Sargon Boulus: An Album سركون بولص: ألبوم صور

سركون بولص: مواليد ١٩٤٤ الحبانية؛ توفي يوم ٢٢ أكتوبر ٢٠٠٧

“We knew that he was a wonderful poet (and also a painter for some time),” Marilyn Jossens wrote of Sargon Boulus (1944-2007), known to her and other San Francisco friends as Sergie. “We appreciated the fact that his soul was in the human condition, and in Iraq/Assyria and other areas of the Middle East, but I doubt many knew much of his life in the U.S.” She had noticed a piece recounting my first encounter with his voice. It took a long time for Marilyn and me to get in touch after she offered to share her photos of Sargon, the record of a life well lived, which I have opted to present as a montage rather than chronologically. I was glad to inform Marilyn of the fact that Sargon’s translation of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet from English to Arabic has already appeared with the Cologne-based Al-Kamel Verlag, along with his translations of Allen Ginsberg and Ted Hughes.

Below, in lieu of captions, are extracts from Marilyn’s letters:


حصلت المدونة – بالصدفة البحتة – على هذه الصور الفوتوغرافية للشاعر العراقي سركون بولص في سان فرانسيسكو وألمانيا من جاريه وصديقيه المقربين مارلين ولاري جوسنس، وتتضمن المجموعة صوراً من فترة تتجاوز العشرين عاماً يظهر فيها أحياناً مع الزوجين صاحبي الصور وابنهما، ومع رفيقة حياته الألمانية “إيلكه” وبنتها وحفيدها. تقول مارلين إنه حرص على تصوير وجهه في أيامه الأخيرة قبيل وفاته في ألمانيا يوم ٢٢ أكتوبر عام ٢٠٠٧.


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Who the F*** Is Charlie

The mere idea of contributing to the Charlie Hebdo colloquy is a problem. It’s a problem because, whether as a public tragedy or a defense of creative freedom, the incident was blown out of all proportion. It’s a problem because it’s been a moralistic free-for-all: to express solidarity is to omit context, to forego the meaning of your relation to the “slain” object of consensus, to become a hashtag. It’s a problem above all because it turns a small-scale crime of little significance outside France into a cultural trope.

Charlie Hebdo is not about the senseless (or else the political) killing of one party by another. It’s about a Platonic evil called Islam encroaching on the  peaceful, beneficent world order created and maintained by the post-Christian west. Defending the latter against the former, commentators not only presume what will sooner or later reduce to the racial superiority of the victim. They also misrepresent the perpetrator as an alien force independent of that order.

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Backgammon in the Ruins of an Old Palace of Saddam Hussein’s: Bezav Mahmod and the Image of Kurdistan

Once, long ago, my mother fled a genocide (the Al Anfal campaign). She fled on foot over massive Kurdish mountains carrying me on her back and my little brother in her stomach.

My grandparents, Kurdish villagers/farmers, were faced with brutal oppression. They were forced into the Kurdish struggle, taking up arms to resist the annihilation of their identity. For 50 years they lived with war and the struggle of the Kurds. My grandfather Selman Mahmod Bamernî became a peshmerga at an early age. He was involved in many bloody battles and lost many comrades in the process. He was seriously injured twice, and twice placed in Iraqi prisons. He was often separated from his family, once for over five years, so long that, when he came back, his youngest children did not recognize their own father. He has devoted his life to the Kurdish struggle. A humble person with honor, compassion and an absolutely wonderful sense of humor. He has made many laugh heartily in his day.

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Hilary Plum: They Dragged Them Through the Streets

From Storylines, Iraq 2088, by Benjamin Lowy. Source:

From Storylines, Iraq 2008, by Benjamin Lowy. Source:


In They Dragged Them Through the Streets, a veteran of the US war in Iraq commits suicide, and his brother joins with four friends in search of ways to protest the war. Together they undertake a series of small-scale bombings, until an explosion claims one of their own: Zechariah, or Z. The novel is structured around these two deaths, the veteran’s and the activist’s.

The four remaining friends—Ford, Vivienne, Sara, and “A”—narrate in turn; the excerpt below includes brief chapters by A and Vivienne. Throughout, the characters’ names often dissolve into initials—their intimate shorthand for one another.

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All those theres: Sargon Boulus’s Iraq

4 September 2011: Baghdad via San Francisco, for Youssef Rakha, makes more sense than Baghdad

Thanks to a flighty wi-fi connection at the riad where I stayed that time in Marrakesh, I heard Sargon Boulus (1944-2007) reading his poems for the first time. Sargon had died recently in Berlin – this was the closest I would get to meeting him – and, lapping up. the canned sound, I marvelled at his unusual career. He was an Iraqi who spent more or less all of his adult life outside Iraq, a Beatnik with roots in Kirkuk, an Assyrian who reinvented classical Arabic. He translated both Mahmoud Darwish and Howl.


In Sargon’s time and place there is an overbearing story of nation building, of (spurious) Arab-Muslim identity and of (mercenary) Struggle – against colonialism, against Israel, against capital – and that story left him completely out. More probably, he chose to stand apart from it, as he did from a literary scene that celebrated it more often than it did anything else. Is this what makes him the most important Arab poet for me?

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The four avatars of Hassan Blasim

REFUGEE: A man leaves, embarks on a journey, endures inhumane difficulties in search of a humane haven. There is a war going on where he comes from; it’s not safe even to walk to the vegetable souk. Abducted by one armed group, an ambulance driver he knows is forced to make a fake confession on video for the benefit of satellite news channels, then sold to another armed group—and so on.

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Three Versions of Copt: Sept 2011/Doors: April 2013


Yesterday evening, while I sat at this desk dreaming up cultural content for the pages I am in charge of, Twitter began turning up news of protesters being fired at and pelted with stones – but not run over by armored vehicles, not beaten repeatedly after they were dead, nor thrown into the Nile as bloodied corpses. Not yet. The location was outside the Radio and Television Union Building, along a stretch of the Nile known as Maspero.

This fact (of protesters being fired upon) along with some of the slogans suggested that the march under attack was Coptic. I in fact knew that most of those tweeting from the location of the shootings were Muslim, but every Coptic protest since 11 February had included Muslims. Ironically, no Arabic term has been coined that might translate CNN’s far more civil “pro-Coptic,” which is also the more accurate by far.

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