Sherko Bekas was one of the most prominent poets in Kurdish history whose powerful poems was translated into more than ten languages. Son of the famous poet Fayaq Bekas, Sherko was born in May 1940 in the Kurdish capital of culture Slemani, he died of cancer last year on August 4th.
Published initially in the SMART magazine, the following interview was originally recorded in Kurdish in 2012 at Sherko’s office in Slemani. Medya magazine has decided to re-publish the interview on the first anniversary of Sherko Bekas’ death, which is August 4th.
Interview and translation by Aras Ahmed Mhamad:
Sherko Bekas: Poetry is a continuous act of questioning and questions have no ending
Why do you write poetry and what inspires you?
Sherko Bekas: Because my soul, conscious, and unconscious asks for poetry. Because I have been living with it for several decades and is a part of my breathing, my movements of my fingers and is the vision of my dreams. Poetry is my eyesight. Why do we fall in love, sing songs and dance? Why do we resort to nature? Why and why?
Humanity has been under the influence of the magic of nature and its surroundings. Our conscious and unconscious is the compass of our desires and wishes. And when language became the greatest sign of humanity’s existence, people tried to express their inner-self through words and sentences. With the invention of writing, people attempted to communicate their conscious and unconscious through legends and myths. The best examples are probably the stories of the Sumerians and the Pharaohs.
Poetry is the birth of the magical moments where (our) imagination reaches the highest point of expression. There isn’t a specific source or frame for inspiration. Talent, maturity, intellectuality, experience make a poet. In today’s world, everything from a worm to a star can be a source of inspiration. In poetry, there is no word or subject to be banned. A mouse, probably, can be a better source of inspiration than a god.
What is your definition of poetry after five decades of experience?
Sherko Bekas: Poetry is indefinable; like the sounds of the river, the screaming of a hungry person, and a lover’s heartbeat, which are also indefinable. From Plato’s time to today, there have been millions of definitions for poetry but none of them could give the exact picture of it. Imagination can’t be put into a frame. The nature of poetry is like the nature of gods; they have neither a beginning nor an end. Poetry is a continuous act of questioning and questions have no ending.
What do you think a poet’s role is, particularly in this computerized and technological world?
Sherko Bekas: A poet’s role and “question’’ is similar. Both seek and search for the unknown endlessly. In this era, poets are mirrors for the sufferings and dreams of humanity. The essence of humanity and poems cannot be separated. We often observe two kinds of poets. The first kind is a poet but the second is a poet and a human as well. Obviously, human beings need the second because they live for the sake of beauty and reality. The world of technology and computers cannot replace the feeling of love because humans are a combination of physical and spiritual aspects.
In this computerized period, when humans feel bored they resort to nature, sunshine, moonlight, singing and dancing. In other words, they resort to the world of poems. Our desires and needs have no specific place to settle. Every type of Art has its own fans regardless of whether they are a few or many. Poetry and Art are usually encircled by the elite, not all people. Those who have the yearning of poetry and art in their minds and are good readers of them can’t be compared to those who like playing football. Desires are different. However, every desire has its follower and the world can hold us all.
A poet’s role and perspective is relative not absolute and this is different from one poet to the other. The roles and perceptions have several dimensions and every dimension has its scope of reflection. Additionally, a poet’s role is to supervise and protect the beauties of humanity. I am not a poet to only write beautiful things. This is a part of the matter and it will remain incomplete- if I won’t retaliate upon all the authorities who kill beauty irrespective of where they are.
Have you ever imagined a day where poetry and poets are neglected – taking into the consideration the fact that the rise of novel has marginalized poetry.
Sherko Bekas: A beautiful poem is just like a pleasant voice, none can be neglected. No invention can wipe away the other invention. Beautiful novels couldn’t erase beautiful short stories. Cinema couldn’t obliterate novels. Beautiful things complete each other and each beautiful thing has its taste, pleasure, colour, smell and love. If there were no poems, there wouldn’t have been novels. The era of the novel was the era of intense social relations. Prose addresses us more directly and is more logical and it talks about the miseries of our daily life. Whereas, the language of poems are more indirect and symbolic and there is a kind of disguise in the language of poems.
Tolstoy couldn’t eliminate Pushkin, Gogol couldn’t confiscate Lermontov, and Hugo couldn’t abolish Rambo; likewise, novels cannot put an end to beautiful poems. Every genre of literature has its magic, beauty and language. Our thoughts and literature will get richer having those differences. However, people and readers in general will love literature that addresses their wound, wish and worry directly and can see in their daily associations.
In Kurdish society, poems are still the highest points of the mountains and aren’t lowering. When cinema was invented, the entire world said that this is the end of poetry and many other things. But that was untrue. By depending on the statistics I read these days, poems have still a good number of readers in Europe and America. Moreover, there are still academic researches and studies on poems in the big centres of the world especially in the popular universities. As you know, the yearly Nobel Prize is sometimes won by poets.
Poetry has been said to weaken the military spirit, encourage people to do vice and distract people from the right path. How does that make you feel as a poet?
Sherko Bekas: I haven’t heard of these allegations and the question isn’t clear. What military are you talking about? Where can we find the ‘vice’of poetry?If the aim of the question is erotic poems, then in my opinion they are an important part of our lives and social affairs. These poems can approach the reality of humans’ conscious and unconscious better. And that is the beauty and reality of life and love.
Whether society, law and religion accept these kind of poems or not, it doesn’t affect the fact of their existence and continuity. Religious extremists retaliate against these poems by making use of social conventions and the values of religion. Poetry isn’t a slogan to embrace moral allegation. Poetry is like reality that appears unclothed. Those things that are considered bad by conservatives might be developed to me. After all, who decides which way is bad and which way is good? What is ‘good’ and ‘bad’? Poetry is above all observations. In fact, this is the challenge between beauty and its enemies. The enemies of beauty are those who consider themselves moral but from humanity’s perspective they have the lowest human features. The good and bad aspect of poems has one criteria and that is its artful side.
Additionally, for every kind of thought and opinion there is a picture that finds its place in poems without paying attention to any sort of social, religious or political censorship. The humanity of poems can be found in its freedom and freedom can’t be restricted. Good and bad is relative and there is no absolute decision in them.
Do you think poetry presents a world more beautiful than the world we live in? If so, is this a good or bad thing?
Sherko Bekas: The world of poems is the world of childhood and lovers. One of the utopian things that humanity always wishes to reach is the world of peace and love which is the exact opposite to the world that we live in nowadays. The world of today is the world of war, destruction, pain and starvation. It is the world of authority and confrontation between big interests and usually bloody ambitions. The world of today reaches its death edge because of the ambitions of big countries.
One of the hopes of humanity was that that modernism would bring a world full of happiness and justice. But unfortunately modernism brought world wars and atomic bombs. This failure made people hopeless and darkened the future of humanity. In the world of poems, certainty and justice can be established. Poetry wants to change the bitter realities of the world to happiness and begin change in every aspect of human life.
Since the development of humans, philosophy and every theory of the world came to make people happy. Conversely, from the religious messages to the messages of modernism till today all have brought a message that is full of war, injustice, cruelty and discrimination. The world of poems is the world of love in its essence, while the world of today is the world of untruth and worldly authority. Poetry by itself is powerless and can’t provide us that beautiful world. But poetry is always the magical energy that can spread love all over humankind. It is a spiritual force that can always be a lighted torch.
And of course the world of childhood and love is the world of purity and peace that is why they are the most beautiful and the best in the world.