The Iraqi Poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab

[Note: This is the 16th 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 #16

al-Ma’qil 3/ 29/1962

My Dear Brother Mr. Jabra (Ibrahim Jabra),

Is it possible for any Iraqi to visit the beautiful Baghdad and to intentionally leave it? I will certainly try to arrange for “many visits” there in the summer beginning in June, God willing. However, this letter is devoted to business, to the story of Oxford that is long overdue, and not for chatting. The important thing is that I have a lot of new poetry that I will recite to you when we meet.

The following are my responses to the questions of Professor Hurani. I write it in Arabic so you may translate it according to how you see fit. You have the absolute right in responding as you wish:

1- Yes. I wish to study at any university other than Oxford, on the condition that I obtain an acceptance through the mediation of professor Hurani.
2- I was supposed to begin last academic year, but I postponed it until next year (next October), and I believe that it is difficult to postpone it a second time.
3- I prefer to write a thesis in the field of Arabic Studies or in Comparative Literature between Arabic and English Literature.

I received a telegram from Simon (Jarji), and I responded in the affirmative. I am just waiting for them to send me the ticket. However, it is going to be a good opportunity to see friends in Beirut especially the esteemed Professor Jamil Jabr from whom I did not receive anything.

I applaud The International Organization for the freedom of Culture on their selection.

Did you receive the Tunisian journal, “al-Fikr” yet? They have republished the lectures that were delivered at the conference in Rome. Likewise, the Syrian journal, “al-Thaqafa” published some of the lectures. It seems that my lecture has begun to find some favor in the Arab world because it is the only lecture that the Syrian journal, “al-Thaqafa,” has adopted.

Does Khalid Mustafa visit you these days? Does he have anything new? In my opinion, “Adab” is magnificent, and I have written to Yusuf (al-Khal) congratulating him, especially for his editorial that made “Suheil Idris” and his likes swallow a big stone.

I also liked the story of Laila al-Ba’albaki. Perhaps our tastes are old fashion!! I don’t know. Please convey Um Gailan’s and my regards to Um Sadir. I send my kisses to the turtle and to the rabbits in their eternal race. Did the turtle begin to run ahead of the rabbit in the beauty contest? I will see you soon, God willing.

Sincerely yours,

[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. 184) Translated from the original Arabic and with an introduction by George Nicolas El-Hage, Ph.D., Columbia University.]