|Alma mater||Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences-Dhar Mehraz, Fez|
|Notable awards||2002 Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres|
2007 Al-Oweis prize
2014 Max Jacob 'Étranger' Prize
2017, Medal of Creation and Art by the president of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas..
Mohammed Bennis in Arabic محمد بنيس (born 1948) is a Moroccan poet and one of the most prominent writers of modern Arabic poetry. Since the 1970s, he has enjoyed a particular status within Arab culture. Muhsin J al-Musawi states that "Bennis’ articulations tend to validate his poetry in the first place, to encapsulate the overlapping and contestation of genres in a dialectic, that takes into account power politics whose tropes are special. As a discursive threshold between Arab East and the Moroccan West, tradition and modernity, and also a site of contestation and configuration, Muhammad Bennis' self-justifications may reveal another poetic predilection, too."
He pursued his university studies in literature at the Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences, Dhar Mehraz, Fez, from where he graduated as a Bachelor of Arts in Arabic literature in 1972. At the Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences of the Mohammed V-Agdal University, Rabat, Bennis defended his PhD thesis, supervised by Abdelkebir Khatibi, on the Phenomenon of Contemporary Poetry in Morocco in 1978. In 1988, at the same faculty, he defended a second doctoral thesis, supervised by Jamel-Eddine Bencheikh, on Modern Arabic poetry, structures, and mutations.
Bennis published his first poems in 1968 in Al Alam newspaper in Rabat. In 1969, he sent his poems to the poet Adonis, who published them in the 9th issue of the Mawaqif poetry magazine. Ma Qabla al-Kalam (Before Words), Bennis’ first collection of poems, was published in 1969.
He settled in Mohammedia in 1972 where he taught Arabic language. Since 1980, he has been professor of modern Arabic poetry at the Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences of Rabat's Mohammed V-Agdal University. He has retired since September 1, 2016, after 44 years of teaching. He has since devoted himself to writing.
He is the Author of some forty books of poetry, prose, essays and translations —among them 15 poetry collections — and studies on Moroccan and modern Arabic poetry. Bennis has been published in numerous newspapers and reviews across the Arab world. Some of his poems and texts have been translated and published in collective works, reviews and newspapers, in Europe, the United States, and Japan. From 1995, his poetry collections and books have been translated and published into French, Spanish, Italian, Turkish, German and Macedonian. He also writes on painting. Some of his works have been realized by painters as books and folio volumes in Morocco, Europe, the United States, and Japan. Kitab al-Hobb (The Book of Love), which was published in 1994 with the Iraqi painter Dia Azzawi, is the story of a common adventure.
Bennis has translated works from French. They include The Wound of the Proper Name (Abdelkebir Khatibi), The Rumor of the Air and other works of Bernard Noël, Tomb of Ibn Arabi, Les 99 Stations de Yale and The Malady of Islam (Abdelwahab Meddeb), A Throw of the Dice. (a poem of Stéphane Mallarmé, published in a bilingual edition, alongside Isabella Checcaglini and Bernard Noël, at Ypsilon Éditeur in Paris in 2007), and Archangélique by Georges Bataille in 2010. Whilst at university, he translated French language texts into Arabic, and participated in Arabic and International poetry festivals.
Besides his literary work, Bennis has been active on a politico-cultural level. In 1974 he founded the magazine Al Thaqâfa Al-Jadida (The New Culture) and, in 1985, together with university professors and writers, he established the publishing house Dar Toubkal. He was also the driving force behind the funding of The House of Poetry in Morocco in 1996, and was its president from 1996 to 2003. He served on the judging panel for the 2008 International Prize for Arabic Fiction. And since 2013, he is member of the Scientific Committee of Sheikh Zayed Book Award., Archangélique by Georges Bataille in 2010, and as love, (selected poems) of Michel Deguy.
Poetry and language
Bennis has been concerned with the interrogation of Moroccan poetry and Arab culture in contemporary Morocco. Among his essays is one titled Hadathat al-Sou’al (Modernity of interrogation) (1985). This interrogation allowed him to open the way towards modernity and freedom, and became the mark of its poetics and cultural route. In time, it has also embraced poetry, culture, modernity and freedom.
Bennis' attitude to French culture is ambivalent; while he rejects the ideology of francophone policy (which for him represents a form of colonization), he holds the French language in high regard. "As a modern Arab poet, I am committed to French culture and its modernity. The French language was the home of a poetic revolution and it gave my Arabic language a poetic strength, more valuable than any of other modern languages." Thus, he is attached to the modernization of the language and to the freedom of expression based on the fundamental values of modernity. He has followed the tracks of "the poets who made of the human life, in its secrets as in its fears and its illuminations, their space of writing." His poetry, which grounds itself on the measure and the trance, is the creative union of two cultures: the ancestral Arabic culture between the Middle East, Andalusia, Morocco, and the international culture.
Through the concept of writing, Bennis has become involved in a plural textual practice where language, subject and society are put in a movement. The first time he wrote about writing was in Bayan al-Kitaba (Manifesto of Writing)(1981). The concept refers to European (Friedrich Nietzsche, Stéphane Mallarmé, Jacques Derrida and Roland Barthes) and Arabic (Abou Tammam, Ibn Arabi, Andalusian-Maghrebian calligraphy and manuscripts) texts with the purpose of adapting them to his own ends. For Bennis, writing is a physical act; it is an orphan, because it "erases the myth of origin". Writing, he says, orients the language from the communicative function towards the reproduction of words and the interaction between words. It does so through a transfer of the construction's rules of the text on the one hand, and according to a replacement of the singular sense by the plural sense on the other. The writing is, in one of the definitions that Bennis gives, "a critic of the language, the subject and the society, established in the experience and the practice." "The writing’s subject is material", though. It rises at the time of the practice, neither before nor later, and so it is "a liberating act" and a "sensual love opened on the life." In this way, writing abolishes the distance between "I, you, he and she". It "eludes the demarcation between poetry and prose", takes the passage opened between the different textual practices, devotes attention to "the appeal of place", and urges the reader to change his interraction with the poem, making his reading active.
From the concept of writing, Bennis grants an importance to his own composition of rhythm. It is a question of creating a dynamic lyric that places the body and the senses in the center of the poem. The forms of his poems and the perspectives which opened his poetic method give evidence of that. Bennis writes in this connection: "The construction of the poem, worked by the infinity of the subjectivity, by the stranger and the impure, undergoes unpredictable transformations. And so the poetic word, written in the margin of literature, does not stop destabilizing the syntax, diverting the image, decomposing the metrics and deforming the order, making itself clean and pure. The road of the poem is the one of the impure where visible and invisible conjugate. This passage of the seed of drunkenness becomes a reality in the poem. And here is the impure to wear, from now on, the sign of the pure, the beautiful and the stranger.”
This is a significant method in the modernization of the Arabic language and poetry. It is described by the English poet James Kirkup in a letter addressed to Mohammed Bennis: "You allow every word that enters yours poetic consciousness to achieve its full expressive force, and they all manifest themselves as true movements from the heart of poetry. You are like a wild bird that sings simply for the joy of singing. You are fascinated by the sound in every word that offers itself to each loving gesture of your poem that allows you to play with words and images echoing your thought, and so you fascinate your readers."
Kirkup adds: "You use poetic language as if it were some elemental matter which you carve as a sculptor does - the artist who, like a blind man, can feel beneath his chisel the forms he hammers from blocks of marble or granite. And you discover your poem-status without premeditation, by bringing to light and inscribing each line, each verse embedded in the rock of consciousness, in the dark of dreams."
In the same way, the Spanish poet, Antonio Gamoneda writes: "Mohammed Bennis, strange angel who enters in my veins and flows in them like the waters of the instants and you ignite the friendship of light: take me with you to the gardens of the dead, to the place of palms glimpsed between two fugitive abysses. Enter the hole of my chest and show me the gift of the void incandescent and the pupils of animals conceived in crying, those who come to the doors of intoxication to inject us with the passion of light, that substance which birds cross and makes us crazy in the happiness of the sweet contemplation of death."
The poet in the city
Bennis testifies to the role of the poet in the city. In 1970, conscious of this role, he joined The Writers Union of Morocco and, in 1973, became a member of its executive board. He was, however, quick to object when he observed the influence of politics and subsequently left the association. In 1974, with Mostafa Mesnaoui, he founded the review Attakafa El Jadida (The new Culture) which played an active role in the cultural life in Morocco. The review was banned and closed down soon after its thirteenth issue by the Ministry of the Interior in January 1984 during riots in Casablanca. The ban caused him to take up the challenge and to create in 1985, with writers and academic friends Mohammed Diouri, Abdeltif Menouni and Abdeljalil Nadem, the Publishing house Dar Toubkal, with the aim of contributing to the modernization of Moroccan culture.
Bennis was also a founding member, with Mohammed Bentalha, Hassan Nejmi and Salah Bousrif, of the "House of Poetry in Morocco" in 1996, and was its president until 2003. Concerned about the international state of poetry, in 1998 he sent a call to Federico Mayor, chief executive officer of UNESCO, arguing for a World Poetry Day. Thanks to this initiative, on 15 November 1999, UNESCO declared 21 March to be World Poetry Day. Ten years later, when politicians seized the "House of Poetry in Morocco", he published an open letter titled "Fear of the Meaning", in which he denounced action against the freedom of poets and poetry. He was also one of the signatories of the Democratic Manifesto, published by Moroccan intellectuals on the occasion of the revision of the Moroccan constitution, in answer to the demand of the "Movement of February 20th".
Since the 1970s, Bennis has participated in Arabic poetry festivals and, from 1980, in numerous international poetry festivals in Europe, Canada, the United States, Latin America, Turkey and China. Profiles of his work have appeared in Ars plus (an Albanian literary journal), al Shu'arae review, The Poets (a quarterly cultural review of House of Poetry in Ramallah), and Banipal literary magazine. The Paris literary review europe published a introduce dialogue with him in its issue 1015/1016, on November, 2013. The Associations of Writers and Moroccan University Researchers have dedicated days of study to his work. At the same time, the French Institute in Tangier, 2013, the Maghreb Association of Creation in Tunisia, 2014, the Book Festival in Marrakech, 2015, the Faculty of Letters and human studies in Rabat, 2015, the Arab poetry festival of Mehdia in Tunisia, 2016, and the Assilah Forum Foundation, 2016, paid an international tribute to him..
- 1993 The Morocco Book award in 1993 for Gift of the Void.
- 2006 The Primio Calopezzati of Mediterranean literature for Fawzi Al Delmi's Italian translation of Gift of the Void (Dono Del Vuoto).
- 2000 Le Prix Grand Atlas of translation (Rabat) for his poetry collection Between Two Funerals, translated into French by Mostafa Nissabouri in 2003.
- 2007 Il Primeo Feronia International for literature (Italy).
- 2008 The Al Owais Award (Dubai) for his whole poetic work
- 2010 The Maghreb Culture Prize (Tunisia) in 2010.
- 2011 Premio Letterario Internazionale Ceppo Pistoia for Il Meditteraneo e la parola published in 2009 in a translation by Francesca Corrao and Maria Donzelli
- 2014 France’s Max Jacob "Étranger" Prize.
- 2018, Prize of literary creation by the Arab cultural Circle in France.
In France in 2002, he was awarded, the rank of Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France. He is also an honorary member of the World Haiku Association in Japan. In 2017, he has awarded the Medal of Culture, Creation and Art by the president of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas.
Publications in Arabic
- 1969 Makabla l-Kalam (Before words), (poetry);
- 1972 An al-ittéhad wa’l-farah (Something on Oppression and Joy), (poetry);
- 1974 Wajhou’n mouta’wahhijou’n abra imtidadi azzaman (The Eternally Incandescent Face), (poetry);
- 1979 Zahira ash-shi’r al-mu’asir fi l-Maghrib (The Phenomenon of the Contemporary Poetry in Morocco), (study);
- 1980 Fi Ittijah sawti’ka l-amoudi (Toward your Vertical Voice), (poetry);
- 1980 Al-Ism al-arabi’e l-jarih (The Wound of the Own Name) A. Khatibi (translation);
- 1985 Hadathat’u assou’al (The Modernity of Interrogation), (essay);
- 1985 Mawassim’ou al-sharq (Seasons of the East), (poetry);
- 1988 Warakatou l-baha’e (The Leaf of Splendor), (poetry);
- 1989-1991 Ash-sh’r al-Arabi l-hadith, biny’a touhou wa ibda’la’touha (Modern Arabic Poetry, Structures and Mutations), (study, 4 volumes);
- 1992 Hibatou l-faragh (Gift of the Void), (poetry)
- 1994 Kitabou l-houb (The Book of Love), (poetry) (poetic and artistic work in collaboration with the painter Dia Azzawi)
- 1994 Kitanba’tu l-Mah’ou’e (The Writing of Effacement), (Texts on poetry and modernity)
- 1995 Kitabou l-houb (The Book of Love), (poetry)
- 1996 Al- Makanou l-wathani (The Pagan Place), (poetry)
- 1996 Chataha’t li’montassafi annahar (Trances for the Midday), (Texts)
- 1997 Al-Ghourfatou l-fa’righa (The Empty Room), (poetry), Jacques Ancet (translation)
- 1998 Hassissou l-hawa’e (Whisper of the Air), collected poetry collections of Bernard Noël (translation)
- 1998 Al-Oubou’r ila dhifa’f zarka’e (Crossing to the Blue Shores), (Texts)
- 1999 Nabidh (Wine) (two series of poems, bilingual edition: Arabic-French and Arabic-Spanish)
- 1999 Qa’br ibn Arabi yali’h aya’e (Tomb of Ibn Arabi Followed by 99 Stations of Yale), two poetry collections of Abdelawahab Meddeb (translation)
- 2000 Nahr’un bay’na jana’zatai’n (A River Between Two Funerals), (poetry)
- 2002 Al-A’amalou l-chi’ria (Poetry works), (2 volumes)
- 2002 Al-Islam assia’si (The Malady of Islam) of Abdelwahab Meddeb (translation collaborating with the author)
- 2004 Al-Hadatha l-ma’atouba (A Broken down Modernity) (cultural diary)
- 2006 Al- Haq fi Achi’ir (Right to Poetry), (essays)
- 2007 Hounaka tabk’a (Over There You Stay), (poetry)
- 2007 Rami’atou nard (A Throw of Dice), poem of Stéphane Mallarmé (translation)
- 2010 Al-Kodossi (The Archangélique), collection of poems of Georges Bataille (translation)
- 2010 Kalamou l-jassad (Speech of the Body),(Texts)
- 2011 Sab’atou touyour (Seven Birds), (poetry)
- 2012 Ma’a Asiqa’e (With Friends) (texts)
- 2012 Tari’kou l-midad (The Ink Path), collection of poems of Bernard Noël(translation)
- 2015 Hada al Azrak (This Blue) (poems)
- 2015, Kitabu l-nissian (the book of oblivion) essays of Bernard Noël (translation).
- 2015, Ha’da l- Azrak (This bleu) (poetry),
- 2017, Al-A’amalou l-nnath’ria (Prose works), (5 volumes)
- 2017, Daou’e al Atama’t, Light of Obscurities (Selected poems).
- 2018, Andalous achoua'ra'e, The Andalusia of poets (Andalusian selected poems and prose).
Some translations in English
- 1985 Halim Barakat (ed.), Contemporary North Africa: Issues of Development & Integration, Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University.
- 1987 Salma Khadra Jayyussi (ed.), Modern Arabic Poetry: an anthology, New York: University Press.
- 1999 Tanure Ojaide and Tijan M. Sallah (eds), The New African Poetry: an anthology, Lynne Rienner Publishers, USA.
- 2001 Margaret Obank & Samuel Shimon (eds), A Crack in the wall: New Arab Poetry, London: SAQI Books.
- 2006 Soft Target, Jane Lewis, New York.
- 2008 Tina Chang, Nathalie Handal, and Ravi Shankar (eds) Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, And Beyond, New York/London: W.W Norton & Company.
- 2011 Peter Cockelbergh (ed.), "Pierre Joris: an Arabic Islamic Turn in the poem & its thought" in Pierre Joris-Cartographies of the in-between, Prague: Univerzita Karlava.
- 2012 Poems of the Millennium, the University of California book of North African Literature, Volume Four, Edited with commentaries by Pierre Joris and Habib Tengour, The Regence of the University of California.
- 2014 Arabic Poems, a bilingual edition, edited by Marlé Hammond, Every man’s Library, Alfred A. Knopf New York London Toronto.
- 2017 Migrant Shores, Irish, Moroccan &Galician poetry, Edited by Manuela Palacios, published by Salmon Poetry, Cliffs of Moher, country Clare, Ireland.
- Banipal's Magazine Modern Arab Literature (London)
- Three Poems: Bells, The Road to Jerusalem, Between Silence and Sun poems, translated by Noel Abdulahad, 2, 56-57
- Poems from Hieroglyphics, Rose of Dust translated by Anton Shammas, 5, 21-24
- Subject of Mohammed Bennis, The free-floating anxiety of existence by Subhi Hadidi, 5, 22-23
- Selected Poems from The Gift of the Void: Doubts; Place; Silence; Frivolity; Impurity; Blindness; Trance; Lady; Palm; Wish, translated by James Kirkup, 5, 24-25
- 1945-2001 Zefzaf – a grand man of Moroccan and Arab letters 12, 26
- Desert on the brink of light translated by James Kirkup, 12, 56-59
- Ten poems: Faraway; A Blind Friend; Down there two Wingbeats; Perhaps; Fear; Apparition; Colours; One Drop; One Night and its Dead translated by James Kirkup, 19, 20-31
- Interviewed by Camilo Gomez-Rivas, 29, 114-23; Gift of the Void: Impossible; View; Path; Encounter; Writing; She; Straying; Shades; Safekeeping; Examining; Women; Elsewhere; Wavering; Words; Travel; Over There You Stay: Stones Alone; The Night of the Ruby: Tremor; Red Growing; Road of Fire; Creation; Lord of the Ruby; Surfaces; Storefront translated by Camilo Gomez-Rivas, 29, 124-37
- The power of his resistance translated by Youssef Rakha, 33, 53-55
- The Literary Review (USA) North Africa: Literary Crossroads, Vol. 41, No. 2, 1998
- 'Angelina Saule Interviews Mohammed Bennis'
- Keeping the language alive by Mohammed Bennis
- Rose of Dust by Mohammed Bennis
- al-Musawi, Muhsin J (2006). Arabic Poetry; Trajectories of Modernity and Tradition. London and New York: Routledge. p. 20. ISBN 0415595916.
- Dar Attanwir, Beyrouth-al-Markaz attakafi al-Arabi, Casablanca
- Bennis, Mohammed (23 February 2001). "Dans le dialogue". Les nouveaux enjeux de la francophonie au Maroc. Rabat: Ambasade de France au Maroc: 59.
- Bennis, Mohammed (2007). Al-Haq fi chi'r (The Right to Poetry). Casablanca: Dar Toubkal. p. 49.
- Bennis, Mohammed (1985). "Bayan al-Kitaba (Manifesto of Writing)". Attakafa el-Jadida (in Arabic). Casablanca: al Markaz Attafi al-Arabi. 19.
- Bennis, Mohammed (2002). Al-Aemal Achiria (Poetry Works) Vol I. Casablanca: Beyriuth-Toubkal. p. 17.
- Bennis, Mohammed (2007). al-Hak fi Chi'ir (The Right to Poetry). Casablanca: Toubkal. pp. 31–2.
- Bennis, Mohammmed (2004). "Dear Poet". Banipal. Spring (19): 21.
- Cañada, Luis Miguel (2006). Hiba't al-Faragh, El Don del Vacio. Madrid: Ediciones del oriente y del mediterráneo.
- Bennis, Mohammed. "An Open Letter: Fear of the Meaning". alwatanvoice.com.
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