Syrian Poet Shawqy Baghdadi Dies at 94

Syrian poet and short-story writer Shawqy Baghdadi (1928-2023) died Sunday evening at the age of 94, according to multiple news reports.

Baghdadi remembered by Syrian novelist Khaled Khalifa.

Trained as a teacher, Baghdadi worked in Syrian schools and then in Algeria after the country’s independence from France. He returned to Damascus in 1972, where he helped found both the Syrian Writers Association (1951) and the Arab Writers Union (1969).

He authored numerous collections of poetry and short stories, as well as critical works.

In a study called The Poetic Endeavor of the Sixties’ Generation in Syria, (1985), Baghdadi described the shift that happened mid-century, here translated by Hazem Shekho: “An opportunity was available for a large number of young poets back then, that perhaps never existed for any other generation before them. This opportunity was the arrival of their social class to power, which consisted mostly of peasants and the petite bourgeoisie. This gave them a special audacity to challenge and cross prevailing traditions. The others, outside the realm of power, rushed with them, as did those of the same social background, like Fayez Khadoor and Nazih Abu Afash, and the Palestinian poets who lived in Syria, such as Ahmad Dahbur, Fawaz Eid, and Khaled Abu Khaled and others.”

However, Baghdadi writes, this situation did not last: “This optimism soon deteriorated when those rural poets, who dreamed of a nearby better world delivered by their comrades, clashed with the great paradox of an ally authority that held up beautiful slogans, but slid gradually into bureaucracy, autocracy, and the left-wing’s infantilism. Therefore, this optimism collapsed — or nearly. But not until the Six Days War in 1967 did those dreaming souls receive the decisive blow.”

Only a handful of Baghdadi’s works have been translated, including his “Friendship,” which appears in the 1989 anthology, Feathers and the Horizon : A Selection of Modern Poetry from across the Arab World, co-edited by Anne Fairbairn and Ghazi al-Gosaibi.