From Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi’s ‘A Friend’s Kitchen’

Next month, Poetry Translation Centre is releasing a collection of poetry by Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi, A Friend’s Kitchen, translated by Bryar Bajalan and Shook. To mark the occasion, they have shared an excerpt from the introduction and two poems from the collection.

An excerpt from the introduction to A Friend’s Kitchen

By Bryar Bajalan

In his poem ‘The Book of Sorrows’, Al-Saddiq illustrates the difficulties of living in exile and being exposed to new culture and a new way of life. In the poem he writes, ‘It was my first winter in the darkness of the small room near the big train station; the bustling of late-night workers coloured my lonely window with remarkable varieties of the pleasures of life, remarkable life.’ As Louis Aragon puts it in ‘Mimosas’, in this poem Al-Saddiq extends his hand to the subway and they both emerge from the ground to breathe.

In 2021 I attempted to puzzle out the strange phrases, allusions and metaphors in ‘The Book of Sorrows’ in order to create a film based on the poem. Al-Saddiq was very excited to hear about the film and to consider new ways to experiment with poetry. He is always open to exploring the vast possibilities of poetry and poetry translation that other forms of media empower.

I had planned to spend three days with Al-Saddiq to shoot the film. I was in a hurry. In the very early hours of our meeting, I asked Al-Saddiq, ‘What is the “remarkable life”?’

Al-Saddiq didn’t answer me with words.

We started our journey from Queensway, a busy thoroughfare in west London. We grabbed some falafel sandwiches and sat to eat in Hyde Park while talking about modern Iraqi poetry. Al-Saddiq gave me a tour of each of his haunts in those early years, including a tiny makeshift nest on the second floor, a little falafel shop, his local pub, and several bookstores, as well as the corner where the Sudanese gather to play dominoes while they run their businesses.

Then, in the same way Sufis commemorate the death of their forebears, we visited the house of Sarah Maguire, founder of the Poetry Translation Centre and a champion of Al-Saddiq’s work in translation, to keep her legacy and memory alive.


Al-Saddiq once told me that he is inspired by the Sudanese poet Muhammad Mahdi al-Majzob, quoting him: ‘I dream of a generation that makes writing as essential a part of living as drinking water’. For Al-Saddiq, to write is to live. His poetry is an attempt to establish our interconnectedness and foster a sense of community. Like a dervish, Al-Saddiq is seeking comfort and emotional relief in times of trauma and grief. Poetry, and this translation project, is an attempt to understand the ‘strangeness of the sounds’ and climb over the ‘wall of language’. It is looking for familiarity in a place where: ‘Everything… / Everything… / Invokes your exile / Everything shouts: Hey, lonely!

Every time Al-Saddiq and I meet, every time we read, translate, and live out a poem, every time we cry and laugh to our bones, every time we gossip about the poets who couldn’t keep up the good work – that is the remarkable life.

The Book of Sorrows

It was my first winter in the darkness of the small room near the big train station; the bustling of late-night workers coloured my lonely window with remarkable varieties of the pleasures of life, remarkable life.

Your warm voice on the phone ignited winter’s spine with a flaming, flirtatious whip, while the rain splattered against the window of a car moving so fast it seemed to drag the bridge towards the abyss.

Not just the train station, not your warm voice on the line, not the nostalgia hoarded in the tiny window of my screen, not your name or room number, not the colours in the window.

Our interwoven fingers stirred something in their own right, as did the number for the ambulance, the many colours of the box!


My Corpse in the River

The killers are dancing on my body
I had joy enough
Before the traitorous bullet
The square was full of hopes and dreams
I think it still is, now spurred by my blood On the protest square

Hopes and dreams
Still glimmer
Women of all ages – the mothers and their ululations Making food
And the young men with their youthful zeal
Everything stimulates our will to live!
The songs
The cheerful graffiti, the incantations and prayers
I become magnificent exploring the festive square
I’m blooming – this is my soil
I’m blooming – this is my homeland
And I am the link between them
I am the master of this place and possibility!
My body is still in the river
I listen carefully to my comrades’ banging on the tunnel And on the iron bridge – just as we had agreed
I listen to the doves’ cooing
So fragrant – and their trilling, brighter than brightness I still choose joy and I’m close to drowning!

My body is in the river – still
And I listen still, delighted by the voices of my comrades

Still delighted by their embraces
I forget the roaring torrent of bullets and betrayals
I am still listening to the ululations – till the very end I survive by the thinnest thread of a scent
Still alive, my body in the river
Living this life!

Find more about the collection at the Poetry Translation Centre website.

Also, watch a filmpoem based on “The Book of Sorrows: