Etel Adnan has enjoyed a distinguished career as a poet, playwright and visual artist. Her rich body of work documents an unblinking witness to beauty in nature, human beings and art; to cruelty, especially as enacted in the mindless violence of war; and to the power of love and human perseverance
Etel Adnan, To look at the sea is to become what one is: An Etel Adnan Reader, Nightboat, 2014.
Etel Adnan, interview by Lisa Robertson
The first retrospective collection of 50 years of writing by our leading Arab-American innovative writerThis landmark two-volume edition follows Adnan’s work from the infernal elegies of the 1960s to the ethereal meditations of her later poems, to form a portrait of an extraordinarily impassioned and prescient life. Ranging between essay, fiction, poetry, memoir, feminist manifesto, and philosophical treatise, while often challenging the conventions of genre, Adnan’s works give voice to the violence and revelation of the last six decades as it has centered, in part, within the geopolitics of the Arab world, and in particular the author’s native Beirut. Among the key works reproduced in their entirety are Sitt Marie Rose (1978); The Arab Apocalypse (1980); Journey to Mount Tamalpais (1986); and Of Cities & Women (1993).
Etel Adnan, Premonition. Kelsey Street Press, 2014.
In PREMONITION the voice is wise and paradoxical, opening with the observation, "There's always a conductive thread through space for untenable positions." Sentences are set apart in aphoristic cuts never wholly separate from this "conductive thread," and always shaped by the gem-like compressions of poetry. PREMONITION is a short book that refuses finality in a world of contingencies and human unpredictability. The only sure place to stand, in this late work of Etel Adnan's, must be created from day to day in life and art.
Etel Adnan has enjoyed a distinguished career as a poet, playwright and visual artist. Her rich body of work documents an unblinking witness to beauty in nature, human beings and art; to cruelty, especially as enacted in the mindless violence of war; and to the power of love and human perseverance. Her work, as a whole, is a faithful record of the times and places she has lived in Beirut, Lebanon; in Paris, France; and in the San Francisco Bay Area. In Premonition, her most recent book, the voice is wise and paradoxical, opening with the observation, “There’s always a conductive thread through space for untenable positions.” Sentences are set apart in aphoristic cuts never wholly separate from this “conductive thread,” and always shaped by the gem-like compressions of poetry. Premonition is a short book that refuses finality in a world of contingencies and human unpredictability. The only sure place to stand, in this late work of Etel Adnan’s, must be created from day to day in life and art.
It's not that Etel Adnan is any wiser than you (though she's wiser than I): it's that she struggles with meaning in ways that can teach us about the human heart, its memories, its sacrifices, its triumphs. In which land, I wonder, did she learn so much about loneliness—was it in Lebanon, Paris, California? And at what age does one learn so much about apprenticeship, the way we work and labor, only to see finally that our life so far marks only the beginning of understanding, acceptance, empathy? Like her painting, Adnan's prose style turns thought into image with premonitory ease and suggestion. "A forest saturated with trees," she writes, or thinks, "proclaims the existence of a river saturated with reflections." Premonition, introduced ably by the artist and writer Lynn Marie Kirby, can be read by those of any generation, and what the men don't know, the little girls will understand.—Kevin Killian
Etel Adnan's aptly named Premonition is a wizened work that finds simple beauty in "a beloved face" and more than words can say "in another tempest, this one in me." The poem is like waking from a strange dream, recalling detailed fragments, certain they mean something more, close and yet illusive. This lovely book made me feel as if I had a companion in asking life's big questions without hope of knowing the answers.—Laura Sydell
Etel Adnan, The Ninth Page: Etel Adnan’s Journalism 1972-1974. Ed. by Julian Myers-Szupinska and Heidi Rabben, ABAA, 2013.
The publication, which accompanies the exhibition Words and Places: Etel Adnan, is titled The Ninth Page: Etel Adnanʼs Journalism 1972-1974 and collects and translates some of Adnanʼs contributions to the Lebanese francophone daily newspaper, Al-Safa. The articles document the rich cultural scene of Beirut on the brink of civil war, a political cataclysm addressed with great force in Adnanʼs landmark books Sitt Marie Rose (1978) and The Arab Apocalypse (1980). These writings have an immediacy that is distinct from the rhythms of her poetry and prose. The publication also includes newly commissioned essays that respond to Adnanʼs journalism and its fraught sociopolitical context.
Etel Adnan, The Arab Apocalypse. Trans. by the author. The Post-Apollo Press, 2013.
Reprinted with a new foreward by Jalal Toufic.
"This book, a masterwork of the dislocations and radiant outcries of the Arab world, reaffirms Etel Adnan, who authored the great poem, Jebu, as among the foremost poets of the French Language. THE ARAB APOCALYPSE is an immersion into a rapture of chaos clawing towards destiny, and nullified hope refusing its zero. Is is also the journey of soul through the cartography of a global immediacy rarely registered by maps, replete with signposts like hieroglyphs in a storm of shrapnel and broken glass. And above all it is a book that, though capable of being read in its orderly sequence, has so surrendered to 'being there,' it can rivet the sensibility to the Middle Eastern condition at any point in the text--so rapid are its mutations, so becoming its becomingness--like a wisdom book or a book of Changes"--Jack Hirschman
Excerpts: Pages 23 – 24
Forward: Jalal Toufic
Audio Recording: Telegraph Books, February 2, 2009
Reviews: Thom Donovan for the Poetry Foundation
Douglas A. Powell for Poetry Flash
Etel Adnan, Sea and Fog. Nightboat Books, 2012.
These interrelated meditations explore the nature of the individual spirit and the individual spiritedness of the natural world. As skilled a philosopher as she is a poet, in Sea & Fog, Adnan weaves multiple sonic, theoretical, and syntactic pleasures at once.
“Etel Adnan sharpens the starkness of the world of matter and anti-matter. These texts are psalms that stretch from the sublime to the violent, journey from Yosemite Valley to a soldier’s jeep in the desert, and gather from Dostoevsky to Scalapino. A history, a gospel, a prayer book, it dwells in the divine.” - Elmaz Abinader
Etel Adnan’s new collection, named for the elements on which it meditates, offers darkly contemplative verse pondering the contemporary human condition.”—Jocelyn Heath
Etel Adnan, The Cost for Love We Are Not Willing to Pay. Hatje Canz Verlag, 2011.
Poet, artist and essayist Etel Adnan describes various expressions of love--the love for ideas, for God, for things and for nature--addressing in particular how the lack of affection for nature in our culture leads to ecological catastrophe.
In her poetic reflection, artist, poet, and essayist Etel Adnan describes various forms of love: the love for ideas, for God, for things, and for nature. However, today we have distanced ourselves from a higher form of love that drove Nietzsche into madness and the Islamic mystic al-Hallaj into martyrdom. The love for nature, which Adnan describes through her own experience, even seems to have given way to contempt—how else could the ecological catastrophe toward which we are steering be explained? The price to stop it would be too high, as it would involve a radical change in our way of life—similar to the experience of conventional love between two people, which involves such intensity only a few are ready to endure it.
Etel Adnan, Master of the Eclipse: and Other Stories, Interlink Pub Group, 2009.
Click here to read a sample story (published in Fence magazine).Master of the Eclipse was selected by Hans Ulrich Obrist (Director of the Serpentine Gallery, London) for '5 Books: the Best 5 books on everything.'
Click here to read the segment.
“‘What are poets for in these destitute times?’ Etel Adnan asks through Hölderlin’s voice, and then answers in prose through her own. It is a prose of uncanny elegance and skepticism and conscience which voices what chokes us into silence, as it asks: what do we make of our tourists of war—professors, directors, journalists—and whom do we imagine for their subjects? How do we re-name, as if the facts call for us to be astonished, ‘the beings wearing bulletproof jackets,’ the masters playing the empathy card with their victims, the stateless living among the over-sated?
In Master of the Eclipse, Etel Adnan names the relations between innocence and power, the isolation they mark within our hearts and houses and inside our States—from anonymously entangled bodies cruising the yellow cabs of New York to French nuns bearing their invisible Fathers to the schoolgirls of Beirut. Always, Adnan’s invocation is an invitation to 'but listen' beyond the omnipresent news to the waves of love and sorrow which no radio, virtual or otherwise, can announce to the over-informed. The medium, then, is the storyteller as poet as vigilant angel, inhabiting visible and invisible realities with radiant, enduring tales of mythic time for our time.” —Benjamin Hollander
The dozen lyrically descriptive stories in this eclectic collection by Lebanese-born poet and novelist Adnan range over a startling period of time and place, from 1930s Beirut through early '60s San Francisco to the first Gulf War. In the title story, the narrator meets the poet Buland in Italy, just as the bombs are falling mercilessly on Iraq. Buland recounts his abject life story, especially his harrowing guilt in having loved the generous and larger-than-life Saddam Hussein. In The Power of Death, a similarly haunted poet, Wassef, asks the narrator, based in Paris, to meet him in Stockholm, where he is literally losing his mind from grief over the death of a woman he had loved and left many years before. The first-person narrator in the wise, reflective story First Passion summons her enduring affection for a girlhood friend as a way of recapturing her richly textured life—and fending off death. Nostalgic and meanderingly autobiographical, these powerful emotional tales seem almost magically wrought, offering a flavor of the author's own vast experience and travels. - Publishers Weekly
“An exquisite sensibility (a cross between the mysticism of such great medievals as Rabia and Hildegaard of Bingen and the American lucidity of Emily Dickinson or Lorinne Niedecker) generously infuses Adnan’s evocative prose.”—Ammiel Alcalay
“Adnan displays a remarkable sensibility for the precise details that fuse the landscapes of individual and social nightmares… [She] has attained a unique poetic voice.”—The San Francisco Chronicle
“Lebanese-American author and poet Etel Adnan presents "Master of the Eclipse", an anthology of short stories reflecting the shadow that war and death cast upon individual lives. At times dark, giving an all-too-human glimpse of the difficulties of coping with loss, "Master of the Eclipse" nonetheless also gives voice to the human desire to persevere. Elements of autobiography and the author's all-too-thorough familiarity with the Lebanese Civil War are reflected in this brief yet overwhelmingly compelling tales. Highly recommended, especially to modern world literature shelves.”—Wisconsin Bookwatch, Midwest Book Review
“The subtle, unseen forces that shape our world and connect us to one another are brought to light in this collection of short stories. This book covers a wide geographic territory…as well as a vast emotional territory, acknowledging the complexity of heartbreak, regret, disillusionment, loyalty, and belief...This collection reveals a wise, sympathetic, and philosophical author bearing witness to the wide range of human experience.”—Multicultural Review
Etel Adnan, Seasons. The Post-Apollo Press, 2008.
“To see is to think” writes Etel Adnan in Seasons. This means that she keeps her attention at the constant intersection of our selves with climate and environment. The result is a kind of inner platonic dialogue between the senses and the mind, one’s skin and the world.
A series of meditations following the sun, SEASONS arrives in mesmerizing waves of observation and reflection. The blue depths of Adnan’s inquiry—into the nature of Being, Time, knowledge itself—crest moment upon moment of quiet revelation, as the passions of history, myth, today, and yesterday rage and subside beneath her watchful eye. “To think is not to contemplate, it’s to witness.” So stanzas wash upon the page’s horizon, ever moving toward the mind’s encounters with the world. Intimate with ephemera, alert to what’s hidden, SEASONS seeks the universe within and beyond the spirit’s changeable weather, finding everywhere its center.—Megan Pruitt
Etel Adnan, In the Heart of the Heart of Another Country, City Lights, 2005.
A mosaic of lyrical vignettes, at once deeply personal and political, set against the turbulent backdrop of Arab/Western relations. Adnan writes, "Contrary to what is usually believed, it is not general ideas and grandiose unfolding of great events that impress the mind during times of heightened historic upheavals, but rather the uninterrupted flow of little experiences, observations, disturbances, small ecstasies, or barely perceptible discouragements that make up day-to-day living."
"As the new world order continues to produce and rewrite our history, mainstream literary culture invades our consciousness to finally sever us from reality. Steadfast in her adherence to the world, Etel Adnan’s work is a mix of prose, poetry, political insight, philosophic speculation and historical remembrance honed here to mineral perfection. Working close to the very heart of American poetic power but from the centers of official recognition, Adnan has been delivering the news for decades, her eyes always focused on 'the narrow and long road which leads to the slaughter-house.'” -Ammiel Alcalay
"For years, Etal Adnan has been writing a quiet lyric prose that is also insistently political. In the Heart of the Heart of Another Country returns to the explorations of the history of war and the female body that made Sitt Marie Rose– her novel of the Lebanese civil war– a classic. Here she uses short vignettes to examine the world wide resonances of yet another war in the Middle East, to speak poignantly of how its terrors mix with mundane moments of beauty. This is a moving and complicated work. -Juliana Spahr
Reviews: Stacy Szymaszek for the Poetry Project Newsletter
Kim Jenson for Rain Taxi
David Buuck for Galatea Resurrects
Etel Adnan, In/Somnia, The Post-Apollo Press, 2003.
1.Feever. Feet on bath/
reBellion. boxes filled
2.Al/ways + never/the/less
not a concern. usually
queen spat on snow.
sweating dream of forms.
silvery machine for, for
play lute for clue
dark/ness re/lated to
air. Chimney un-swapped.
Etel Adnan, There: In the Light and the Darkness of the Self and of the Other, The Post-Apollo Press, 1997.
"THERE is a poem of hidden seams, fissures that we cross unsuspecting. A smooth surface conceals a universe of sudden shifts and transitions from one level to another—a philosophical level which pursues the mysteries of consciousness and place, a second level which asks the same questions ('do I have to have a nationality in order to be human?') in a committed social and political vision, a passionate and engaged post-modernism."—Michael Beard
Etel Adnan, The Indian Never Had a Horse & Other Poems, The Post-Apollo Press, 1995.
Throughout the seven sections that are woven into a unified whole, Adnan displays a remarkable sensibility for the precise details that fuse the landscapes of individual and social nightmares. Through an ingenious synthesis of the best elements of the surrealist, cut-up and Language schools of writing, Adnan has attained a unique poetic voice.—The San Francisco Chronicle
She has an exceptional gift for the mystical delineation of an immediate experience and achieves an otherworldly density of image, line after line. Etel Adnan with this book of poems establishes herself as a major poet who belongs beside internationally established poets like Tranströmer, Bly, Neruda, Vallejo, and Pessoa.—Eric Sellin, Celfan Review
Etel Adnan, Of Cities & Women (Letters to Fawwaz), Post-Apollo Press, 1993.
Asked to contribute a study on feminism, Etel Adnan decides to adopt a free and adventurous approach using letters to investigate the relationship between gender, art, and civilization. Besides presenting a major new reading of such figures as Picasso, Cezanne, and Michelangelo, OF CITIES AND WOMEN also offers a profound appraisal of contemporary Europe and Lebanon.
Review: “Our Memory Has No Future” by Ammiel Alcalay
Etel Adnan, Paris, When It’s Naked, The Post-Apollo Press, 1993.
Review: “Our Memory Has No Future” by Ammiel Alcalay
A daily odyssey between the Rue Madame and Place Saint-Sulpice leads to an incredible construction of the living myth that Paris represents. …places its author on the radical fringe…a minor classic…—Carl Bankston III
Excerpt from Paris, When It’s Naked:
When it rains in Paris Europe brings out its umbrellas. Quick, the morning paper is thrown into the basket. Coffee is thick with cream, to make you miss Vienna, and there is a smell of buttered bread on the heavy coats of the men who hurry to their desks. It’s dark in the Metro, and messy. There are many young women among the passengers, some of them having never read Le Spleen de Paris. Of course, Baudelaire loved London. In the buses, electric bulbs shine, and the morning still looks like the evening before with the same customers who for years still wonder if they should smile at each other. Today’s not the day. Those who go to work in their cars carefully wash their windshields, sometimes with a swift stroke of their sleeve. It’s very difficult to find a parking place when the weather is poor, which it is most of the year. Some courageous citizens give their dog a morning walk. The people and the animals get wet, but there are unavoidable duties to perform, and they follow the rule. The morning news is all about Europe. European unity is a panacea, and the average Frenchman want to know how high the snow is in Russia. Maybe, with the fall of communism, winters will be less harsh and the Russian economy will rise. So all kinds of little clouds crowd the TV. sets, not only those coming from the Atlantic, but also those from the North Sea. Oh yes! there was a storm over Hamburg. In the meantime, the rain has not abated.
You can’t see the outside, and you can’t open your window. It’s dark until noon, then it’s already late for a good light to fall from the sky. You raise your nose, look at the heavens, and no angel with a trumpet appears. Very ominous clouds cross the sky. They run over each other, they pour. So you listen to the one o’clock news and you know that the races have been canceled. Again. If you have the radio on, you’re told it’s because of the weather; if you have Channel One, or Two, they show you restrained horses wearing blankets. You wonder if these blankets are wet, and hope for the best. Anyway, you don’t bet on horses. It’s getting late. You don’t exactly know late for what, but it’s too late. The sidewalks are shiny, and slippery, too. There’s water on everything. It’s raining all over Europe. In the Italian part of Europe there’s a semblance of sunshine. But is Sicily European, really? Are we going to integrate these hot southern countries into our nordic economies? Will it rain more, down there, once Europe gives itself a common army? Nobody has answers for anything nowadays. What if the Russians bring their winters to the western parts of Europe? How are we going to get up in the sheer blackness of Sweden’s mornings at the same hours as in Paris? Incredible problems will have to be resolved. Of course, there are trains. The don’t slip on pavements, they don’t fear storms. They leave, and they arrive, on time. They’re a European invention after all. They suit European weather. Look how well they cross Switzerland with no additional effort! And France will extend the lines of its bullet trains all the way to Spain. Once in Spain, you will see what you can do to stay dry. Look, you can also stay in Paris. The rain washes the monuments carefully, takes the leaves away from the trees, melts itself into the Seine, so you don’t know if you’re walking, or floating, and isn’t this a wonderful state of mind? But it’s getting darker if you can imagine such a thing. Little lights fight their way to your eyes. Oh, yes, you are in the narrow rue des Canettes, and there is a Greek restaurant with a special container for wet umbrellas, so you won’t have to sit on yours, and get arthritis. You go in because you’re hungry, and because in Paris there is nothing else to do but eat here and there in all these foreign food places, and they’re less boring than the foreign films in the cinemas. Who wants to see on the screen the Moscow Metro when the French ones are inundated! But this particular Greek restaurant doesn’t serve Greek specialties anymore, so take your wet umbrella, resume your wet coat, go down the wet street, under the pouring rain, and look for some inexpensive Chinese or Vietnamese eating place. But beware, you’re already stepping out of Europe, and Europe is not yet formally founded. You’ll have to wait for the end of the year. At least, you’re in Paris, and you know it, and it doesn’t need Europe, or any other continent. And you will never die of thirst, in this city, as in African deserts, your skin will never dry out, your complexion will remain pleasant. Although you’ll never have the pink cheeks of the English princesses, unless the common market really works. For the time being, try to find some little joint which has a good inexpensive Bordeaux sold as house wine, because rain makes your pocket and your throat feel dry. And then, look at Paris, do it in your imagination if your eyes can’t find it, and see what a solid mass of a city it is, what a fugue in its composition, what an epic story in its stones, what an evanescent spirit in its rain.
Etel Adnan, The Spring Flowers Own & The Manifestations of the Voyage, The Post-Apollo Press, 1990.
Harrowed by desire’s ancient curse, in solo crushed-heart universe, always in every brutish intimacy of public event—harrowed by love’s death’s imperishable lie, by love’s unfailing resurrection—harrowed by subtlest helplessness, grossest anger—Etel Adnan’s work possesses maturity one had thought extinct. I don’t know why so very few Americans write poetry for grown-ups, but Adnan sure does and it’s good.—Duncan McNaughton
Just where is that voice coming from?… The determining sensibility combines the vistas of an insistently decentered consciousness, defining the poetic self through a contemplation of mortality.—Michael Beard
Etel Adnan, Journey to Mount Tamalpais. The Post-Apollo Press, 1986.
JOURNEY TO MOUNT TAMALPAIS is an essay on Nature, Art, and the relationship between them. Highly original in both content and literary structure, it provides a new outlook on the importance of Nature as an element of thinking; one of the major works on the "spirit of place" in contemporary literature.
This book is illustrated with 17 drawings by the author.
Etel Adnan (…) was once asked in a TV Interview to name the most important person she had ever met, and when she answered “A mountain,” she discovered that Tamalpais was at the center of her being. (Journey to Mt. Tamalpais) can be read most accessibly as the story of an experiment, the Perception Workshop, that the author and her artist friends in Mill Valley participated in for some years, “living with a mountain and with people moving with all their senses open, like many radars…”—Sherry Reinecker
Highly original in both content and literary structure, it is a new outlook on the importance of Nature as an element of thinking; one of the major works of the “spirit of place” in contemporary literature. An enlightening journey for those who love the mountain, for those who love Etel, and for those who (like me) love both.—Wendell Berry
Excerpt from Journey to Mount Tamalpais:
The car is parked by a curve on Mount Tamalpais. Ann and I are looking south at the Bay meandering through the hills. The radio is on. We are listening to Berg’s Sonata number one. Ann’s attention is turned sometimes inward, filled with the music, and then she extends the look of her blue eyes to the horizon. It’s a clear December morning: the clarity of high passes through the mountains. She recalls her campings on the High Sierras. Her intensity is rushing to its own fulfillment. While it lasts it looks miraculous.
The early workshops participated of the newness of the world. Yes, they were at the very beginning of the Sixties, yes they participated in the prophetic spirit of a decade which has its equals in History in the Pre-Socratics, or, closer to us, in the decade which has its preceded the Russian Revolution and was made by Malevich, Tatlin, Kandinsky…. This time a whole nation was again being involved in a Great Experiment, unabashedly, through street marches, music, songs, underground movies, and millions of silent events which tried to uproot a culture and plant a new one, a new forest. The workshops in Mill Valley found, at least for a handful of us, their place between Castaneda’s Yaqui Teachings, the powers and winds and visitations of the world, and Mao’s people, the Chinese awakening for a new morning, on the other side of the Pacific.
Etel Adnan, Sitt Marie-Rose. Trans. by Georgina Kleege. The Post-Apollo Press, 1982.
"Sitt Marie Rose revolves around the life and death of a young Christian woman living in Beirut. Because of her sympathies for the Palestinian refugees, and her love for a Palestinian man, Marie-Rose has relinquished the protection of her people, the Christians: her tribe. Because she has become a threat to their group, four young men decide they must kill her.
The writer has a very telling sense of her purpose--to show the brutality that results from thinking in a tribal way about politics in a modern country. But by letting each of the men speak for himself, by exploring each of their very different motives for becoming killers, she [Adnan] softens the otherwise hard view of these men as primitives out of time... -- Lesley Evensen
This extraordinary novel on the Civil War in Lebanon won the France-Pays Arabes award in Paris and has been translated into six languages. Sitt Marie Rose is part of Comparative Literature, World Literature, Women’s Studies and Middle East Studies curricula at more than thirty universities and colleges in the U.S.
The story is about a handful of characters and how their relationships are affected by the war… the real protagonist is the city itself. Since the story is narrated in a staccato style, the text takes on a quality reminiscent of Picasso’s Guernica.—Celfan Review
Etel Adnan tells her story in a charged composite of many different forms of discourse: conversation, news bulletins, monologues, interviews and commentary… journalism and film. The influence of the distinguished Arabic poetic tradition, of which she is herself a part, is also evident.—Elizabeth Fernea
The incredulity toward meta-narratives that Lyotard characterizes as the post-modernist condition is embodied in the narrative technique of Sitt Marie Rose.—Thomas Foster
Etel Adnan, From A to Z, The Post-Apollo Press, 1980.