Despite Decades-Old Controversies, Iraqi Poet Badr Shaker al-Sayyab Still Relevant!
Al Jadid Staff
A web-based image of a mural of Badr Shakir al-Sayyab in Baghdad.

The Arab cultural scene never tires of Iraqi poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab’s legacy, refusing to let it rest even 55 years after his death. The recent publications of Jasim al-Muttair’s “The Swinging Moods of Badr Shakir al-Sayyab,” as well as several columns on the poet by Iraqi writer Yassin al-Dulaymi and Lebanese columnist Mohammad al-Houjeiri, have again brought the poet’s life into the public eye. Sayyab did not shy away from politics in his work. “He was the kind of person who thought that a literary person and an educated person and a poet had a duty to get involved in the politics of his country and his nation and to point his finger and to be on the side of the poor and the struggling sectors of society. Governments were not, still are not, accepting of people who are not accepting of their line,” said his son, Ghailan al-Sayyab, in an interview with The National.

Sayyab was an active member of the Iraqi Communist Party for nearly eight years, until he became disenchanted with the party’s ideology when former allies turned against him for his strong Arab nationalist stance. His resentment towards the party came to a head in his publication of “I Was a Communist” in 1959, a series of confessional letters exposing the “other face” of the communist party. Aside from his political positions, his enemies also labeled him a “traitor to the Arabic language” for spearheading the free verse movement, going against established classical rules in Arabic poetry. Others tried to tarnish his reputation as a major Arab poet by characterizing him as emotionally unstable. Despite being known as one of the most influential poets of the Arab world, Sayyab’s life was full of unfortunate circumstances, from debilitating poverty to a disease that claimed his life at 38 years of age. 

“Despite Decades-Old Controversies, Iraqi Poet Badr Shaker al-Sayyab Still Relevant!” by Elie Chalala is scheduled to appear in the forthcoming issue of Al Jadid, Vol. 23, No. 77, 2019.

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