The Iraqi ministry of culture announced recently that the family home of poet Badr Shaker al-Sayyab (1926-1969) will be turned into a cultural forum.

Sayyab1-wThe al-Sayyab home is in Jaikour, about 20 kilometers south of Basra. It will reportedly be renovated and turned into both a “cultural forum” and a museum. According to Al Shorfa, Abdul Qader al-Jumaily, director of the culture ministry’s media office:

“We are about to rehabilitate the house of our great poet al-Sayyab, to turn it into a cultural forum and a tourist museum that documents his poetry works and displays to the public his personal effects, pictures, scripts and audio recordings.”

The Jaikour home, and its surroundings, were central to al-Sayyab’s poetic ouvre. Youssef Rakha writes in Al-Ahram Weekly that the village:

…becomes, for Al-Sayyab, a kind of objective correlative not only for innocence and the first flutters of consciousness but for identity. He returns to it or to the surrounding area constantly in his poems, releasing memories, a sense of history and an infinite string of references with which to comment on subsequent, unrelated stories, anecdotes and events — even the Greek myths from which he sometimes drew inspiration, and which, through the imagery he employed, he transported into the settings of his childhood.

Al-Sayyab was hardly celebrated in his lifetime. He was imprisoned, pushed into tiny jobs, impoverished, and died tragically at the age of 38. However, in his short life, he was a central part of the revolution in Arab poetics.

According to Banipal: 

Together with fellow Iraqi poets, Nazik al-Malai’ka and Abdul Wahab al-Bayati, the Arab free verse poetry movement gained decisive momentum through the seven collections of Al-Sayyab published in the 1950s and early 1960s, notably the now renowned poem “Song of Rain” from his third and highly significant collection of 1960.

Rakha writes that al-Sayyab’s “funeral was a low-key event, and he went almost unnoticed. By 1971, however, a statue of the poet was installed in one of Basra’s main squares.”

You can read al-Sayyab’s “Rain Song” online, as well as “Return to Jaykur” and “Day Has Gone,” trans. Adnan Haydar and Michael Beard.

According to the report in Al-Shorfa, this is just the beginning, and “The ministry hopes to eventually restore the homes of all Iraqi pioneers – whether artists, literary figures, intellectuals or notable educators – and turn them into cultural and tourist sites, he said, adding that al-Sayyab’s house is a first step.”

All hopes to seeing Iraq again as a place where poets are celebrated.

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