The Iraqi Poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab

[Note: This is the 13th in a series of translations of selected letters of the noted Iraqi poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab. For more information on the poet, click here.]

Letter #13

Basra 7/13/1961

My Dear Brother Abdel Karim (al-Na’im),

I send you an Arab greeting.

It was good of you to write to me again especially after I lost, along with a number of papers and poems, your previous letter in which you mentioned your new address.

Regarding the campaign of “al-Adaab” against me, let me explain. About two years ago, Suheil Idris requested my approval to let Dar al-Adaab publish my poetry collection. I promised they could, and he was waiting for me to send him the drafts. However, I had no drafts except the poems that had been previously published in the journals “al-Adaab” and “Shi’r,” etc. Then the “Shi’r” journal volunteered to search for my poems and collect them. In the meantime, my collection, “Hymn of the Rain,” was published. All of this together with my decision to cease publishing in al-Adaab and limit my publishing only to “Shi’r” angered Suheil Idris. Furthermore, it is clear that Mr. (Elie Hawi) wanted – in his criticism – to prove that his brother, Khalil Hawi, was a better poet than I.

Concerning my continuous publication in “Shi’r,” there is a bond of poetic friendship that ties me to Yusuf al-Khal, its owner, as well as to a number of its pillars despite my disagreement with them concerning our political direction. Nevertheless, it is the “Shi’r movement” that represents the correct direction for modern Arabic poetry. I am against those who wish to impose on people a single political direction, or more accurately, a single partisan direction. I am not one of those who believe in partisanship, and it is impossible for me to follow the direction of this or that person.

Take care of yourself for your brother. My sincere thanks for the article that you sent to the Damascene Journal al-Thaqafa), regardless of whether or not it is published.

Badr Shakir al-Sayyab

[From the book, al-Sayyab’s Letters, by Majid al-Samurra’i, (Beirut: Al-Mu’assasa al-‘Arabiya li-al-dirasat wa-al-Nashr, Second Edition, 1994, p. 164) Translated from the original Arabic and with an introduction by George Nicolas El-Hage, Ph.D., Columbia University.]