Interview and translation by Aras Ahmed Mhamad:
Sherko Bekas, the acclaimed modern Kurdish poet, died yesterday (4 August) of cancer. Son of the poet Fayak Bekas, Sherko was born in Sulaymani in 1940. He joined the liberation movement in 1965, working for the Voice of Kurdistan radio station until he was forced into exile in 1986 and he then returned to south Kurdistan in 1992.
This interview, conducted last year, is possibly the only interview with Sherko Bekas in the English language.
AA: Why do you write poetry and what inspires you?
SB: Because my soul, conscious and unconscious, asks for poetry. Because I have been living with it for several decades and it 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.
AA: What is your definition of poetry after five decades of experience?
SB: 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.
AA: What do you think a poet’s role is, particularly in this computerized and technological world?
SB: 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.
The tide said to the fisherman:
There are many reasons
why my waves are in a rage.
The most important is
that I am for the freedom of the fish
Sherko Bekas, 1940-2013
Aras Ahmed Mhamad is a freelance writer and translator. He is the Founder and Deputy Editor of SMART magazine, an independent English magazine that focuses on ‘Literature, Language, Society’. He is the Top Student of College of Languages at the Department of English/ University of Human Development, 2012.