Author Interview- Simply Being: Roula-Maria Dib
The Ekphrastic Review: Tell us a bit about the process and experience of writing this book. How did it come together in your mind, and what challenges did you face? Did things go according to plan, or did it take on a life of its own?
Roula-Maria Dib: I would say the book came to me, poem by poem, and it became one unplanned piece all on its own. The idea was to write my way out of lockdown, and although I’ve been writing poetry all my life, I found myself rigorously limning experiences and reflections during confinement. During this time, my relationship with poetry changed somehow. It became my portal into the world at a time when I was physically bound in an upper-floor apartment, spacious but lacking a balcony and properly opening windows.
I missed nature, relished in memories as I waited for better times. I sensed the painful birth pangs of the world and focused on the better outcome. Articulating these feelings through writing poetry helped me reflect on the different voices within, and the various levels of being that are at work. It made me realize that we need to preserve the adamantine quality of the spirit, which is not as flimsy as we may think it is.
Poetry also helped me travel at a time when I was in constantly making the effort to ward off cabin fever. And it worked. One day, I realized that sometimes, the only means of travel is a train—of thought. I wrote it down in my poem, “Moonlighting,” which paved the way for other poems.
Not all of the poems in the book were written during lockdown though, as many were penned and published in poetry journals a long time ago (pre-covid world). I added them to those I wrote during the early months of the pandemic and realized after about 30 poems that they are all expressions of different facets of being. I would say that it definitely took on a life of its own and sought me, rather than the reverse!
As a Jungian scholar and someone passionate about mythology and symbolism, what kind of connection do you see between art, poetry, and personal or archetypal psychology? Is art cosmic?
I believe in the cosmic nature of art. The archetypes are the essential movers behind all forms of creative endeavors (visual, verbal, musical), and personal psychology is also reflective of the archetypes at work during different circumstances and experiences. This is what Simply Being shows. Each poem has its own unique voice, and two poems from the same book can sound very different. The archetypal energies at work represent every single thought, idea, or personality that can potentially have a life of its own.
As a Jungian scholar I also believe in the Jungian method: the performance of our ideas. Active imagination. Acknowledging the many voices, which are true to our psyche. The connection—or rather, common factor—between art, poetry, and the archetypes lies in the nature of the symbol. Symbols are actually archetypal images, embodiments of psychic “matter”. And because archetypes are impersonal and universal in nature, the archetypal images (symbols) connect us with the cosmos.
What do the gods and their stories have to teach those of us who don’t see the world through a Romantic or mythic or religious lens?
It doesn’t matter, one does not need to view the world through the filter of myth or religiosity in order to learn from mythology, legends, hagiographies, etc. because these narratives are reflections of archetypes inherent in us all. And the archetypes are these gods, alive, immortal, collective, omnipotent, reborn through all of us, and have the power and ability to create. And their creative abilities/potentials are realized and actualized through us, through our art.
Hence literature and other forms of art that had always been modes of knowledge, as well as objects of beauty. It’s the repeated patterns (recast and re-awakened, generation after generation) that we learn from because we can relate to essential truths that have been acknowledged thousands of years ago and still speak to us in the same language of intuitively graspable knowledge. So whether we believe in them or not, these “gods” are in us, intrinsic and collectively shared.
Your book of poetry as a whole explores the theme of “being” and what that means philosophically, spiritually, and practically. I find it intriguing that so many of the tools we use to examine and express consciousness and the human experience are creative and not tangible- analysis, myth, spirituality, poetry, and art, to name a few. How does imagination help us understand existence? Does this suggest or prove that humans are different in their “being” than other animals or life forms? Is consciousness linked to self-consciousness and memory? Do writing and art reflect consciousness or did they create it?
The world, or life, is experienced in countless ways. Our empirical and rational perception of it is important, but it’s not all what really is. In an age of information and over-emphasis on the rational, sometimes it’s good to express the truth, rather than just read about it. That’s where the role of imagination comes into play.
And that’s what poetry, art, mythology, and religion show us: they express truths that can be scientifically explained. Sometimes we are more exact when we are more expressive, and we tend to understand more when we stop attempting to rationalize things and comprehend them (cognitively); at times, the connection we build with truths told by symbols, images, and metaphors has a lot more to teach us.
Thus, imagination helps us understand existence, as it works the archetypes into archetypal images, which is what art and writing is all about. The archetypes are potentialities that are actualized through our experience; they find their way into consciousness through many ways, art being one of them—so yes, I believe that writing and art reflect consciousness (and the conscious resurfacing of unconscious content).
Consciousness is linked to both self-consciousness and memory, though not exclusively.
As for the differences in “being” between humans and other life forms: our individual experiences, sensorial perceptions, and physical abilities vary, rendering us different in many ways. However, on a collective level, we share similar unconscious energies—again, the archetypes: their universal quality suggests that we share the same unconscious potentialities despite the fact that they are actualized or reflected differently. The interconnectedness between all life forms in the ecosystem suggests this common thread.
One artist you visit over and over as a writer and scholar is Vincent Van Gogh. He is also one of the most “ekphrasticized” painters in history, and we never tire of his imagery in museums, on mouse pads, pillow cases, and t-shirts. What is the draw for you personally? Why do you think his pictures are so essential to so many people?
Van Gogh himself was an ekphrastic painter—he wrote and appreciated poetry, and he saw painting as another medium for it, one that is accessible to all, claiming that “poetry surrounds us everywhere, but putting it on paper is, alas, not so easy as looking at it.” He considered his paintings as visual poems.
More or less, the popularity and accessibility of Van Gogh’s works lies in his colourful depictions of nature, which was very inspirational and important to him. Van Gogh, as a derelict who greatly suffered from poverty and illness in life, shows how there is always room for happiness in life, and in nature especially. We can feel his attempt to preserve life energy in his artwork, for he himself had announced that the only time he feels alive is when he paints.
He found colours in the deepest depths of night, saying “I often think that the night is more alive and more richly coloured than the day”. Van Gogh’s paintings were all about light and brightness. Take for example his starry nights, yellow haystacks, and golden sunflowers, which people of all ages have enjoyed contemplating. He has brightened the lives of millions of homes that host replicas of these masterpieces. It’s the fact that they are sunflowers and the fact that his use of the colour yellow was very unique—he tries to capture the sun, to bring brightness and life into the inanimate. It was an incredibly special colour to him: “How lovely yellow is! It stands for the sun.”
And in his own way, Van Gogh was aware of the archetypal energies behind his work—he declared that he dreamt of paintings and painted his dreams. He understood the therapeutic powers of art, nature, and poetry, saying, “I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?”
And this therapy is contagious, which I truly believe to be the main reason behind the popularity of his paintings; the eyes of his fans can sense this positive energy that found life in his paintings, despite the artist’s hardships.
Is ekphrastic writing a form of therapy or psychoanalysis?
Well, in a way, the patience and contemplation involved in writing ekphrastic poetry (along with the focus and the internalization, articulation and projection of experience onto art) is therapeutic. During hard times like these, with all the seeming inscrutability of the world, it helps to quiet down our minds, “commit metaphors” (also from “Moonlighting”) and open our eyes to a few things we never really stopped to contemplate before. During the deepest of uncertainties, it makes us realize that there is an ineffability of the world that we must respect.
As for the psychoanalysis aspect: although I am against regarding art as symptomatic or as a diagnostic tool, the projective nature of ekphrastic writing definitely manifests psychic content reflected through symbols and images. As I had mentioned earlier, the artist or poet is a vessel for art, for the concrete actualization of the archetypes.
What other poets are you reading right now?
I always go back to T.S. Eliot and Hilda Doolittle (HD). But I especially enjoy reading contemporary poetry such as the works of Ruth Padel, Nick Laird, Anthony Anaxagorou, and the wonderful contributors to Indelible: Hedy Habra, Steve Pottinger, Christine Murray, and my friend and fellow poet, Omar Sabbagh.
Chiron Publications, 2021
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Dr. Roula-Maria Dib has a PhD from the University of Leeds in the UK. She is an Assistant Professor of English at the American University in Dubai, and the founder and editor-in-chief of Indelible, a literary journal. She is the organizer of the university’s Poetry and Spoken Word Open Mic series.
Dr. Dib is a creative writer and literary researcher. Her research interests lie at the interstices of psychoanalysis, mythology, modernism, and gender studies, which involve frequent forays into Jungian psychology, interdisciplinary works on the literary and visual arts, and the bridge between modernist literature and science.
Her poems, essays, and articles have appeared in numerous journals. She has authored a book, Jungian Metaphor in Modernist Literature (Routledge, 2020). Her hobbies include reading, traveling, photography, writing, and cooking.
Click here to read Roula-Maria's poetry and prose in the archives of The Ekphrastic Review.
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