Endre Farkas: We both had a desire to create, contribute to and engage our community — the writing community not the familial/cultural/religious one. Our earliest collaborations involved moving poetry off the page. In 2004, for National Poetry Month, we put the poems of twenty Quebec poets on 1,600 Montreal buses. It was wonderful to see poetry crisscrossing the city. We even had a poem-spotting contest where the winner of the most poems spotted won a free bus pass. In 2005, we came up with Circus of Words / Cirque des mots, one of Montreal’s most exciting cabarets of performance-based poetry, which first “pitched its tent” at the Sala Rossa on Montreal’s celebrated St. Laurent Boulevard. In 2010, it moved to the Segal Centre for Performing Arts. Our annual show features poets, musicians, dancers, actors, and video artists collaborating for an evening of interdisciplinary, poetry-inspired performances.
Carolyn Marie Souaid: In 2005, we were part of a delegation of Canadian poets invited to Paris to participate in the fourth Symposium against Isolation and Torture. Before the trip, Endre was asked to edit some diary entries of political prisoners that had been smuggled out of jails. A magazine wanted to publish them in time for the conference. The letters were so moving and powerful that Endre decided to use the prisoners’ own words to build a two-voiced text which we performed live at the conference. I translated it into French so we could present it in both languages.
Endre: Part of what made the trip interesting were the heated discussions we had about Israel and the Arab world with some of the Middle Eastern delegates we met there. Shortly after we returned to Canada, Carolyn agreed to be the editor of my book of selected poems. And then, as though politics couldn’t leave us alone, a new war erupted between Lebanon and Israel. It was July of 2006 and as tensions in the Middle East escalated, the deep-seated cultural baggage from our families and cultures began to resurface. The conflict going on “over there” suddenly became the elephant in the room here.
Carolyn: To maintain the peace (and our friendship), we began to send e-mails back and forth to each other about the situation. It seemed like a safe way to exchange impressions and observations. With time, the analytical language morphed into poetry.
I think Israel is overreacting but it’s a survivalist’s instinct and I think there is the rub. It is a survivalist’s instinct against the desire of radicals to exterminate them. It is hard to live in a neighbourhood where everyone wants you not only gone but extinct. — E.F.
My mother, called with news of Lebanon. She spoke to our family in Beit Mery (up in the mountains.)…They live in these beautiful limestone houses that interconnect with secret passageways and staircases, one family deeply entwined with the next. Everyone all day coming & going. Drinking coffee, baking together. The younger generation of women along with the older ladies in stiff dark dresses. The men smoking and pontificating. It’s the real extended family all living together in one space.
Anyway, the matriarch of that place… the one who tied the blue ribbon around Alex’s crib and prayed every day several times a day, to keep him safe from the evil eye, was so medicated she could hardly speak to my mom except to say that they haven’t slept in nights due to the incessant sound of bombs and explosions in the valley below. Their streets are still untouched and my cousin, the one who arranged the adoption and found Alex for us, somehow still takes the 15-minute car ride into Beirut every day to get to work.
It occurred to me that Alex would be there now had we not saved him. And maybe, amid the wreckage, he would not. — C.M.S.