Sargon Boulus: An Album سركون بولص: ألبوم صور

سركون بولص: مواليد ١٩٤٤؛ 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:

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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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Most are group photos of our small group, which included Elke, Sargon’s longtime (German) partner of > 25 years, my husband Larry and me, and our son, Alec–at various ages from a baby to pre-teen—along with occasional others. Many are of social events located around a dinner or lunch table.  Elke also had a daughter who I think was in her teens when Elke and Sargon first got together, and later married. The baby/boy in the photos is always Alec, as he is growing up,  so his age, from baby to preteen gives you a sense of the chronological order – that plus the amount of silver in Sargon’s hair.

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The photo of Sargon barbecuing with the two little children includes our son and Elke’s granddaughter. It is taken on the large outdoor back deck at their home in South San Francisco. Other photos taken in their home include a large butterfly graphic that had been made by a friend and that hung in the dining room. Some photos are taken at our house across the bay from San Francisco (right next to Berkeley, a small city that Sargon loved—especially the bookstores which he always visited when over our way.) Other photos are along the ocean coast south of San Francisco (not the bay). These photos include a visit to a small park in Pacifica (i.e. a community along the Pacific coast) when we were all much younger, and also the photos where Sargon and Elke both look older and sicker, but happy to be out. These areas along the Pacific Ocean are located just over the hills from where Sargon and Elke lived.

The photo of three women and Sargon (Elke, her sister and me) was taken in Germany where we had traveled. Sargon had gotten an artist’s grant to live and write in a little German village called Schoppingen. He was so pleased to host us. In the Schoppingen photos Sargon has on a grey, long-sleeved pull-over, and Elke has on a mostly blue, silk jacket. In one photo she is leaning over him, and in another, Sargon and Alec and Elke are at a table with blue curtains behind them. (I believe Sargon had also received some sort of artist’s recognition at the Goethe Institute in Germany at some prior time, but I don’t know more about that.)  

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The hospital photos are from when Sargon was recovering from a heart attack and bypass surgery. There is another photo where Sargon is at a conference table with some colleagues. That was taken at an international poet’s conference (in Qatar I think). He gave it to me to demonstrate how much he used the teal blue satchel we gave to him for the trip – first after his surgery.

The two photos in a room at our house with my husband and Sargon at a computer are really rather special photos. Personal computers had been out for a while and we had one which I mostly used. As a writer, Sargon was committed to longhand writing, or at least one of those old, one-finger-at-a-time typewriters. He wasn’t much interested in computers, except that by the time of this photo, he was having trouble keeping up with his writing. We were telling him he needed a computer, and about the use of a word processor. So we all exited to the study where Alec was practicing the piano, Elke was watching, Larry was demonstrating, Sargon was very interested in what he was seeing and learning, and I took photos. He soon got a computer after that, and never looked back!

We all had great times together, although Sargon would work deep into the nights with his writing between such light occasions. We still miss him a lot. He was jovial and fun with an infectious sense of humor, yet profound and insightful. He could carry an evening with his analysis of world events and both Larry and I (and Aleck)  learned a lot from him. But then he also listened to us too, and we shared wonderful exchanges.

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The studies of Sargon are photos taken when he was very ill. He wanted me to take a number of them to document what he then looked like – including the ones in the pharmacy and the studies of his face. (There are some where he looks worse, but I can’t bear to share them.) Elke was also not well near the end of Sargon’s life. She was with him in Berlin where he would soon die, but he knew she needed more attention than he could give her, so he arranged for her to fly back to the U.S. by herself where her daughter would meet her at the airport, and then care for her until she would also pass on. I visited Elke during the interval between Sargon’s death and hers, and for a while it was all very confusing for her that he was gone, but then she accepted it while she gradually faded away. We live on and remember them both and our wonderful times together. Sargon and Elke will always be special people to our family.

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As you may know (I didn’t know until Sargon told us), although Gibran spoke and wrote in Arabic, he actually wrote The Prophet in English. Therefore, the only Arabic versions are translations. Sargon thought that those translations were all wrong. He thought there was a reason that Gibran wrote it in English, and Sargon’s translation spoke to that reason. He felt that the book had more to say than had been interpreted in the current Arabic translations. This was a very important project for Sargon, and he worked on it for a long time. He was always very excited to talk about it. He thought that his translation would have a strong impact on the Arabic-speaking world. I know he was talking about it with colleagues, and also with publishers. Then he went to Berlin, and there he died. 

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Photos courtesy of Larry and Marilyn Jossens

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One response to Sargon Boulus: An Album سركون بولص: ألبوم صور

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