Saadi Youssef, born in 1934 in Basra, Iraq, has lived in exile for some 30 years now — currently in London, England. Mahmood Darwish has called him a major influence, saying that “Saadi Youssef, whose poetry is in dialogue with the history of popetry, is like no other Arab poet… I was enchanted by his complex simplicity in its search for the poetics of minutiae in the prose of life and for the secret relationship between the quotidian and the historical.” Youssef has published over thirty books & is one of the outstanding poets of the Arab world. The present selection of poems — all written between 2002 & 2009, translated from Arabic by Sinan Antoon and Peter Money & published by Graywolf — is an excellent way into his prolific late work. As Marilyn Hacker writes: “Saadi Youssef was born in Iraq, but he has become, through the vicissitudes of history and the cosmopolitan appetites of his mind, a poet, not only of the Arab world, but of the human universe.” Here is the title poem of the book:
O Nostalgia: My Enemy
We’ve been at it for thirty years.
We meet like two thieves on a journey
whose details are not fully known.
With every passing station
the train cars decrease in number,
the light grows dimmer.
But your wooden seat, occupying all trains,
still has its constants.
The etchings of years—
cameras no one remembers,
and trees that lie under dirt;
I took a look at you
for a moment,
then rushed panting to the last car
far away from you.
I said: the road is long.
I took out my bread and a piece of cheese from my sack.
I saw you eyeing me, this way
sharing my bread and cheese!
How did you find me?
Jump at me like a hawk?
I didn’t travel tens of thousands of miles,
didn’t wander across many countries,
didn’t know thousands of branches
so that you could come now, steal my treasure,
and corner me.
Now leave your seat and get off the train,
my train will speed past this station
— so get off,
and let me go
where no train will ever stop.