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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Youssef Rakha: Who the Fuck Is Charlie

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From the Miraj Nama of Shah Rukh, 15th century, showing the Prophet Muhammad astride his Buraq. Source: studyblue.com

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: benlowy.com

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

 

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 by Youssef Rakha

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.

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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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Banipal Interview with SARGON BOULUS

By Margret Obank

Sargon Boulus has the rare experience of being an Iraqi poet who has been part of the American poetry since the late sixties. Today he is passing this on to the new generation of young Arab poets through his poetry.

He is one of the most important Arab poets today. He started publishing poetry and short stories contributing to Shi’r magazine of Yousef Al-Khal and Adonis in Beirut. When he went to the US, he was ‘lost’ the Arab world until he re-emerged in the mid-80s with his Arrival in Where-City collection of poems.

His poems and translations have appeared in numerous Arab magazines and newspapers, and he published four collections of poetry. Now in his early fifties, Sargon seems still to have all the energy and vibrant imagination of his youthful days in Iraq and Beirut.

Besides writing poems and short stories, Sargon is well known as an accomplished translator into English and American poets such as Ezra Pound, W. H. Auden (he is soon to publish a complete an his translations of Auden together with extensive notes and an introduction on Auden’s life), W. S Shakespeare, Shelley, William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath, Robert Duncan, John Robert Bly, Anne Sexton, John Logan, and many other poets including Rilke, Neruda, Vasko Popa and Ho Chi Min.

Since the mid-80s, he has been on the move between San Francisco, Paris, London and Cologne a last year has lived in Schoppingen artists’ village in Germany, where I visited him last September. We spent a day under the Sh?ppingen sky, eating, drinking and talking about his life, his childhood, his views on poetic form and his endless experiments with the Arabic language.

I keep going back and forth into the past. The discovery which comes usually late is that most of the material that has made you and still works on you, even today, lies somewhere there, mostly in childhood, so that, in a way, I think that whatever happened to you in childhood, your circumstances, the place you lived in, the time, the happenings, these shape you up, especially if you are a poet, if you are a writer, and later on you would come back to this material and discover that that is your real capital. So I keep going, as I said, in these late poems back into that time, to shape them up anew, see them in a new way, kind of bracket in the perspective, tighten it and bring out the deepest possible meaning in those scenes and happenings and family background.

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