The Lebanese author, Charbel Dagher (1950), has been described as a “collection of selves” in one person. It has, also, been said that his writings constitute “an open library”, what with all his research, studies, articles and commentary; what he has written in Arabic or French; what has been translated of his books and research; and what has been written about him in many languages. He is a graduate of the New Sorbonne – Paris III. He holds two doctorate degrees in Modern Arabic Literatures, and the Philosophy and History of Art. He has written poetry, taught it and translated it. He has written the novel, taught it and translated it. He has written reference books on: renaissance, modernism, acculturation, the beginnings of the contemporary Arab novel, the “media culture”, the appearance of the modern Arab painting, and prose-poetry. His book about prose poetry won him the highest Arab monetary prize in 2019. 6 Charbel is a renowned and well-respected university professor, a referee of several scientific Lebanese, Arab or international journals, in addition to being an organizer and moderator of several international conventions. He is a well-educated intellectual with a prominent presence and influence on the various issues relating to intellect, education, culture, literature, through local and international conferences. Dagher has published tens of poetry books, between authoring, translating and critical writing. In issues of theory and criticism, he is considered to be a primary reference on prose-poetry, and some critics consider him the “pioneer of contemporary prose-poetry.” He has published fourteen poetry collections, and several anthologies, in more than one language, in addition to translations of his poetry in several languages. Early on, Dagher adopted a style of poetry different from his contemporaries by requiring that the poem be based on “multiple writings” (adopted in his first poetry collection, 1981), and open to renovation and experimentations. He was a pioneer of the second generation of modern poets in the Arab world, poets who 7 are very self-centered, but not lyrical, but leaning towards a representation of the world that is between plain description, “shooting” as in a photo, and the accompanying feelings, emotions and thoughts. A representation whose composition is based on the image/photo which would bestow aesthetics that have not been familiar in Arab poetry. Poetry that is conscious of the Lebanese civil war and the decline of Arab societies after 2005, so that it is written with “dried up tears.” Furthermore, it is poetry that uses the poem as the subject addressed in the poetry, which would represent a philosophical depth in the poetry, something scarce in contemporary Arab poetry. Dagher’s poetic voice is different and unique. Since the beginning, in the early 1970’s, he chose a path for his poetry different from his contemporaries and those before him. His poetry showed characteristics of its originality, and in addition, artists and theatre people found in it space for interaction and partnership, in tens of presentations, art book fairs, and in exhibits in museums of Europe and the Arab World. 8 He had befriended many a world poet, including those for whom he had translated or about whom he had written books such as: Rimbaud, Rilke, Andrée Chedid, Léopold Sédar Senghor and other African poets. He had also interacted with important writers, such as in his book, “I Am the Other, in the company of Whitman, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and Nietzsche.” Dagher’s poetry was built on renewed structural arrangements in atmospheres combining the visible with the contemplative, the imaginative with the sensual, the juggling of meaning with the reflection on existence, the language with the body, until it became a part of the poetry! A reviewer of his successive poetry collections would observe the variety of their and topics and interests: between an isolation in time, and an individual expressionism that seeks the speaker in the poem, and the creature in history. This had made his poetry tightly knit with life, and what life brings of feelings, reactions, meditations, etc. A poetry that speaks pleasure, of “seeking pleasure” to its highest peaks of what produces enjoyment and happiness, while at the same time it speaks tragedy, pain and sharing hope with the other. 9 Dagher’s poem is a multifaceted experiment in terms of its subject matter and composition structure. It is a poem that borrows from the poet’s biography, especially in childhood, or interacts with changing world events such as terrorism, personal computing, the unruly abundance of media; or represents a different style of life suggested by the idea of “globalism”! His poem is one that is extremely modern, in what it accomplishes in terms of the harsh interactions with the ever-changing factors just mentioned, in a world where little agreement is reached among parties, and where little constructive dialogue is carried out, in spite of the overabundance of communication channels! It is a difficult world in a poem that moves in many directions, simultaneously. In a poem that listens, inspects, and cries in the silence of its loneliness, while at the same time it speaks of nature. Nature that witnesses the distractedness of the human being, and his/her cruelty. This same poem, however, and in spite of its multiple preoccupations and possible structures, and through its transformation from one poetry collection to another, remains a voice, a unique voice that lives the present, 10 however it is, with pleasure, sorrow and intuition. For, the poem is deeply immersed in time, in the flow, in accidents and aesthetic encounters, violent or happy! This is what makes the poem recite the “I”, pointing to the “Other”, and speaking of the “Absent” that is present in the poet’s vision. In as much as he has been a serious poet, Charbel Dagher has been a serious researcher of poetry, so that his successive books on literary criticism accomplished two major goals: (i) chronicling the various periods in the development of Modern Arab Poetry and (ii) analyzing the poetry based on its “linguistic structure” to study the characteristics of change and renovation. These research topics reach beyond poetry, for they push the poetry out of the Sultan’s court and the empty confines of literary circles, to become a witness to current happenstances and participating in them. His poem is further enriched by the use of structures that are firmly grounded in poetry but that interact with elements of the novel, a biography, a play, or an image through the heavy use of the PC, the mobile phone, and the electronic screen. In "My Computer, My Portable Metaphor", Dagher writes: "For in writing, in focusing on 11 it, in the fact that it demands more energy of me than all my other activities, is what attracts me to it and what makes it my recreation, for its value is inherent within it; in performing it; in the fact that it spontaneously justifies itself; in that, although seemingly repetitive, it is a transformational activity for things that appear to be hidden from me but are in fact parts of me, closer to me than myself. If writing finds something outside itself that would justify that self to the reader, then this indicates to me again that our abilities transcend us with their flying arrows".
Basil Samara October 2020 Chapel Hill, NC
Alhaderoun, 2023, Canada