Flipping through the pages of “Aqras Al-Musakin (Pain Killers), the new release from the Malamih Publishing House, was a nostalgic experience. It brought back to mind a get-together with its author, Hany Samy, some four or five years ago when he broke the news of not going to his final exams in the school of engineering and shifting his studies to theater.
Today, “Pain Killers sees him venturing into a new artistic continuum of self-expression through yet another form, in addition to theater and poetry.
In “Pain Killers, Hany Samy presents a genealogy of emotions that have been a close companion throughout the past few years. Again, in a coffee shop, he drew on the table the lineage of those sentiments.
It starts with a man in a state of rejection, constantly complaining. He grumbles about urban chaos, failing love and challenged expression. The pain grows, veiling its trivialization in the form of complaints. He reaches a deep level of dark cynicism, free of articulated complaints, and eventually falls into an abyss. From there, he starts to pick up on the rest of the continuum with an expression marked with hope, and an eye for salvation inspired by a biblical puritanical reference.
Among my favorite pieces in this illustrated poetry collection are “Farasha Fil Madina (Butterfly in the City), “Awil Al-Mawt (The Beginning of Death), “Khamsa Wa ‘Eshroun (25), and “Al-Agneha Al-Khashabeya (Wooden Wings).
The poems are filled with references to such issues as urban unrest, spiritual death, the nihilism that comes with age and the common dream to break free of all stifling chains. Samy liked them too, but added “Al-Muharig Al-Akhir (The Last Clown) to the list, a tribute to his self-perception as a theatrical performer.
The other forte of the collection are the illustrations intersecting the poetry, created by Sherif Samy, Hany’s brother. Sherif is a master of the art of drawing, which for Hany, is a boundless source of communication. The drawings are witty and highly communicative, positioning the book well into the grand visual world that surrounds it. It breaks the rigid barriers between different artistic forms and comes well into a contemporary art world where multiple media harmoniously feed into each other.
The level of interaction between words and illustrations is yet another score in this experimental design, manifested particularly in the use of space around the words and the unconventional layout of text on the page. Like their authors, the text and the illustrations proved to be tied by a sort of organic link.
Samy explored how poetry compares to drama as a medium of expression. In both worlds, feelings are condensed, reduced to a page, to a word. Sometimes, “Pain Killers whispers a sense of apprehension from expounding, from saying more, which, if true, can transform poetry into a convenient space of expression.
“I have a fear of expressing myself in long text and that’s why I never ventured to write a short story, he says. Samy’s fears are rooted in how the word sometimes fail to capture the enormity of inner feelings and complex psyches.
He chose Arabic to convey that word, amidst a mishmash of languages, French in upbringing and English in education, because Arabic is the language of “the depth of my depths as he phrases it. But “Pain Killers does not necessarily celebrate Arabic as a language, neither does Samy, for whom a language is only a tool that helps to unfold his creativity; and like all other tools, it has its own limitations.
“It’s like a play. I have the inspiration, the ideas, the text and all those flowery things. And I have the grounds of reality to work with. What will come out is something in between. It is not a flowery picture because that is not logical and it is not reality because that is too boring.
The outcome is a melding of the aggressive and the beautiful, the dream and the reality, of which language is relegated into a conductive tool with strengths and fallouts. Samy goes back to the theater, since the analogy of drama is the offspring of archaic and apollonian arts; a conflict intersected with constant moments of reconciliation.
This outcome represents the essence of “Pain Killers. Although it ends with a blush of unexpected uncontested hope, it is not a naïve representation of the beauty of dreams and the ferocity of reality. It is rather a nuanced representation of everyday life as reproduced in one’s imagination; an existence with which anyone can identify, regardless of the difference in contexts and experiences.
When he attempted to describe the sceneries of the everyday life from where a lot of his inspiration stems, he mentioned the words “absurd, comic and painful. This very randomness is the heart of “Pain Killers, a poetry that does not draw on the wordiness of the language to convey a picture, since the picture is telling in and of itself.
“The scene has uncovered itself, to use his own description and “Success, is when you open your mouth, and scream, and a sound comes out, to use his own poetry. “It is like an overloaded donkey cart in one of Cairo’s streets that reversed its driver to the back, while the donkey went up, when it is supposed to bear the burden. It is absurd, and yet so normal.
This is every-day Cairo, and the style, adopted extensively by contemporary artists, does not try to make sense of the chaos or to rationalize it, but rather to delve into it and become part of it.