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Iraqi poets who lived in expatriation

Iraqi poets who lived in expatriation
The flag of Iraq. The flag of Iraq.

Poetry News Agency | Ziyad Maiman (

Maybe living in exile was the major reason for abundance of many Iraqi poets and litterateurs’ literary products, although this is not a standard. It is said that suffering create creativity, regardless of its kind, maybe it is a true saying and maybe not, as when we take a closer look at history we will find many poets who left their country and left a vast and brilliant literary legacy, especially in Iraq.

Abd al-Wahhab Al-Bayati (December 19 1926–August 3 1999) was an Iraqi poet. He was a pioneer in his field and defied conventional form of poetry that had been common for centuries.

He was born in Baghdad, near the shrine of the 12th century Sufi Abdel Qadir al-Jilani. In this respect, al-Bayati is unique among his peers, most of whom share pastoral roots. A man of the city, he lived close to the political heartbeat most of his life—one of his friends, Ahmed Abdel-Moeti Hegazi, said urban centers of "hotels and institutions, cafés and airports" were actually his temporary residences. London, Moscow, Madrid and Baghdad are all represented in his poetry. He attended Baghdad University, and became a teacher after graduating from Dar Al-Mu'allimin (the Teacher's College) in 1950, the same year that he released his first collection of poems, Mala'ika wa Shayatin (Angels and Devils). In addition to teaching in public schools, al-Bayati also edited the popular and widely-circulated cultural magazine Al-Thaqafa A-Jadida (The New Culture). In 1954 he left Iraq after being dismissed from his positions because of his radical communist political views and anti-government activity, and moved to Damascus. Although he returned to Damascus at the end of his life, his early wanderings also took him to Cairo, Beirut and a number of Western capitals. Always involved in world affairs, some of al-Bayati's poems are in fact addressed to international figures such as TS Eliot and Chee Guevara. Not much information is available about his personal life. Before his exile, he married, but his wife and four children are mentioned only in passing in the few available biographies. This may be because they remained in Iraq after his departure.

After spending four years living in exile in Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, al-Bayyati returned to Iraq in 1958 after a military coup d'état during which Crown Prince Abdul Illah and his nephew King Faisal were assassinated. The new republican government gave him a post in the Ministry of Education, after which he went to Moscow as a cultural attache representing the Iraqi embassy. Al-Bayati resigned from this post in 1961, but did not return to Iraq right away. He continued to live in Russia, teaching at the Asian and African People's Institute of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. He stayed in Eastern Europe, traveling often, and returned briefly to Iraq in 1964, only to move to Cairo within the year. In the mid-1970s Al-Bayati moved between Cairo, Paris, London, Madrid, Jeddah and Delphi, never staying in one place long but always returning to the Middle East. For the remainder of his life, Al-Bayati moved between his homeland and the rest of the world. "I've always searched for the sun's springs," he said, "When a human being stays in one place, he's likely to die. People too stagnate like water and air. Therefore the death of nature, of words, of the spirit has prompted me to keep travelling, so as to encounter new suns, new springs, new horizons. A whole new world being born."

Although Al-Bayati was philosophical about his wandering, it was not solely a personal choice. His communist politics made trouble for him throughout his whole life. When the pan-Arab, socialist Ba'ath Party took control of Iraq from the 'Arif party in 1968, Al-Bayati returned home only to flee a brutal campaign against liberals a few years later. He returned in 1972 to receive honors from the new government, and in 1980 was again assigned as a cultural attaché and was sent by Saddam Hussein to the embassy in Madrid. When Hussein's government invaded Kuwait in 1990, Al-Bayati left Spain and took refuge in Jordan and later Syria. In 1995, Hussein revoked his citizenship as punishment for Al-Bayati's participation in a Saudi Arabian cultural festival. Al-Bayati's difficulty with Iraq over the course of his life became the subject of much of his writing. There is a story that he once explained it by drawing comparisons between his relationship with Iraq and the story of Prometheus. "Of course," Al-Bayati said, "my relations with Iraqi governments were never conciliatory. I belong to the Iraqi people. I cannot separate myself from the people." He died in exile, apparently without any previously diagnosed illness, in Damascus on August 3, 1999.

Muhammad Mahdi Al-Jawahiri was born in 1890 in Najaf in Iraq. His father, 'Abd al-Husayn was a religious scholar among the clergy in Najaf who wanted his son to be a cleric as well. Therefore, he dressed him in an cleric's 'Abaya and turban at the age of ten. The origin of “Al-Jawahiri” goes back to his Najafi, Iraqi, Iranian family. Since the 11th century Hijri (15th century CE), the most famous people have inhabited Najaf, and individuals named al-Najafi have earned the title “Bejeweled” (or al-Jawahiri) for their relationship to the book of fiqh values (religious scholarship) which one of his family's ancestors Shaykh Muhammad Hasan al-Najafi had written. The books were referred to as the “the jewel of speech in explaining the laws of Islam” and was composed of 44 volumes. Afterwards he was known as the “owner of the jewels,” and his family came to be called “bejeweled” (al-Jawahiri).

Muhammad Mahdi read the holy Qur'an and did not memorize it at an early age. Then his father sent him to great teachers to teach him reading, writing, grammar, rhetoric and jurisprudence. His father and others planned for him to learn speech from Nahj al-Balagha and poetry from the works of Abu Tayyib al-Mutanabi.

Learning was organized at an early age and even in his childhood; he displayed an inclination for literature. He began to read the Book of Eloquence and Demonstration by Al-Jahiz and the Muqaddimah by Ibn Khaldun, and collections of poetry. It was early in his life when he first wore the clothing of a religious man and he participated in the 1920 revolution against the British authorities.

In 1928, he published the volume "Between Feelings and Emotions" his first poetry collection which he had been preparing since 1924 to distribute under the title "The Dangers of Poetry in Love, Nation and Ode." Then he worked for a short period in the court of King Faysal I when he was crowned king of Iraq and when he was still wearing the turban of a cleric. Then he left the clergy just as he left work in Faysal's court. After he left Najaf for Baghdad, he went to work in the press, and put out a group of papers – among them Al-Furat (The Euphrates), Al-Inqilab (The Coup), and Al-Ra'i al-'Am (The Common View). Several times, he was elected head of the union of Iraqi writers.

Iraqi poet Abdulraziq Abdulwahed is one of the renowned Iraqi poets who lived in Iraq until the American invasion, therefore, he travelled to Syria and from Syrian to various foreign countries.

He was born in Baghdad in Iraq in 1930, he graduated from the Teachers High Academy, Department of Arabic Language. He worked in teaching and got appointed many times at the Ministry of Culture and Information. He lived through Al Sayyab for a bit and learn a lot from him. A poetry competition in Syrian held his name, it is organised by the Iraqi Cultural Forum in Damascus.

Abdulwahed did not return to Iraq since the American invasion despite inviting him more than a time to visit Iraq, but in vain. He has a vast record of literary products.

Muzaffar Al Nawab (1934) one of the leading revolutionary poets in Iraq and the Arab world.

He was born in Baghdad in Iraq to an aristocratic Shiite family of Indian origins that appreciated art and literature as well as music.

He showed talent in poetry at an early age. His family suffered through difficult financial times as he was going to college, and during his period, he joined the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP). After graduation from the College of Literature, al Nawab became a teacher.

However, he was expelled for political reasons in 1955. He remained unemployed until the 1958 revolution, when he was appointed as an inspector at the Ministry of Education.

He fled Iraq in 1963 as a result of the fighting between the communists and the pan-Arabists. Al Nawab went to Iran through Basra and has written about the experiance in a number of his poets.

He was arrested and tortured by SAVAK, the Iranian secret police, before being surrendered to the Iraqi government. His death sentence, handed down for one of his poems, was changed to life imprisonment. He escaped from prison by digging a tunnel under the prison and fled to Ahwar, where he joined a communist faction that sought to overthought the government.

Al Nawab was arrested again and later released. He travelled to many countries, including Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and Eritrea, where he stayed with the Eritrean rebels, before returning to Iraq secretly.

He left the ICP in the mid-1970s and followed a more independent line. He completed his graduate work in Paris, travelled to Iran in 1982; wet to Algeria and Libya where he settled for a while.

His poetry is full of Arab, Islamic, and international leftist and revolutionary symbols, and he tried to incite public emotions against political corruption, decadence, and injustice, in harsh and sometimes profane words. In his early work, he used the dialect of southern Iraq because he believed this area was pregnant with revolution. However, because of the limited nature of his audience, he switched to classical language.

Buland Al Haidari, who has died in London aged 69, was an Iraqi poet, art critic and journalist; his nostalgic verse about Iraq found a wide audience in the Arab world.

Al-Haidari was one of a handful of Iraqi poets who revolutionised modern Arabic poetry. Inspired by the work of European modernists, such as Pound, Eliot, Yeats and Auden, they broke from the traditional forms of Arabic poetry with its strict rules of rhyme and metre and conventional subject matter, to write a free verse that was lyrical and emotional. His poetry was intimate rather than grandiose in tone, and inclined towards introspection and pessimism. It often returned to what one critic called "the individual's feeling of powerlessness against an enemy springing from the very heart of the nation".

Buland al-Haidari was born on Sept 26 1926, at Arbil, northern Iraq, into a prominent Kurdish family. Under the Hashemite monarchy then in power in Iraq, two seats in the cabinet were reserved for Kurds, and Haidari's uncle served as Minister of Justice until the monarchy was overthrown in 1958. The family moved to Baghdad when Buland was 10. As a young man in Baghdad, al-Haidari chose not to go to university in favour of the life of a café intellectual, studying art and literature and taking part in political activities. He began writing in Kurdish, later turning to Arabic. His first book of poetry, Mud Tremors, was written in 1948 and published in 1951.

The Ba'ath party seized power in Iraq in 1963, and launched a campaign against dissidents, Communists, Kurds, and anyone seen as a potential political opponent. Al-Haidari was imprisoned and sentenced to death, but pardoned five minutes before he was due to be hanged, possibly because of his prominence as a poet. On his release from prison, he went into exile in Lebanon with his wife and son. He spent 14 years in Lebanon, which he came to regard as his second homeland.

Poet Mustafa Jamal al-Din was born in 1927 in one of Souq Al Sheiyoukh (The Sheikhs Market) villages, south or Iraq. He studied and finished his education in Najaf. Then he was appointed as a lecturer at the Faculty of Jurisprudence in Najaf for possession of the top place among the successful students in 1962.

He got his Masters Degree in the Baghdad university in Baghdad in 1969 after three years of studying and researching. Then he got appointed as a professor at the university.

He left Iraq heading to Kuwait because of the pressure of the regime in Iraq. And from Kuwait he traveled to London, and then returned again. He was arrested in Kuwait (1984) then they made him choose either to live in Cyprus or Syria, so he chose Syria.

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