Mohammed Bennis

Portrait Mohammed Bennis
© ilb/Hartwig Klappert

Mohammed Benniswas born in Fés, Morocco in 1948. His interest in literature, in particular for lyric, developed already at an early age. During his studies at the Department of Philosophy in Fés he began corresponding with the Syrian poet Adonis (Ali Ahmad Said) who published Bennis’ first poems in 1969. Numerous other volumes of verse and essays have followed up to the present – not in French, as is so often the case in the Maghreb, but instead in Arabic. Bennis’ relationship to French culture is ambivalent. While he rejects the ideology of francophone policy – which for him represents a form of colonizing globalization – he very much appreciates the French language as such: “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, as valuable as none of the entire modern languages.”

This close relationship is reflected in the translations of their own works on which Arab poets are especially dependent if they want to be read outside of their own culture. Several of Bennis’ collections of poems have already been translated into French; among them “Le don du vide” (1992), for which he received the Moroccan literary award “Grand prix du livre” in 1993. In addition, Bennis has made a name for himself as an Arab translator of Abdelwahab Meddeb who writes in French, as well as the French poet Bernard Noël. Meddeb for his part translated Bennis’ poems into French. In Germany, Bennis’ poems can be found in two anthologies: “Zwischen Zauber und Zeichen. Moderne arabische Lyrik von 1945 bis heute” (2000, t: Between Signs and Magic. Modern Arab Lyric from 1945 to the Present) and “Die Farbe der Ferne” (2000, t: The Color of Distance). Bennis’ efforts are aimed at the modernization of Arab poetry. He ranks among the most important voices in Arab literature. His writing is characterized by having borrowed from traditional mysticism and surrealism. As a result, his verse is remarkable for its radical succinctness and simultaneous reproduction of the various levels of sense.

In addition to his literary activity Bennis has always been active at the politico-cultural level. In 1974 he founded the magazine “Attakafa El Jadida ” (t: The New Cultures) which played an active role in the cultural life of Morocco until it was banned in 1984 after unrests in Casablanca. In 1985, together with university professors and writers, he established the publishing company “Editions Toubkal” which specializes in poetry. In 1996 he became a founding member and president of “Maison de la Poésie” in Casablanca. Bennis lives in Rabat where he has been teaching Literature at the university since 1980.

Dirk Naguschewski

© international literature festival berlin