Expatriate Iraq poet Saadi Youssef
February 14, 2003 5:55 PM   Subscribe

America, America: I too love jeans and jazz and Treasure Island. A poem from Saadi Youssef, published in this Saturday's Guardian (scroll down past Seamus Heaney):

Take what you do not have
and give us what we have.
Take the stripes of your flag
and give us the stars.
Take the Afghani Mujahideen beard
and give us Walt Whitman's beard filled with
Take Saddam Hussein
and give us Abraham Lincoln
or give us no one.

Saadi Youssef was born in 1934 near Basra, Iraq. He is considered to be among the greatest living Arab poets. Youssef has published 25 volumes of poetry, a book of short stories, a novel, four volumes of essays, a memoir, and numerous translations. In addition to being imprisoned for his poetry and politics, he has won numerous literary awards and recognitions. He now lives in London. [more inside]
posted by jokeefe (8 comments total)
Graywolf Press notes that "Youssef's greatest contribution to contemporary Arabic poetry lies in his consistent effort to preserve the dignity of personal experience, despite and within a context of difficult sociopolitical realities in his native Iraq and in the Arab world at large." Also see his poems The Village and Morning.
posted by jokeefe at 5:58 PM on February 14, 2003

Youssef's sentiment is certainly not shared by all Iraqi expats (also from The Guardian):

I am so frustrated by the appalling views of most of the British people, media and politicians. I want to say to all these people who are against the possible war, that if you think by doing so you are serving the interests of Iraqi people or saving them, you are not. You are effectively saving Saddam. You are depriving the Iraqi people of probably their last real chance get rid of him and to get out of this dark era in their history.
posted by pardonyou? at 6:42 PM on February 14, 2003

I should have pointed out that I wasn't trying to derail the thread, which was quite rightly focused on Youssef's work (which appears to be quite good, although I'm certainly no expert). I was actually hoping to post this other Iraqi's perspective somewhere, and this seemed as good a place as any.
posted by pardonyou? at 7:05 PM on February 14, 2003

Thanks, jokeefe -- it's good to discover a new poet, and to be reminded of the yeoman service Graywolf Press has rendered for almost 30 years now. From their About section: "After six months of fourteen-hour days, the first poetry book, Instructions to the Double by Tess Gallagher, was given life." I've treasured that book for years, and had no idea it was their first. Half a poem from it (if you don't mind another derail):

In our houses, the snow keeps us
traveling. It says: your life
is where you are. The phone
all day ringing by itself
over the next lot, isn't for you.

The man with the perfect
haircut makes a track
across the lawn, holding
his books like a
breast. Snowheart

you have said: don't cut your black hair.
posted by languagehat at 9:01 PM on February 14, 2003

Thanks, Steve--I like that very much.
posted by jokeefe at 9:38 PM on February 14, 2003

I thought this was fascinating. Great post, plus bonus points for Seamus Heaney. Pardonyou? nailed it with the comments for getting out of a "dark period" in Iraqi history.

"give us Abraham Lincoln
or give us no one."

We are fortunate to have him among us.
posted by hama7 at 2:27 AM on February 15, 2003

nice post jokeefe - thanks!
posted by madamjujujive at 6:35 AM on February 15, 2003

Even though this is a mere four lines shorter than my post yesterday, and, most likely, you won't have it sacrificed on the Altar of Unclenchment and no one's screaming It's a fucking egotistical waste of monitor ink, that's what it is, which it most decidedly is not, I liked this particular post and the commentary, too.
posted by y2karl at 11:02 PM on February 15, 2003

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