Mazen Zahreddine: Unsanctioned Writing from the Middle East

by Sampsonia Way    /  February 21, 2013  / No comments

Nowhere Near a Damn Rainbow: Unsanctioned Writing from the Middle East is an anthology of work from 31 poets who are part of the poetry collective known as the Poeticians.

Sampsonia Way asked Hind Shoufani, founder of the Poeticians and curator of the book, to pick eight writers to be interviewed via email. In this series we present those poets’ voices and publish a poem from each.

The writer profiled in our seventh installment is Mazen Zahreddine, a writer based in Lebanon who allowed us to publish his poem “Beirut.”

Mazen Zahreddine

Mazen Zahreddine does not 'write for change or the betterment of society.' Photo: Courtesy of M. Zahreddine.

Your poem “Beirut” is an overview of the cultural, societal, and political changes that happened in Beirut as a result of multiple wars. It has a cynical tone and incorporates dark humor to convey the hopelessness the narrator feels toward the situation. Why did you write this?

I thought it would be good when I decided to write it down—and it turned out good. Here’s my approach to any piece I write: I think it, I say, “Yeah, this should dazzle people,” I write it, I dazzle people. I do not write for change, or the betterment of society, or any hippy aspirations. I only write because it would be a shame if I didn’t.

  1. Mazen Zahreddine
  2. Since Mazen Zahreddine (the Amazin’ Sardine) first learned English at 10 years old—“the language my heroes spoke,” he says—he has been a writer. At 19, he began performing his material live and continues to do so today.
  3. Born and bred in Beirut, Zahreddine still resides there as an actor and writer. In addition to completing a book, titled August 2015, which he is performing in installments, he has been published in the anthology Beirut Noir.

How do you define yourself in terms of nationality?

I am not Lebanese, nor Arab, and surely not Muslim. I do not think in terms of nationalities, unless I’m making racist jokes with friends, like criticizing a Syrian flatmate for being a “dirty Bedouin” then having him criticize me for being a “Lebanese pansy homo.” Besides the few laughs ethnicities or nationalities can generate, the whole thing is absolutely inconsequential and hollow to me.

The world is large and awesome. And there are so many people in it with their joys and their tragedies. It would be a shame to spend life caring for just one spot. One day I hope to be able to travel around the world and that someday I will walk into a city, look around, feel a certain belonging, and decide to stay there.

What is the importance of the Poeticians to you?

I was lucky and good enough to be featured with them in Lebanon. The Poeticians was a great and—most importantly—friendly, stepping stone. Afterwards I continued on my own, or performing as part of other poetry collectives, since there’s so many of them. But my gratitude to that collective is immense. It was the first platform that actually listened and told me I was good. I was very humbled by that. I felt I had won an audition.

I must admit, I have been leeching on this ever since. Hind Shoufani, Zeina el Khalil, and a few others involved in this work were ridiculously saint-like all throughout. The Poeticians engender a whole group of people who work selflessly for no profit—just making artists’ dreams come true. I cannot understand it. I spent many nights wondering what they might want from me until I finally realized that, unlike me, some people are just good and they want to help you out. It’s mind-boggling.

Nowhere Near A Damn Rainbow highlights that it’s an uncensored book of “unsanctioned” writing. How have you benefited from being in an uncensored collection?

I usually deal with several layers of censorship, so the level of censorship I dealt with during this publication was very reasonable and did not bother me at all. There are always a few things I say from time to time that are delightfully over the top. So to start with, including me in the collection was a courageous move from the editors. They were heartwarmingly sweet. I know what I write, and for them to call me and ask if they could remove one dire obscenity in a sea of plain wrong made me chuckle: “Of course dear, yes, we can remove ‘fuckin’ shit god’ and just say ‘fuckin’ god.’” They were great. I am happy to be in the book and I’m happy they wanted me for who I am.

Can you talk about freedom of speech in Lebanon? Which topics are not allowed?

Whatever you can expect from a banana republic such as ours. Censorship in Lebanon is atrocious. Still we get juggling tits on TV ad nauseam, with provocative segments about gays (that mythical rare creature), or nightlife excesses and the like. From a very personal point of view, because I seek out underground scenes, I don’t have to deal with mainstream censorship and freedom of speech here is fantastic. I’ve been saying what I’ve wanted to say since I started writing; I write to my fans and they know what to expect. So far I’ve gotten no death threats on my puny life yet, though I think if I tried to perform on TV or for hundreds of people it would be different, but that has never been my thing. I don’t plan to grow in the mainstream.

So I can’t really say that freedom of speech in Lebanon is standing in my way. Except I can’t publish anything—but I do anyway, illegally. Of course, you can’t find my books in libraries, and that’s a drawback, but I’ve had the same problem with my music. Eventually, those who care enough will find a way to acquire what they seek and that’s never a bad thing. I looked very hard for music and books when I was young and it felt like a birthday when I finally found what I was looking for.

What are you working on now?

I am editing and proof-reading my first novel to be published, August 2015. Since censorship is what it is here, I’ll have to publish it online. Hopefully, that way I can bypass the whole censorship and lack of distribution impasse, but I’ll also have to disregard the whole pay-your-rent-with-your-writing fantasy I had when I was 30. Now that I am 31, I am a much more mature and disillusioned man.

BEIRUT

The genetically modified fruit of the piss of the
gods. The East and the West fucking and
fucking since the dawn of sex. A strategically-
placed boudoir in the middle of three
continents. Check your maps, Lebanon, fucked
by Africa and Asia while blowing Europe. And
we have been fucking our way out of trouble
since the first conqueror. We like to collect
cum. It’s a hobby, if you like.

Poets loved Beirut of course because poets
love ungrateful whores. And they called Beirut
“The Pearl of the East”.
Remember that?

Now apparently, a long time ago, it was. But
our generation woke up to Beirut shattered
and tattered and filled with holes like a
Gruyere cheese. Say what you will, I don’t care
what you tell yourself to sleep at night, baby
boys, but most of us here are children of war.
Traumatized, humiliated, and yes, very very
lucky. Yes, most of you are breathing today
because others were killed instead. We were
lucky. How come? Oh, let’s not get into that.
Survival in civil wars is always accompanied by
guilt.

But now, it’s all dandy and nice again. The
Lebanese are expert builders and expert
destroyers. And our city is our
experimentation field. Get your calculators
out, boys. Jews, Druze, Sunnis and Shiites,
Maronites, Catholics, Protestants, and
Orthodoxes, Armenians, Alawites and
Sodomites, Akkadians and Sumerians, the
Huns and the Hittites, the Romans and even
the Greeks and a fuckload of French and
Americans. We also have you Red Commies
and Pink Commies and other paler copies,
Gauche Caviar and the Sauce Tartar Party and
the Party of God and the Party of the Other
God, and the Association of the Confident
Capitalists and the one for the Regretful ones
and Support Groups for the countless
minorities in need of support, and more and
more and god knows what else. All of them
waiting for the other to do something,
anything, so they can unleash that raging
violent stupidity lurking in them. And then,
may HE be our witness, we will unleash
instinctual raw oriental bestiality upon
ourselves and rape the earth repeatedly until
she flowers no more.

And it’s always the same. And it’s sad because
it’s always the same. But not too sad, because
it’s always the same so it’s not much of a surprise.

And we can feel it. It is closing in. Come on, it’s
okay, let’s open up. Who thinks we’re done? I
want you to imagine right now someone
telling you with a straight face that it will all be
alright. War? Haha! In Lebanon? No, come on.
Don’t be silly.

Go on. Can you visualize his stupid face?

Don’t you want to punch it? Isn’t this optimism
an insult to your intelligence?
War is here, baby boys and girls, and every
time you scream slogans against war, war is
hurt, and will not forget your scorn.

So yeah, so we amass hate and then something
happens, and we really can’t handle it
anymore, we gave these fucking sons of bitches
living across the street too many chances, let’s
clean the gene pool, and let’s manufacture
ourselves some fucking martyrs. Yeah,
oiiiiiiiiiink, and spat unto shit, come here
wifey, hump hump hump, a martyr, hump
hump hump another martyr, hump hump
hump, oh a girl, it’s okay husband, she will
make food and clean after the coming martyrs.

I’m not a Christian and I don’t care where they
go after they die, but I sure as fuck know
where I will go if I commit a shooting spree
and kill me some of those pesky worthless
“others”. Heaven, yeah motherfuckers, I get
heaven for being the worst of men, and fuckin’
seventy virgins. And the question I ask myself
right now is that if a martyr gets seventy
virgins, what does a good man get? A dozen? Is
the number of virgins we get in heaven
directly related to how good we were? Yeah…
you know what? That’s a lot of fuckin’ virgins.
Have you ever asked yourself where do they
find all of these virgins?
Yeah… How would you like that?
Are you virgins? No? Do you have any virgin
daughters? Well if those cuties die before the
beckoning hot action, they will be the sexual
prey of thousands of horny impatient martyrs
fornicating them to nothing, down, down,
down you go, and then crawling back, every
night, crawling back, spitting cum, every bone
broken, yet like Prometheus, they will pick
themselves up every day, intact, hahahaha,
yeah why the fuck not, fuckin’ intact, not even
getting the satisfaction of seeing the hurt
sustained, they will pick themselves up right
until the next ambush is laid and another
gang-bang ensues.
So what are they eventually? Are they
creatures created by God? Shades, spirits,
experts masquerading as virgins? Illusions?
Images of perfect fantasies?
And after we die, would we be thrown in utter
bliss, comatosed by happiness, drooling,
unable to think, to be mere vegetables
experiencing an illusion forever? Is that your
heaven?
Basically doing what we were told not to do!
How can we do what you tell us to do when
your reward is exactly that which we should
not do? Why not do it then?

So anyway, after fucking ad nauseam and after
shitting enough martyr material, when we feel
we are hot and ready, we unleash the
slaughter.
You are not permitted to care. Monkeys killing
monkeys. There is no politics in the grand
scheme of things. Your opinions are worthless.
There is only death.
Our ecosystem is sustained on genocide,
there’s always so much of us, and some of us
have to give space, and when the count is right,
after much unspeakable carnage amongst
brothers, we are injected with a spit of
humanity, so we look around ourselves, get
really horrified, a what-the-hell-did-we-do
kind of crunching crunching our insides, a
moment of sustained wait… oh fuckin’ hell
boys! We killed most of our babies! Stop
everything! Stop everything!
Aaaaaaaaaaahahahahahaha! Oh by god
woman, pull yourself together! Bouhouhouhou
I killed my babyyyyyy, what kind of monster
am I? I killed my baby. So we decide to stop,
weapons down men, put your weapons down!
NEVER! Drop the tool man, a gentle tap on the
shoulder, drop the tool, all the children are
gone.
And instinct kicks in. The children are gone.
Yes, not a leap of civility towards our fellow
man. Don’t you get the wrong ideas. We just
need to maintain the specie for the next bloody
fight. So we go down to the streets again man,
but this time without our kitchen knives and
our hunting rifles, instead, holding each
other’s hands, wearing matching colors and
waving little flags, and we start rebuilding
what we destroyed, again, hand in hand, walla
hand in hand, wlek eh! Wondering to ourselves
how come we were so foolish in the past. The
violence of yesterday feels like something
extracted from a distant ancient past. And then
as some people would be thinking that this
one is for good, others would already be
disillusioned.
And we haven’t stopped doing that since the
day we came here.

Yet, what we seem to blatantly ignore is that
this behavior, this rotten vicious cycle, is the
evilest manifestation of hypocrisy there can
be. We have to finally admit to ourselves that
we just love killing each other. Why the denial?
Why do we pretend that we yearn for peace
when it bores our wits out?

The only way there is, in my humble opinion,
to break this infernal cycle is to start with the
butchery without the intention of stopping
ever again. Say yes to War. We should go on
with it and never ever stop. Keep on killing.
Killing. Killing. Killing. Let’s speed up history.
Let’s cut through the bullshit. Let’s go to the
end of it right now. Our parents can’t be wrong,
let’s continue the fuckin’ legacy. Let’s start
with the butchery, right fuckin’ now.

And when, let’s say, the Armenians or the Pink
Commies, the Sauce Tartar Party and the
Association of the Regretful Capitalists, or
even the Druze, manage to kill everyone else,
then good for them. The Druze would have
won and everyone would be happy since
everyone is either Druze or dead.

But I know this soil too well. I have seen a
green hue when everyone saw peace. These
Druze or whoever the fuck wins this will
bicker over the spoils of war, will instinctively
follow pack leaders, and with time they will
notice some distinguishing details, some
differences, little differences that make a
whole difference, soon after, groups formed, a
matter of opinion only, ya know? Call it
democracy if you like, and then the
badmouthing, the fake smiles, then not even
that, then an act of sensational violence and
it’s on again!

There is no difference between dying in your
bed and dying for a cause. The dead are dead.
They are dead. And we watch from the
balconies, parade after parade ya allaaaaah.
Pip pip pip. Bouhouhou. Wastushhida ibnal
tis3at 3ashara rabi3an, wa saqa al arda bi
dima2ihil zakiyya.

In other words: manure.
Simply.
Why do we like to complicate the simplest
thing in the universe? It’s death. And they are
all dead, we are all breathing now, and we will
all be dead. We will all become: manure, dung,
compost, droppings.
When dead, the Lebanese will for once be in
harmony with the world around them.
Manure: Good for the trees. Maybe. Who cares?
Why do you give a shit? The earth demands
manuuuuuure.
Repeat after me: the earth demands
manuuuuuuuure.
The earth demands manuuuuuuuure.

About the Author

Sampsonia Way is an online magazine sponsored by City of Asylum/Pittsburgh that seeks to protect and advocate for writers who may be endangered, to educate the public about threats to writers and literary expression, and to create a community in which endangered writers thrive and literary culture is a valued part of life.

View all articles by Sampsonia Way

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