ESSAYS IN FORTHCOMING AL JADID, VOL. 24, NO. 78, 2020

Bandar Abdel Hamid (1947-2020): Editor and Poet Transformed His Humble Damascus Apartment into Inspiring ‘Literary Salon’
By 
Elie Chalala
On the left, a web-based image of Bandar Abdel Hamid. On the right, cover of “The Witches of Cinema,” Dar Al Mada.


The “beautiful Bedouin poet” Bandar Abdel Hamid passed away at the age of 73 on February 17, in his Damascus home from a heart attack. He died quietly, discovered 16 hours later to have had a heart attack, without anyone being able to help him. His death sent a painful shock to his many friends in Syria and throughout the Arab world. A leading poet of the 1970s, Bandar’s work contributed to Arab culture and enriched film criticism while encouraging creativity in his peers;  he transformed his humble apartment in Damascus into a stage for all forms of art and dialogues among intellectuals, friends, and strangers.

Bandar’s first forays into poetry began with the classical tradition, though he subsequently opened up to the free prose style that became popular during the 60s. He did not belong to a school of poetry and remained open to all the changes in Arab and world poetry. His first collection of poems was “Gazelle as the Voice of Water and Wind” (1974), followed by “Announcements of Death and Freedom” (1978), and “Celebrations” (1979). (To read his poem “A Letter A Hundred Years On,” published in Al Jadid, Vol. 11, No. 53, 2005, visit https://www.aljadid.com/node/2196).  He was not a prolific poetry author, but rather “waited for the right moment to write,” in the words of Abdo Wazen of Independent Arabia.

In his later years, while continuing to write poetry, Bandar shifted his focus to cinema. Spending most of his life reading and writing, and with roots in journalism and poetry, he became a film critic and was a managing editor and eventual editorial consultant of the Cinematic Life Magazine. He also founded the electronic magazine Movie Horizons and served as director of the publishing house Dar Al Mada for 20 years. His last book was “The Witches of Cinema” (2016), published by Dar Al Mada. This large anthology offered biographies of 145 movie stars of different nationalities and periods. 

Bandar’s love for freedom – for an open mind into any field of art or discipline – informed not just his work, but also his way of life. His small apartment, where his doors stood always open, was an oasis of semi-daily meetings, humming with life. Bandar was well-known for his generous heart not only to his friends and colleagues but toward strangers, keeping a spare mattress for any weary travelers who stopped by. Whether Communist, Baathist, believer, atheist, or dramatist, playwright, or poet, people gathered under his roof almost every day. 

During the past nine years of the war, most of the friends who used to visit his home in Damascus left, but Bandar chose to stay, leaving the door to his apartment open for those who remained. He lived the Syrian tragedy in pain, and near seclusion, and tried to resist patiently, through poetry, cinema, and cultural work, thinking, like some poets, novelists, and artists who did not choose to go into exile and are trying to hold on to hope, whether it is a reality or an illusion, according to Wazen.

Bandar Abdel Hamid, who will be remembered fondly for his generosity and smile, withdrew into solitude and silence in his last years – a silence that was only broken when news of his death spread, to the agony of his friends and acquaintances. Khalil Sweileh in Al Akhbar newspaper recalled, “A few days ago, I met him on the street – two streets separated us – and I asked him about his condition. He answered, ‘Depressed, unhappy, and lonely.’ I realized, as I was saying goodbye to him, that he was dying silently.”

These are excerpted passages from a larger essay to be featured in the forthcoming Al Jadid, Vol. 24, No. 78, 2020.

Copyright © 2020 by Al Jadid