Arabstoday met young poet and media personality al-Sheikh Noah in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott. He spoke about the Mauritanian literary scene boldly and objectively at the same time valuing the role played by young poets in rebelling against the classic poem. He also unveiled his new volume “Tinplate Beads” which he is adding the final touches to. Al-Sheihk Noah challenged any poet in the world to say that he doesn’t fall at a woman’s feet because women for him and for poetry are in a relation where if they get together, they argue and when they argue, they get together, and wherever a woman appears, there’s a poem being born.Arabstoday: When did you first start becoming interested in poetry and when was your first release?Al-Sheikh Noah: Since I had memory. I adore poetry and live by it but I wanted it for myself like a sort of internal monologue expressing itself aloud in an environment filled with wounds and disappointments and in a society of poetry from its highest point to its deepest one. I don’t hide the secret that my mother’s humming of traditional songs while she embraced me had a great influence in my inclination to rhythm in general and to poetry in particular. She also knew a lot of popular poetry but she never sang except in my presence as I was her only audience. That’s how destiny was preparing something else for me other than enjoying reading poetry and that was writing it. I read the volume Layla and Majnun when I was in my fourth school year, not above ten years old. Since then, I chased shadows to catch the fleeing inspiration that I longed for from the start and present texts that I preserved for 14 years since I was exactly 16.AT: Is there a radical difference in the structure of the Mauritanian poem and did young poets rebel against the classic pattern of old Chinguettis (classical Mauritanians known for poetry and memorisation)? SN: When you speak about the structure of Mauritanian poem, the dichotomy of the classic versus modern form jumps into your mind yet I personally reject these unfair categorisations because the form is only a cloak and has nothing to do with how classic or modern the poem is. The issue is the artistic expression, images and other poetry features, not the form. It is an illusion to think that whoever wrote any bluffing in the modern form has written poetry or that whoever wrote in traditional form has written a classic.In the Mauritanian scene, the prevalent genre is the classical form in the old sense of the word. But there are experiments worthy of respect that broke the barriers, came into light and started writing in a different form. Maybe this is the reason Mauritanians shine in poetry contests organised in the Arab world. I have to mention here that Mauritanians despite their Bedouin and classic nature are very smart, cope quickly with the changes around them. So I can confirm that there’s a new innovating poetry movement that is not behind its counterparts in our Arab world.”AT: Speaking about the strong presence of women in your poetry, is there a love story behind it or an escape from chaste poetry?SN: I challenge any one poet in the world to say that he doesn’t fall at a woman’s feet. Women and poems have a relation that if they get together, they argue and when they argue, they get together, and wherever a woman appears, there’s a poem being born and wherever a poem is born, look for a woman in the background. Women have inspired [poets] since Homer and maybe before him, even Pablo Neruda, Tagore, Nizar Qabbani, Adonis and others. Even our father Adam was in heaven surrounded by all kinds of blessings but God created a female for him, our mother Eve. The pain is more beautiful when embodied in a woman, but in the Arab world we have an unnatural sensitivity to talking about women and their relation to men although it’s one of God’s miracles as the Koran says in its text." AT: Is there a place or time where your poetic spirit blazes?SN: Maybe on the seashore while waves whisper soft words to me and when the breeze betrays the sea with all its contradictions and I have another story with the river. Or when I’m in an unfamiliar place as my relationship with place is probably stronger than my relationship with time. A lot of the times I write when I’m travelling but I think I would write much better if I could visit heaven for a week.AT: Did young poets add something new to the cultural scene?SN: Indeed they added what the pioneers especially in Mauritania couldn’t add. I always say that in Mauritania we need a mature critical movement able to sift the literary production. Our critics haven’t contributed discovering any talent on the scene now. So I think our poetry is steps ahead of our criticism and I seize the opportunity to call critics to keep up with the young literary and poetic movement and direct it. It is rich, diverse and has much that is worth the ink and worth reading all over again.AT: Some followers of the poetic scene think that you need a poetry evening or an audio volume at least to keep up with your poetry colleagues.
SN: I don’t think things are as mechanical. Volumes do not make a poet and so are poetry evenings. What makes a poet and an innovator is their giving and the type of giving because what helps people and has the power to challenge time remains but froth fades quickly. Many poets are froth poets which take the lights then fade like bubbles in the air. Early publishing also involves much risk; your opinion about what you wrote two years ago may change due to constant maturing. So do not collect a fruit before it’s completely ripe. But I’m preparing for my first volume “Tinfoil Beads”. It’s ready and I’m just making the final touches.”