The Iraqi Poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab

[Note: This is the 15th 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 #15

Basra 3/16/1962

My Dear Brother Yusuf (al-Khal),

I miss you very much, but we will meet soon, God willing. I received a telegram from Simon Jarji in which he asks me if I can be in Beirut between the 10th and the 17th of April. He also says that the International Organization for the freedom of Culture will bear the expense of my travel and lodging. I will be in Beirut between these dates, with God’s help.

I now have “21” new poems, and I will strive to find a buyer for these poems in Beirut. I am in extreme poverty and will come to Beirut carrying only a few Dinars in my pocket. Perhaps you will be able to arrange something for me while I am in Beirut. As for waiting for a month, this is extremely difficult. I will write the “The Iraq Message” for you while I am in Beirut. All the literary news is in Baghdad…I will visit Baghdad on my way and will gather from there all the news that fits to be included in the “Message.”

I am now in a whirlwind of poetic activity. Damn poetry. It neither satisfies your hunger nor dresses up your nakedness. The translation of a single book for the Franklin establishment, for instance, generates the same money as multiple volumes of poetry.

Jamil Jabr did not send me anything. However, why him? Why Jamil Jabr and no one else? “The Songs of Mihyar the Damascene” dazzled me. As I have always known, Adunis is truly a great poet.

And Dr. Idris, {……}? I think his journal has been forbidden from entering Syria. Does he intend to punish “Shi’r” by preventing its circulation in Damascus or Egypt? Let him {………….} He is losing the best of his writers and poets one after the other. Muhyi al-Din Mohammad was the last of those “lost” authors according to what he told me in a letter. Is it true that he will come to Beirut in order to participate in editing the journal, “Adab?” That will be a great event. The good and honest word will triumph in the end, not the exaggerations or ‘Antariyyat (…..). Prepare for me a martini with a small (drop) of vermouth. This is the only drink that I miss. As for Adunis, his “domestic” experience, certainly not his personal experience, is in preparing appetizers… and buying whisky from the market.

Kiss Jawad for me, and convey my greetings to Adunis, Rafik, Shawqi, Laila Baalbaki, Lour Ghurayeb, and the family.

Take care of yourself.

Sincerely yours,
Badr 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. 182) Translated from the original Arabic and with an introduction by George Nicolas El-Hage, Ph.D., Columbia University.]