Iraqi poet Salah al-Hamdani


This video is called A poem of Nazim Hikmet.

From British daily The Morning Star:

A poet’s place

(Monday 11 August 2008)

POETRY: 21st Century Verse

ANDY CROFT recommends Salah al-Hamdani‘s Baghdad Mon Amour collection of poetry.

“It is the business of poets,” Alan Coren once joked, “to be neither here nor there.”

This may have been a throwaway gag about the unimportance of poetry in contemporary society, but it is interesting that the joke implies that poets do not belong anywhere and that poetry has no loyalties.

This could, of course, just possibly be one of the reasons why so much poetry seems so irrelevant.

Once, poets were popularly understood to speak for and to the societies to which they belonged.

Since the development of printing and publishing, however, the emergence of a reading public has helped to elevate poets into a separate and professional caste.

The Romantic idea of the rootless individual alienated from ordinary society by education, sensibility and mobility has, in our time, become the cult of the international poet as exile, crossing cultural, intellectual and linguistic borders.

This cult reached its logical conclusion a few years ago with the Martian poets, who wrote about life on earth as if they really were aliens.

But not all writers have the luxury of playing at being outsiders. You cannot measure exile only in years and miles.

The Iraqi poet grew up in a poor quarter of Baghdad in the 1950s and ’60s. One of nine children, he started work on the streets when he was just seven years old, working variously as a water carrier, waiter, mattress-maker and carpenter.

At 17, he joined the Iraqi army. Arrested for his involvement in an anti-Ba’athist group, he was imprisoned in Abu Ghraib and tortured. But he was also taught to read and write by the other political prisoners there. He started writing poetry.

Eventually released from prison, al-Hamdani escaped to Paris in 1975. He trained as an actor and is now a nationally known theatre, television and film actor in France. He has also published over 20 books of poetry in French and Arabic and is now a member of the French Communist Party.

Baghdad Mon Amour (Curbstone Press) is a fascinating, beautiful and wonderful book. Half poetry and half prose, it is a series of moving portraits about a Baghdad childhood, imprisonment under Saddam Hussein and exile in France.

Like the Marguerite Duras/Alain Res­nais film Hiroshima Mon Amour, it is a profound study in love, war and memory. “Stone hurled by a child of Palestine/I greet you/like a new moon over ancient Baghdad.”

Al-Hamdani offers a passionate critique of all violent petty nationalisms. “Of what use is oil, sand, clay, water, the old Babylonian stones with which the Iraqis have ceaselessly built their houses, their museums, if it’s to enclose themselves today with them behind barbed wire, in company with soldiers, and call that a fatherland?”

And he writes with an unyielding opposition to “the wars of Bush, Sharon and Saddam, those bastards, butchers of men.” …

The book ends defiantly with a quote from the great Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet. “To be captive, that is not the question/The question is not to surrender.”

Iraqi visual art: here.

2 thoughts on “Iraqi poet Salah al-Hamdani

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