Nearly four decades after his death at the age of 28, Riyad al-Saleh al-Hussein’s work remains a vibrant part of the poetic and imaginative landscape of Syria and beyond.
ArabLit contributor Ibtihal Mahmood wrote of his brief life:
A boyhood in Der’a; an early poetic talent interrupted by kidney failure; a loss of hearing at the age of 13 caused by a medical error; end of formal schooling; a trip to Bulgaria to alleviate the effects of the butchered medical procedure; relocation to Aleppo – then to Damascus; love; death; and burial in Mare’, Aleppo. Out of these elements, three collections of poetry sprang forth in his brief lifetime (Failure of Circulation, 1979; Daily Legends, 1980; Simple Like Water, Clear Like a Bullet, 1982). The latter was published only five months prior to his death.
His fourth collection of poetry, A Bull in a Jungle, was published one year later. The collection, Mahmoud writes, “ends with a poem titled “Habit,” with a final line that reads, ‘I have grown accustomed to awaiting you, O Revolution.'”
Raed Wahesh, writing on the paths of twentieth- and twenty-first century Syrian poetry, called him “perhaps the most prominent highlight” of the eighties generation of poets. His work, Wahesh wrote, became a reference for many poets who came after. And Syrian poet Ghayath al-Madhoun writes that, “The poetry in Syria before the Syrian Revolution in 2011 was mainly influenced by Riyad Al-Saleh Al-Hussein, who died young in 1982 at the age of twenty-eight, and Mohammed Almagout (1934-2006).”
A complete collection of the poet’s works appeared from Al Mutawassit Books in 2016. Only a handful of his poems, it seems, have been published in translation. Ghada Alatrash has generously rebuilt three of these poems in English translation, adding to the small corpus available in English.
Newly translated by Ghada Alatrash:
Other poems by Riyad al-Saleh al-Hussein in translation:
“A Small Revolution,” translated by Ibtihal Mahmood
“Silence,” translated by Mahmood
“The Sleeping Boy,” translated by Mahmood
“The Dagger,” translated by Daniel Behar