‘Knowledge, empathy two main influences on my poems,’ says former FSA fighter, now exiled to Syria’s north


October 31, 2016

Before Bashir Abu Noor boarded a bus to Idlib in August, he left his fellow fighters and Darayya residents with a verse: “Though we leave this day, our resolve will not relent.”

Abu Noor had lived his entire life in Damascus. He studied Arabic literature at the Greater Institute of Damascus, but cut his university studies short in 2012 to join revolutionary forces fighting in the suburb of Darayya.

In between battles and barrel bombings, Abu Noor continued to pursue his childhood passion for poetry, even as he fought in the ranks of the Free Syrian Army.

“I am a student of knowledge and a poet first, then a fighter,” he tells Syria Direct’s Osama Hmaidi. He publishes his verses on social media and performs readings at local festivals.

On August 27, Abu Noor was one of nearly 700 fighters who left Darayya for the opposition-controlled Idlib countryside as part of a truce negotiated with the Syrian government.

Abu Noor’s poetry was once a vehicle to portray the dark scenes of battle-hardened Darayya. Now in Idlib, he performs exile-themed poetry that “illuminates the road back to Darayya and the hills of Damascus.”

 Abu Noor at a poetry event in Darayya.

Bashir Abu Noor’s poetry merges the paradoxical intersection of hope and despair. Through his verses, he details how the fall of Darayya, a site of the Syrian revolution’s birth, does not symbolize its death.

“Even after the siege and the rigors of our life,” he writes, “Darayya will remain an icon.”

Q: You were a fighter with the Free Syrian Army. How did you find the time to write poetry while fighting the Syrian regime?

I would wait for opportunities to write poetry, when there was a free moment between the fighting.

I took up arms in order to defend my freedom of expression. My pen won’t protect me from my enemy’s bullets, but it will give my death meaning.

Some of my poems coexist with a particular moment in time. Their words sprang to life in an instant, with the event itself.

I love to write when the bullets fly past, when rubble and siege cover me, and when the barrel bombs kick up dust. I feel like they write the poems.

At a battle in Darayya, I spend a week in communication with the frontlines where fighters were dying. I wrote a poem to Darayya, as it was engulfed in flames: “The pleasures of war are labor and pain/in misery and what we glean from the exhaustion.”

Q: How have you continued to sharpen your poetry skills since moving to Idlib? How have the themes of your poems changed?

When I moved to Idlib, I had much more time and was mentally grounded. In 2012, I paused my studies to make time for activism. I’ve resumed my study of the Arabic language to support our struggle. The revolution in Syria needs scholars, doctors, and engineers as well as fighters.

Knowledge and empathy are the two main influences on my poems. They have transformed my poetry from the sharp, powerful rhythm of the poems I wrote after evacuating Darayya into a rhythmic overlap of gentler tones.

In Darayya, I composed poems of persistence, steadfastness, and heroism while in Idlib my poetry illuminates the road back to Darayya and the hills of Damascus.

 Bashir Abu Noor performing poetry at an event in Idlib.

Q: Tell me about your journey from Darayya to Idlib.

We evacuated Darayya and left our dead beneath the ground, the purest soil on the face of the earth. We hung the flags of the revolution on the minarets, like lighthouses guiding us along the road ahead.

We left Darayya and saw the expressions of the regime officers, some filled with hatred and others with respect for a people who remained under siege and destruction for four years.

We left with our heads held high, with weapons, and passed through the Damascus landscape, calling again for the downfall of the regime. We saw regime soldiers and their allies flooding the streets of Damascus. It made us think back to the aim of this revolution. Is it the regime’s downfall? Or the idea of revolution? Or the spread of revolutionary thought?

I can’t speak more about it. It will open up old wounds.

Q: Have you addressed the act of leaving Darayya in any of your poems?

I composed the opening lines of a poem entitled “A Tale of Revolution” while in Darayya. I wrote sections on the bus that transported us to Idlib and after I arrived, I wrote the poem’s ending.

Those verses I wrote before boarding the bus out of Darayya had a strong effect on the young men with me:

Baathist soldiers: Come forward.

Enter in fear.

Hear the bang,

the scream, and the sighs.

Whether we’ve fallen or triumphed,

may we go out as conquerors.

Though we leave this day,

our resolve will not relent.

Q: After the revolution began, how did you develop your poetry? Did your family and close friends support you?

My friends and family helped me develop my talent.  Their encouragement was like a series of crashing waves that never ceased to propel my poetry forward.

After reading some of my poems, a friend told me “you’re hiding a great poet inside of you.” These words have had a profound impact on me.  I have no doubt that any poet is transformed into a symbol through his poems. However, the power of poetry belongs to the poem, not the poet.

I tend to write revolutionary poetry that stirs up the desire for change and revolution in the audience. When I perform a poem, I look into the eyes of the audience to tell how well they received my poem, if they liked it and how it touched them.

Q: In what poetry events have you participated? Do you plan on participating in any upcoming events or festivals?

I participated in an event organized on Eid al-Fitr, a sad holiday for those from Darayya. I recited poetry about the mothers of the deceased, the families of the detained, the orphans, and the destruction:

After the new moon, keep your tears hidden

it will stir Darayya’s anxieties.

After the new moon, do not ask about festivals

I’ve drank from a cup carried by war.

Even after the siege and the rigors of our life, Darayya will remain an icon. 

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