With Radhia Chehaibi after her return from the Festival of the South in Cairo.
The Tunisia of Poetry and Revolution in “the Land of Egypt.”
If poetry was life, beauty, movement, and a journey into the edges of meaning, the poet Radhia Chehaibi best reflected the truth of poetry, and its harmony with the rhythm of the era in the truth of the soul. She is a dynamic and active poet. This finds expression in successful poetry and literature meetings that she has organised. Her relations with Tunisian writers and poets as well as foreign ones are characterised with spontaneity. She was not involved in nonsensical polemics, but rather invested her time to make the sound of poetry accessible to the recipient.
She has recently represented Tunisia in the Festival of the South in Cairo with Mohamed Issa El Mouadeb, Emna Rmili, and Fatma Cherif. The Tunisian representation left a good trace in the Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram (The Pyramids).
About this representation, and to know more about the creator Radhia Chehaibi we had this interview.
You have represented Tunisia with your poetry in the Festival of the South in Cairo, among a Tunisian delegation including Mohamed Issa El Mouadeb who gave a critical intervention about some Tunisian poetry experiences. What was this literary event like? What about the Tunisian representation? And how it was reacted to?
It was a joint idea between me as a director of the non-stop 24-hour poetry manifestation in Sousse, Tunisia, and a friend by the name of Abou al-Abbas Mohamed, the director of Migration to the South Group, in Cairo. Both of us are working on making the cultural and creative events depart from the centrality of capitals, and bring them to the interior to make the creation and the creators closer to the recipient as much as possible. Besides, the insistence on many creative and literary symbols, that are about to be forgotten, to be reinstated in their own esteem binds us together. Hence, The Festival of the South for Arabic Poetry which was launched in Al-Ahram‘s headquarter, however the events took center stage in Qena, and precisely in Al-Qalaa, the hometown of the great poet Amal Dunqul. The events began by visiting the poet’s grave which was totally neglected and the epitaph that has been recently installed is a sign of this neglection. Then we visited the house of his family, and got acquainted with his family members. After that, the literary poetry evening began in a big luxurious pavilion that was prepared for the occasion.
More than one thousand spectators attended the evening. We felt the value of the Tunisia of the revolution through poetry reading by Sa’idi Egyptian poets. The Tunisian participation represented by the novelist and critic Mohamed Issa El Mouadeb, the novelist and critic Dr. Emna Rmili, the poet Fatma Cherif, and the poet Radhia Chehaibi, the person you are talking to, was characterised by seriousness and diversity, and it caught the attention of the audience, and let them know about the Tunisian poetry scene, and know about many Tunisian literary figures, especially through the interventions that were given by Mohamed Issa El Mouadeb, and Dr. Emna Rmili.
You are a poet who is throbbing with beauty, and who creates at all times, and in all situations even in the difficult periods that Tunisia had witnessed amidst these social changes. So how does poetry resist the confusion of the external reality, and is poetry the truth of the soul in its purity and revelation?
Art and creation in general, and poetry in particular, is the truth of the soul in its finest revelation. The poet’s destiny is to remain defending beauty, and the universal human values. So it is his/her duty to be active in his/her society as far as any period is concerned. I naturally do not like to be involved in never-ending polemics because the aim of these polemics is to broaden the gap between the creators, and to impede all movements that call on them to unite in order that the creator may remain marginalized, and may be occupied with things that are not useful to creation, and to his/her important role in building a democratic society that believes in freedom, culture, and arts, and that is open to all civilisations, and accepts difference. I am rather inclined to field work, and true cultural acitivism. Only the creative, and cultural work is able to restore hope in the recipient, and make him/her feel the continuity of life regardless of any status quo. That’s why we strived for organising poetry evenings, seminars, and meetings that aim at making views closer. These events were held in Mohamed Maarouf Cultural Center during the revolution, and currently in the cultural salon Fadhaa Al Wakala.
You have represented Tunisia in many poetry meetings in Tunisia and abroad. So have you worked on your poetry experience to be firmly established among the critics during such meetings?
My writings enjoyed critical attention of critics and university teachers in Tunisia like Dr. Emna Rmili Oueslati, Thameur Ghozzi, Mohamed Issa El Mouadeb, Dr. Mahmoud Tarchouna, and Abdelmajid Youcef. Besides, some friends studied some specific texts, and worked on them. Some Arab critics, especially from Jordan, and Iraq studied some of my writings as well. I am currently working on collecting all those studies to publish them in a book. Some of my texts were also translated by Tunisian and foreign translators, especially the teacher and translator Abdelmajid Youcef who translated all of my first collection What Leaked from my Silence, and some selections from my second collection Travel Recitations which in turn was translated into Italian from French, and was published as a chapbook in Italy. He also translated the text with which I participated to the francophone poem contest on the occasion of the celebration of the 400th anniversary of Quebec. My text was chosen and anthologised with 25 other texts in 2008, under the title Anthology of Francophone Poetry.
You are famous for patroning, and organising many literary and poetry meetings, and all this requires efforts, time, and sometimes sacrificing some engagements. What was this experience like?
The one who believes in his/her role, and in what he/she is doing will of course find time even at the expense of his/her special time. Creation is not a text that is written, but rather a persistent effort to spread what we write to the farthest spot, and to as many recipients as possible in order for the creator to be close to the normal citizen.
Travelling is very important for the poet, and the artist in general. What did travelling give you? And what are the places that left a trace in your memory?
Travelling is the most wonderful thing that is done by a human being, let alone the creator because it enriches the literary experience. Travelling is the breadth of visions, the depth of thought, the liberty of soul, and the refining of taste. Besides, it enriches the individual human experience, and makes him/her develop his/her capacity to capture the details, and to discover other cultures, and different customs, and traditions as well as being able to master human communication which leads him/her to adjust his/her opinions, and knowledge. There are many cities that remained lingering in my memory. So I consecrated a chapter titled “The Memory of Cities” in my collection The Digital Path of the Soul.
How does Radhia Chehaibi perceive the literary scene after the revolution? And what criticism does she have of some cultural phenomena?
What worries me is that the recipient is keeping away from the literary events. That’s why it is mandatory to do serious research to unravel the causes behind this.
Originally appeared in the Tunisian daily Essahafa 01/05/2012 by Houyem Ferchichi.
You can read the original text in Arabic here .
Translated from Arabic by Ali Znaidi.