, however, among the poems that are very dear to me are “Resalet Shaheed” (A Martyr’s Message), which was written during the first Intifada in 1987, “Sareya ‘Ala Moftaraq Al’Torok” (On The Crossroads), on the Palestinian Authority phase, and “Al-Wasaya” (The Commandments). Nonetheless, every one of my poems is a sap of effort of very special taste to me.
AT: They say you write without a muse, is this true?
KG: I cannot write without inspiration, every creative individual needs a motivation to write, for the most wonderful writings are the ones that impose themselves on you. You sometimes lose control over what you write, as if someone else holds your pen. Some things, whether they are big or simple incidents, are enough inspiration to push you to write and create. For me, writing poetry is like an unpredictable storm; when it is time for the birth of a new poem, its features are deeply engraved in the poet’s consciousness, and he rushes to pour it out in paper in a strange and wondrous flow. This is what happened with me when I wrote “Al-Samt Al-Jadid” (New Silence), where the birth of the poem took place while I was sitting in the balcony, watching fresh blossoms of a fig tree in the yard, then soon afterwards the sound of bulldozers – like a danger alert – interrupted my state of meditation, tearing down a part of the house to rebuild it, and I am not sure how this seemed to go in line with the my mood and the thoughts I had in mind.
AT: What are your hopes and ambitions?
I hope that God is pleased with me, that He grants us victory, that Jerusalem is liberated, and our nation rises from its fall. As for my personal ambitions, it is to have the honour to contribute in restoring life to the nation KG: and its development through our writing, for I consider myself a stubborn warrior, and for culture to have real significance in our Palestinian scene.
AT: What about your work in drama?
KG: I wrote four short plays, in addition to a prose play. I also wrote three scenarios, as I have prepared and directed “Salah El-Din Yathhar Fel Quds” (Saladin appears in Juresalem), written and prepared the scenes for “Sketchat” (Sketches), written “Ya Nas ‘Eib!” (Shame, people!) and “Toyoor Bila Ajneha” (Birds without Wings), and prepared and directed “Al-Tho’aban” (The Snake).
AT: How do you evaluate Palestinian theatre in comparison to the Arabic theatre?
KG: Palestinian theatre has not been given the same opportunities as Arabic theatre have, concerning shedding light on its history, causes, achievements, and problems. Perhaps the torn political scene was the biggest factor behind this, but this does not clear the responsibilities off the backs of the ones in charge. Perhaps the experience of my presenting my book “The Palestinian Theatre” to the cultural bodies from the Ministry of Culture’s Writers Union represents the actual negligence which our theatre suffers from. The book is a great national project depicting Palestinian theatre from the early beginnings till the end of the twentieth century, including history, issues, doctrines, and an artistic evaluation looking into the future. However, it still waits on the doors of the faithful ministries and unions!! I say this to relieve myself of the responsibility briefing the evaluation you want, so as not to falsely criticize Palestinian theatre, which has suffered a lack of facilities, tools, décor, lighting, direction, and more. It has earned the title of the "poor theatre" from this aspect, but it continues to be a rich, humane and artistic experience, reaching and affecting the serious Arabic theatre, standing on the same pedestal, however overshadowed due to the negligence of its people and the ones in charge.
AT: What is new with the poetry of Kaman Ghoneim?
KG: I am currently working on a collection of poems, titled “Ma Lam Yaqolaho Qays” (What Qays Didn’t Say), and writing Maqamas in the style of Al-Hamdhani and Al-Hariri, titled “Maqamat ‘Asreya” (Modern Maqams), subtitled “Hekayat Kharboush” (Kharboush’s Tales). I am also working on several critical studies.
AT: What about your experience with publishing?
KG: I faced obstacles in my publishing experience. I printed several books inside and outside Palestine, and was greatly benefited by the organisation of the International Book Fair in 1995, which helped my meeting many publishers and signing deals with some like “Madbouly” and “Temple of Heritage House” in Cairo, and printed the book “Garh La Taghselaho Domoo’” (A Wound Unwashed by Tears) which was published by the Palestinian Publishers for Culture in Damascus. I printed many books on my own expense...20 books were published in Gaza, among which are “Cracks in a Wall of Silence”, “Learn by Yourself”, “Elements of Artistic Creativity in the Poetry of Ahmed Matar”, “Lust for Joy”, “The Palestinian Theater: A Historical Critical Study in of Literature”, “The Palestinian Literature: Essays on Literature and Criticism”, “A Wound Unwashed by Tears”, “They Plan Thorns”, in addition to a collection of critical researches, the operetta “Jerusalem’s Scream”, and “How to Write Poetry in Seven Days?”
- What do you say about the current Arab intellectuals?
I believe the Arab intellectuals have emerged out of their passive shells and their ivory towers, and that what we see now in the nation and the Arab Spring is the fruit of the intellectuals who played a great role to shape it, and these are matters that should urge us to become messengers of hope.