For a Friend Sorely Missed

Moayyad al-Rawi (1939-2015)
Elie Chalala
Photograph of Moayyad al-Rawi, courtesy of Ms. Fakhria Salih.

This brief column can only begin to do justice to Iraqi poet and critic Moayyad al-Rawi. A longer tribute will appear in Al Jadid’s next issue later this year (Vol. 23, No. 77, 2019).

Moayyad, who died in 2015, fled the Iraqi dictatorship in 1970 for Lebanon, making it his first stop in a life in exile; it is there I met him. Imprisonment and repression following the 1963 Baathist coup forced him to leave Baghdad and Kirkuk, which he loved, and which figured prominently in his writings.

While in Iraq, Moayyad helped found the “Kirkuk Group,” a literary movement which included Iraqi poets of different ethnicities and sects who approached different trends and schools of world literature with open-mindedness, and shunned cultural chauvinism, thus enriching Iraqi culture in the 1960s.

In Beirut, Moayyad worked with many leftist Palestinian publications as assistant editor, art critic, and layout designer, among other posts. In 1980, Moayyad left with his family for his second exile in Berlin – on the Eastern side of the wall – having been
targeted for assassination by Iraqi intelligence and after Khalid al-Iraqi, the editor-in-chief of the magazine he was working for, was assassinated because of his opposition to the Iraqi regime.

Early in the new millennium, I connected with Moayyad in Berlin and found him as ever charming, generous, uncompromising and even cynical at times. This renewed contact led to translating some of his poetry and essays in this magazine, notably “A Visit” (Summer 2004), “The City’s Keeper” (Summer 2005), “The Illusion of Place” (Fall 2004), and “The Place of Origins” (Summer 2005). Circumstance intervened to disrupt our renewed collaboration, Moayyad’s deteriorating health on his end, and the accidental death of my wife on mine. We picked back up around 2011 or 2012 and he made me aware of how diabetes impaired his vision, and the difficulties this illness posed for an avid reader and writer like Moayyad. However, the extent and seriousness of his condition remained unknown to me until I started researching his background for a tribute article about Moayyad, this followed by the shocking news of his death in 2015, of which I became aware late. What I found out superseded my expectations – diabetes, vision impairment, kidney and liver problems, and even cancer.

Some of these illnesses were confirmed by a phone conversation with his wife, Ms. Fakhria Salih. I am indebted to Ms. Salih for providing me with a digital copy of Moayyad’s last book (“Narration of the Singular,” Dar Al Jamal, 2015), from which four poems were selected and translated for this issue (pp. 16, 18, 25, 30). A major feature about Moayyad will appear in the next issue of Al Jadid.

This essay appeared in Al Jadid, Vol. 23, No. 76, 2019.

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