5 questions for the first international poet-in-residence

On Friday she arrived in Groningen from Greece. On Monday Sofia Manouki (29), master student of Religion, Conflict and Globalisation took her place at the opening of the Academic Year as the very first international poet-in-residence of the university of Groningen.
By Christien Boomsma / Photo by Reyer Boxem

You’ll be writing poetry in a language that is not your mother tongue. Won’t that be really hard?

‘Well, I’m half Greek and half Japanese and I’ll be writing in English. Because I grew up with that background it’s easy for me to express myself in different languages. It comes naturally. And of course English is not the mother tongue of the Dutch people either. So we’ll both try to reach out to each other through a language that is not our own. It will be an interesting experiment for all of us.’

You signed up for a Dutch course already. Does that mean you’ll also try to write in Dutch?

‘I think language is the key to a culture. So yes, that is definitely the plan. Not at first of course. I’d like to start out incorporating some Dutch words at first and certain concepts that are unique to the Netherlands, like gedogen and ietsisme. These are very new and intersting things to me and I definitely want to explore them.’

The jury that chose you said you were not afraid to choose your own style and let go of conventions. Still, you only started writing poetry a year ago…

‘Yes! It took me a while to get to poetry. I started out writing prose. But the way I was writing prose was poetic in itself. My texts were allegoric and symbolic, so the language was already poetic. I just hadn’t realised that I should turn to poetry.

But then I learned French and started reading French poetry. I realised it really is the most direct way to reach out to people. In prose you would have to give the setting, describe the character, use a lot more detail; but as a poet you can just straight out present your emotions.’

How do your poems originate?

‘Writing them is a bit of an emotional need. Perhaps it is something I noticed in my daily routine, that I havent fully expressed in my mind, but it sort of bugs me in the background. And then at night, when I sit and write, it will come out as an observation of a grievance.

It’s like when you see a dream and it’s very surreal and than you wake up, it starts to make sense. So I think the idea for the poem already exists, but is not fully formed in my head. And as I sit and write it becomes expressed for the first time for me as well.’

The jury had great things to say about you. How important is that praise?

‘Appreciation is nice, but you can’t afford to self censor in order to appeal to everyone. You’ll never appeal to everyone. My poems are about being honest with how I feel about things.

It takes guts to put anything that is important to you out there to begin with. So I think a poet would have to be tough enough to know that sometimes, the entire world is not going to love you. That’s okay. That’s why we have pets.’

Monday, Sofia Manouki’s read her very first poem as in-house poet at the opening of the academic year

University

Déception!
I wanted to expa–nd
but lost my antennae like a dead cockroach//

Déception!
Exam material in apathetic eyes,
not apathetic pages!

Déception!
I planted a pine tree when I was six
to grow together
but we’re only growing deader now
of a mysterious itch

I, too, a Déception!
Gathered all pieces of a broken punch
though I clearly said I didn’t care
and packed my things for Groningen
to go and get a cure.

By Sofia Manouki

Nederlands

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