Interviews on “poetry & refugees” – 1 – Mansur Rajih
Lyrikline Blog (LB): Where do you come from and why did you leave your country of origin?
Mansur Rajih (MR): I came to Norway from Yemen after a lengthy international campaign. I was a prisoner of conscience. They arrested me for exercising my freedom of expression about life in a dictatorship And my activity in the field of struggle for democracy and human rights. I was in prison for 15 years.
LB: In your view, is it the task of a poet also to be a chronicler or witness of his/her time?
MR: To create a poem is an act of beauty. An author must be – not a witness, but involved and active. I believe in seeing, acting and being alive through writing poetry. Life is full of forces that we must counteract.
LB: What impact on society or politics can a poem have? Do oppressive regimes have to fear poetry?
MR: The poet’s task is to create poetry. The readers determine what happens next. Politicians are always intimidated by freedom, beauty and the flow of life. A new candidate for a presidency, for example, will often seek to control or even stem that flow. Freedom runs contrary to their ideas and outlook, especially in a true dictatorship.
LB: In your view, is there a relation between the power of the words of a poet and that of a dictator, since they both work with language?
MR: Yes, there is. A poet uses words of life, a dictator words of power. They are very different. But most dictators use physical force first, words second.
LB: How did time in prison influence your writing?
MR: My time in prison was a daily struggle against death – the death penalty, darkness, hunger and fear. It was a battle. It is not easy to be in prison and forced to fight against the idea of prison itself. When you want to create poetry in prison, you are naturally going to write in opposition to it, fighting darkness with light.
LB: Has writing poetry been a kind of survival strategy or a comfort for you?
MR: Of course.
LB: Is it possible to find or create a new kind of home or shelter in texts or in a new language?
MR: Shelter, absolutely. When in prison or in a trying situation, we seek protection through making sure life carries on, creating beauty through writing.
LB: Do you feel a part of the literary scene of your new country? How’s your relation the the writers of your „guest country“?
MR: I do. I live my life as a Norwegian now. I feel almost Norwegian, referring to myself as a Norwegian from Yemen. I have good relations with Norwegian writers. I practice my craft and function as a writer, and I feel my identity lies therein.
LB: What’s your view on the poetic tradition of your country of origin?
MR: In order to answer this, I would have to be able to keep up with what is happening in poetry there now. I have been in Norway for a long time unable to follow the world of literature in Yemen, whether we are talking about critique or publications.
LB: What would you wish for future generations (of poets) in your country of origin?
MR: I wish for them to know, when they read, that there have been those before them who said ‘No’ to abuse and dictatorship through poetry. That life is, or used to be, filled with beauty irrespective of the current dictatorship.
LB: Do you hope for or wish to go back to your country of origin one day?
MR: I travel daily to Yemen, to the whole world, in different ways through my writing. If I got on a plane to go there, I would surely be killed.
Read and listen to Mansur Rajih’s poetry on lyrikline.