Saadi Youssef

Despite the absence of posts, I have been in and out of poetry circles and the poetry life. I went to a first-time local gathering of poets in White River Junction, Vermont, hosted by David Celone, a poet studying for his MFA in poetry at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. I was Nostalgia My Enemyluckily invited. Most of the attendees read their own poems, including Davide Celone; and I was also lucky enough to sit next to Peter Money; and to hear him read as well. If you visit his site, you’ll see a picture of him with Allen Ginsberg.

Besides being a poet, Peter is also a Vermont publisher and being favorable to all things Vermont, I asked if there was anything I could mention at my blog.  Peter mentioned Saadi Youseff and in a follow up e-mail, here’s how he described his relationship to the Iraqi poet, writer and thinker:

The contents of Nostalgia, My Enemy were arranged at my table, overlooking Mt. Ascutney, here in Vermont.  Every comma, dash, parenthesis, was met and marked by curve of maple branch, pine, gust of wind, movement of pond–here in Vermont.  It was, in fact, from this very atmosphere and landscape that my relationship with Arab intellectual Saadi Youssef, and my friend and co-translator Sinan Antoon (check out his City Lights novel), began.  Under the “pyramid, tsunami, altar” of the mountain shadow that looms over my writing. . . I came to meet Saadi and Sinan in earnest.  Hence, a translation “Made in Vermont!”  Sinan Antoon and I participated in the first Iraq-era Poetry Against The War reading in Hartland Four Corners, Vermont.  We later met up with Saadi Youssef at a PEN International Voices event in New York City.  . . .By the way, Saadi Youseff is keen on Lincoln, New Orleans, the chess players of Washington Square Park, and Walt Whitman (he translated Whitman into Arabic).

Every now and then I dream about a world without passports, checkpoints or countries where we are all one people united by a common humanity. I can’t, for the life of me, imagine such a thing ever coming true. Our separate ideologies and beliefs seem insurmountable and the vision of a borderless world, where we are free to live as we like, seems like nothing more than wishful foolishness; but in my heart of hearts I still yearn for it. My country is also everywhere.

From the back matter of the book:

transparent blank bar divider“Ever since I read Saadi Youssef he became the closest to my poetic taste. One finds the lucidity of a watercolor painting in his transparent poems and the rhythm of daily life in their soft tone. . . . He is one of our major poets who guided poetry or were guided by it to a rebellion against the hauteur of poetic language. He established a new rhetoric, ascetic on the surface, but in search of essence at its core. Saadi Youssef, whose poetry is in dialogue with the history of poetry, is like no other Arab poet. . . . I was enchanted by his complex simplicity in its search for the poetics of minutiae in the prose of life and for the secret relationship between the quotidian and the historical. I was even more enchanted by his attempt to clinch the vanishing present. If every poet contains several poets within and if the text is a conversation with other texts, as Octavio Paz says, then Saadi Youssef was one of the poets whose poetry trained me to excavate the poetic in what is seemingly non-poetic. . . . I have been asked often about my dry spells and I would always say: As long as Saadi is writing I feel he is writing on my behalf.” – Mahmoud Darwish

“Saadi Youssef was born in Iraq, but he has become, through the vicissitudes of history and the cosmopolitan appetites of his mind, a poet, not only of the Arab world, but of the human universe.” – Marilyn Hacker

Saadi Youssef is considered one of the most important living Iraqi intellectuals and one of the country’s greatest modern poets. From his exile in the suburbs of London, his writings have varied from angry invectives in essay forms attacking the US-led occupation of Iraq, to tender poems recollecting Iraq’s shards from memory. His poetic eye peers into New Orleans after it is devastated by Hurricane Katrina; it observes a homeless man in New York speaking to a squirrel; it follows butterflies in Columbia. “No more nostalgia,” Youssef has said. “My country is everywhere.”

2 responses

  1. Hi Patrick, nice of you to mention the poetry reading group in WRJ, and Peter Money’s translation of Youssef. The next reading is January 17th at 7 PM. Hope you can make it. Happy New Year. Dave Celone

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