Ali Znaidi

Tunisian poet Ali Znaidi’s poems rise up like flowers from the challenges he has faced as a writer. Now in full bloom, his work has been published numerous times with a new chapbook forthcoming. His craft is skillful and inventive and I sense a philosopher peeking out from behind his words. He writes in English as if it was his mother tongue, but the mystical voice of his ancestral gift cannot be hidden.

Read on to enjoy his poetry and our interview.

I Cut the Glass

As the inclement
storms unearth
the ground
I cut the grass, the glass
until I end up
w/ tiny stones.
— Ink crystallized.


   in a

The Interview:
Redefining beauty with Ali Znaidi.

Give me a little glimpse into the life of a poet in Tunisia.

Poetry is deeply rooted in Tunisian culture like any other Arab country because along their history Arabs are mostly known for their poetry. But, nowadays poetry is losing ground for other means of culture, especially music and visual media. Besides, prose is in the process of gaining some momentum in the cultural scene at the expense of poetry. This has an impact on the life of a poet in Tunisia.  Despite this fact, there are some established names, and even some of them participate in international poetry festivals and their poems are translated into some other languages.

Being a poet in Tunisia means to struggle because most poets here (and I assume this fact is applicable, in a way or another, in other parts of the world) do other jobs for a living because they cannot pay the bills with their writings and talent. Besides, being a poet in Tunisia means to make a strenuous effort to get exposure because it is very competitive when it comes to publishing. More and more poets are using modern technology to carve a name before being able to publish their first book or collection.

In Tunisia being a poet who writes in another language rather than Arabic or French is another story because most publishing houses publish creative works either in Arabic or French.  I am among a couple of names (which are counted on the fingers) who write poetry in English. So the struggle would be doubled. But, thanks to the Internet, I have the opportunity to be published in more than one hundred international magazines since I have been submitting, which is in itself a great accomplishment (and a record if I can say so), especially in my case as a nonnative speaker of English.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be and why?

I cannot name a place per se, but if I could live anywhere in the world I would choose a place where nature and especially people are almost all of the time friendly. Besides, I love a place that gives paramount importance to human beings through high standards of living and human rights which means an eradication of injustice, violence, and deprivation. Is there such a place? Give me some suggestions, please!

I say poetry is the language of the soul, what does poetry mean to you?

I consider poetry as a kind of a panacea. I write to heal my wounds and embellish my scars. Every word in a poem functions as an aspirin or a pill.

What do you find beautiful?

I find beauty in almost everything. But this depends most of the time on my mood. For instance, if I wake up on a good mood I find the sunrise very beautiful, a scene that has no beauty at all if I wake up perplexed. When in good mood, I can find beauty even in the cracks of a wall.

Besides, the notions of beauty and ugliness are being redefined. Take the example of Umberto Eco and his editions of two books, namely On Beauty and On Ugliness. So these latest theories and the “new” environments (“New”: due to some wars, global warming, and the transformations of many landscapes here and there) have an impact on our perceptions of beauty.

What are your interests aside from writing?

Apart from writing, I have a penchant for translation and blogging. Besides, I am an avid reader of anything related to alternative medicine. I am also a sucker for 80’s music.

Would you share with me about the poetry you have written in Arabic? How does it differ in its heart from your English writing?

Being a writer has haunted me since my childhood. I dreamt of being an established Arab writer. So, I started writing some poems and prose notes in Arabic when I was in high school. But this dream stopped due to certain circumstances. This dream revived when I started studying English literature at university. Exposure to English literature triggered me to resume writing. So I started writing in Arabic and English. But once again I stopped writing. (All those writings were just attempts and no word of them was published). 2012 was a turning point in my writing life as I came out of the closet and started writing solely in English and submitting to many ezines. Getting published here and there gave me the impetus to work more on my texts.

Writing in another language differs from writing in one’s mother tongue. The writer must struggle to appear as natural as a native speaker of that target language. In my case, I rely on a lot of readings to acquire “an English rhetoric,” something which would keep the flow going.

Thank you so much for the honor of featuring your work! What may we look forward to seeing from you next?

I am looking forward to the publication of my chapbook Taste of the Edge, which is forthcoming from Kind of a Hurricane Press (USA). I also have a short-short fiction manuscript waiting for a publisher. Besides, I have some little projects simmering in my mind.

Thank you for this interview. Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity to express myself. Best wishes for you, Annie Avery and for your magazine, Heard Magzine!

Ali Znaidi (b.1977) lives in Redeyef, Tunisia where he teaches English. His work has appeared in Mad Swirl, Stride Magazine, Red Fez, BlazeVox, Otoliths, streetcake, & elsewhere. His debut poetry chapbook Experimental Ruminations was published in September 2012 by Fowlpox Press (Canada). From time to time he blogs at – and tweets at @AliZnaidi