Artscape: Poets of Protest

Mazen Maarouf: Hand Made

Thanks to his outspoken work the Palestinian poet finds himself wandering the world with his notebook his only security.

Editor’s note: The film was originally broadcast in 2012. 

Palestinian Mazen Maarouf was raised in Lebanon, and was forced into a double exile in Iceland after criticising the Syrian regime.

His third poetry collection, An Angel Suspended On The Clothesline , was published in Lebanon after he had left.

We follow him from Reykjavik to Paris as he works on the translation into French. With his work translated into English, French, German, Spanish, Swedish, Maltese, Icelandic and Chinese, this rising poetry star finds himself wandering the world with only his notebook to provide security.

FILMMAKER’S VIEW: The traces of beauty

By Roxana Vilk

“It is the mission of how to reconstruct the dirt, this is poetry, maybe to make a rose out of dust.”

This is how Mazen Maarouf described his role as a poet to me. The Palestinian poet was raised in a refugee camp in Lebanon, and recently forced into a double exile in Iceland after criticising the Syrian regime.

The first time I interviewed him was back in May 2010 in Lebanon. Those haunting words rang true as we drove through Beirut city. Mazen, still scarred by so many wars, showed me his former family home, which was now a blackened shell after years of political turmoil.

By the time we came to film Mazen in December 2011 for the Poets of Protest series, a lot had changed for the popular writer. It was no longer Beirut we were looking at as locations for his story but Paris and Reykjavik.

Mazen’s daring and thought-provoking journalism in Beirut had led to his life being put in grave danger, resulting in him having to flee to Iceland where he was invited to become Reykjavik’s first Icorn guest writer in residence.

Suddenly I had a very different story in my hands from the one we planned to shoot in Lebanon. Instead we shot the film partly in Reykjavik working with a great local producer Hlin Johannesdottir and her team and then in France just before Christmas 2011.

We also managed to document Mazen’s trip to Paris which he took to work with his French translator on his new collection of poetry, An Angel Suspended on a Clothesline .

What immediately drew me in about the sudden turn of events was that Mazen had written a poem called DNA back in 2002, describing in detail how it feels to be a Palestinian refugee living in Lebanon. In the poem he also reflects on his dreams of Paris:

…and dream
Of faraway things:
A small flat in a suburb of Paris, the Louvre,
Loads and loads
Of loneliness and books .

When Mazen wrote DNA he had never been to Paris or France. It seemed serendipitous that we had these words, these aspirations in his poem and that we were witnessing Mazen travelling to France to work on his poetry.

It was through working closely with his poems that I started to sculpt the film’s narrative, as many of his works have a strong personal, almost autobiographical, voice and are often both dark and beautiful in their observations.

“I feel I cannot be astonished by anything in life. I lost this ability two years ago because I still remember so many things from the war. But the traces of beauty that I pick up from life are enough and life is generous still, proving me with these traces of beauty because I write poetry from them,” he said in 2010.

Our film follows Mazen on his new journey, with his notebook in hand, sculpting poetry from the ‘traces of beauty’  he encounters on his path in exile.

About the series:

Poets of Protest reflects the poet’s view of the change sweeping the Middle East and North Africa through its intimate profiles of six contemporary writers as they struggle to lead, to interpret and to inspire.

Poetry lives and breathes in the Middle East as in few other places.

In a region long dominated by authoritarian regimes, poetry is the medium for expressing people’s hopes, dreams and frustrations. Poets became historians, journalists, entertainers – and even revolutionaries.