In commemoration of Zain Al-Saqqaf [Archives:2004/768/Culture]

August 30 2004

By Bassam Jamil Al-Saqqaf
For the Yemen Times

A republished interview with the poet and intellect Zain Al-Saqqaf – interviewed by the Al-Hadharem Bulletin, and first published by the Charitable Al-Hadharem Youth Fund in 1999.
A man of letters with a lofty head and outstanding in the intellectual and literary scene in our country.
In the cultural realm his voice is distinctive and effective, he is a pillar in the institutional and organizational structure of the Yemeni Intellectual and Writers Union. We visited him at his office and he welcomed us warmly, and delivered an interesting speech full of feeling and emotion.

Q: Where did you begin your poetic career?
A: My first attempts at poetry were during my study in Egypt at Cairo University, in the early 1960s.
My friends and colleagues encouraged me, and I got the confidence to publish some of my work in Yemeni newspapers and magazines. It was appreciated which encouraged me to keep diversifying.
The presidential elections are a confused and distorted process of a long and tiring path
I have written many models to originate the new literary genre, free-verse poem (oksoudah).

Q: Could you give us a glimpse of your life
A: The first part of my basic education took place in Ethiopia where I lived with two families. I was influenced by the late Sheikh Ahmed Hamid Awn, the principal and founder of the Arab and Muslim community school. There was also the Community School and its active headmaster Ja'afar Al-Mihdhar. I completed basic education in other places including my village (Al-Hadharem).
I lived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for two years and was cared for by my elder brother. I left for Cairo in 1958 for high school and university. I majored in economy and political science and, on returning to Yemen late 1966, I worked at the Monetary Monitoring Authority (before establishing the Central Bank of Yemen).
Then, I was appointed as a Yemen's representative in Cairo at the Economic Unity Council until 1971. After that, I held the position of director of the Central Bank of Yemen (CBY), Taiz branch.
In 1973, I worked at the general administration of the CBY; in 1975 held the post of secretary of the Ministry of Information and Culture; in 1978 restored my earlier position at the CBY; and since 1980 I have been holding the position of general director of the Banking Studies Institute.

Q: One of your creative works speaks about “Quhfat Al-Wakd.” How strong is your link to your village (Al-Hadharem) and what is the remarkable characteristic of Quhfat Al-Wakd?
A: In the '70s and '80s, I chose to write various unique literary texts such as “The Way to Quhfat Al-Wakd” which is associated with childhood memories. Quhfat Al-Wakd was a place close to our house, and my yearning for it excites sentimental states, and releases a store of dear memories: changes in nature – sunrise and sunset – rain and thunder, that shakes the mountain – mist and seasons – agriculture – grilled grain ears and harvesting – racing on donkey back – feasts, weddings and funerals – religious festivals – majthoobs and chanters who roam around villages at harvest time – the suffering of parting and sad parting songs – celebrations of arrival.
Life, people, and relations were simple, easy and intimate. Dreamy romantic breaths – as my friends perceived in my poetry – might originate in the tremendous influence of the village on myself, for it has shaped my mood and personality since an early age.
I still remember late Abdullah Abdulhabib Al-Mansoub when he surprised me with a question. “Parse Quhfat Al-Wakd,” he said jokingly. He was famous for irony, and knew my interest in Arabic and its grammar. Since then, Quhfat Al-Wakd has been planted in my mind, reviving at times dreams, memories, meanings and signs taking on fertile colors of expression that vanish only to reappear.
Al-Hadharem means much to me: kinship, tenderness, and sincerity. It is home to my soul, and my mother's warm lap. It has bestowed on me love, and taught me self-confidence.

Q: “An Adorer Since the Morning” is one of your nice and famous poems. We listen to it sung by artist and musician Ahmed Fathi. Do you have other sung lyrics?
A: Unfortunately, it is the only sung poem. I have published a few lyrics written in standard and colloquial languages.
I've given some of them to artists who wanted to tune them, but nothing happened. Actually, I do not persist with such things to avoid embarrassing situations.

Q: Zain Al-Saqqaf is an icon of Al-Hadharem. What does Al-Hadharem mean to you, and why have you kept away from it for a long time?
A: I thank you for this title. I hope I live up to it. I am proud of it as well.
Al-Hadharem means so much to me. It is kinship, tenderness, and sincerity. It is home to my soul, and my mother's warm lap. It has granted me love, and taught me self-confidence in the face of the hardships and challenges in life.
I have hardly given Al-Hadharem anything, and parting is no doubt hard. I have no excuse, but I have demanding responsibilities, beyond my power to control, which contribute to this condition, and I wish they weren't there.

Q: What is your opinion of the recent presidential elections?
A: It is a confused and distorted process of a long and tiring path that people have to walk on.
The Political community organizations should have a clear vision and unshakable determination. They must make concerted efforts and actively participate to effect a radical change in the behavior and thought of society, and instigate authority for the sake of establishing a wise governanace based on freedom, justice, and democracy.
It has been the dream of freemen since the 1940s for tyranny and persecution to leave the country forever (in thought and action) so that we can catch up with advancement, development, and prosperity. There is no other choice.

Q: A year ago, there was a fuss over the new idea of the free verse poem (ouksoudah) and whether or not you are its creator. May you explain this?
A: I am under no restraint to say that I have written poems that originate this new literary genre. Yet, I don't like to get into quarrels over such a matter. I leave it for researchers and experts to decide.

Q: Some say your writing is characterized by vagueness and symbolism. What do you say?
A: This may be true. Nevertheless, it is a relative interpretation and differs from reader to reader according to levels of literary appreciation and knowledge as well as attitudes towards modern literary writing experiences, which are manifold and renewable.

Q: Are there among your literary productions regular-verse poems?
A: There aren't any. My first experiences bore the limitation of the genesis and sustained it.

Q: We glean your poetry from magazines and newspapers. Do you intend to compile it in to one collection?
A: My writing is like my life scattered here and there, and there is no way to pull it all together.

Q: Holding a post at the Yemeni Intellectual and Writers Union (YIWU), what are the achievements on the way of providing a sublime literature?
A: Official and private cultural establishments are usually fragile. They lack regular and stable constituents. Therefore, their performance fluctuates.
The YIWU has a renowned and observable role though not an entirely satisfactory one. Yet, it continues offering services, surviving the difficult and complicated conditions.
Of course, it is subject to factors controlling the miserable and difficult life of culture, intellectuals and literary works.

Q: What is your advice for the Charitable Al-Hadharem Youth Fund so as to perform our duty well?
A: I am pleased with your bulletin and the activities of the fund. I also appreciate the substantial efforts and enthusiasm of the beneficent contributors to this useful charitable project.
You all deserve thanks, praise, and support particularly the youths.
I wish you success and continuity. No doubt, upholding good manners and morals is the best piece of advice, it is the way of improvement, advancement, and success.

Q: What is your last comment?
A: I would like your article to be devoid of any linguistic flaw either in grammar or spelling. You can do this by referring to experts.
The bulletin is an effective communication tool that spreads fraternity and boosts cooperation. It is like a pleasant whiff from my dear village, and the whole lovely district, as well as the good people over there. I tell you to go ahead, and I wish you every success.