Mohamed Souissi Speaking to Alchourouk: This is my story with “The Island’s Poet,” and “The Poets’ Boat” is a unique manifestation.
He loved the sea. He loved its silence and fury. He composed from the foam of its waves and its quietude poems that ooze with life, and write the country and noble emotions. Kerkennah is the homeland and from its sea scent he started furnishing a poetry career with a unique touch that made of him “The Island’s Poet.”
Mohamed Souissi says:
“I have been involved in the cultural scene for twenty years. I was born a poet on shore of the island of Kerkennah. Its sea ingrained the seed of poetry in my mind. So my relationship with the sea is explicit and implicit in my poetry. I dream of an island that is not Kerkennah, but it (Kerkennah) is a part of it. This island is my poetic realm that is propagated in my poems, especially my sea poems.”
The Island’s Poet:
Mohamed Souissi stops speaking for moments and continues:
“My poems which I had composed from the silence of the sea, its roughness, its vagueness, and its waves, and from the clarity, and the troubledness of its waters. Perhaps this was the reason that led the cultural scene to nickname me “The Island’s Poet.”
Do you really consider yourself “The Island’s Poet?”
I do not think that this dream will come true because my wishes are demanding in my poems. For instance, in my poem “Safnou” (an islet in the region of Kerkennah) I say:
“I wish I could return a little child,
and entered Safnou and played in it,
and in its sea I strung my shells,
and offered my oysters for those who desire them.
My wish is an island of my love like Safnou
that feeds on desertion despite passion.
I wish poets came back to us,
and the poem acceded the throne of humanity.
Poetry is a repetition of words of praise and a Quran of dawn.
So does a person grasp poetry?”
It seems to me you are nostalgic for a bygone time.
No, it is the sea that dwells my emotion.Mohamed Souissi has been a teacher of Arabic for 36 years. I produced three programmes related to the sea for Sfax radio. But what saddened me was the fact that I was coercively dismissed and these three programmes were given to other persons after changing the titles and keepin the same content. These programmes are “The Roaring of the Sea,” “A Poem and a Poet,” and “The Essence of Poetry.” These programmes are closely connected to the poetic discourse at the level of production and criticism.
Why were you dismissed?
It was an arbitrary dismissal because I refused impositions and pressure. I then chose to work in silence away from lights. I am happy because I have published 5 poetry books up to now. Among them I can cite The Cooing of the Sea, The Cooing of the Archipelago, and Oh, Gurgling Kerkennah! They were published by Al Akhilla.
Mohamed Souissi founded in Kerkennah the manifestation of “The Poet’s Boat.” How could you introduce the characteristics of this manifestation to us?
To begin with, I would like to mention that I have been the head of the cultural committee in Kerkennah for 15 years which in its heart The Kiranicité Association of letters and maritime arts came to light since 2003, and from which the manifestation “The Poets’ Boat” was born. Up to now, it has organised 9 editions relying on individual financial resources and abilities. Besides, I worked on securing a headquarter which is a part of my house. It has a bookcase and is equipped with the latest breakthroughs in information technology (computers and Internet).
I ascertain that The Boat did not get any support—be it local or national. This Boat was able to overcome all difficulties due to its unique touch because its cultural programme is carried out in the sea.
Could you explain more?
This manifestation is a floating space that welcomes poets from inside the republic. Then The Boat starts a journey of tourism, culture, and fishing. Then the poets are landed in uninhabited islands for the sake of poetry and creation. This Boat founded the Kerkennah’s meeting for the literature of the sea. Among its activities, for instance, the meeting of poet Mustafa Habib Bahri. Children also have their share through the salon of the child that seeks to discover and encourage talents. We move from one primary school to another to discover, celebrate, and award talents on the spot.
A various creative activity. Several stages in his career. What is the most creative stage that is cherished by the memory of “The Island’s Poets?”
I am proud of being one of the founders of the meeting of literature lovers with the great poet Ahmed Loghmani. This was in Rades in summer 1963. Literary manifestations and festivals originated from this meeting.
Prizes and awards:
In this regard, it should be noted that Mohamed Souissi, “The Island’s Poet”, has many regional and local prizes and awards. For instance, he was awarded by The International Festival of Fine Arts of Al Mahras in 1998, and the poetry days Mohamed Baklouti in its second edition. Mohamed Souissi states that he lives like a fish, and he does not fear drowning.His wish is to be buried in the sea in which his father was drowned for the sake of his family.
Originally appeared in the Tunisian daily Alchourouk 17/06/2012 by Mohsen Ben Ahmed.
You can read the original text in Arabic here.
Translated from Arabic by Ali Znaidi.