Iraqi poet Sargon Boulus dies at age 63

sargon.gifBEIRUT: He walked across the desert from Baghdad to Beirut without a passport in his hand or a single dinar in his pocket. He joined up with Yusuf al-Khal and Adonis and helped revolutionize Arabic poetry from the tabletops of the Horseshoe cafe in Hamra. When he was jailed for entering Lebanon without proper papers, the novelist Ghada Samman used her connections and sprung him loose – but only on the condition that he leave the country.

When he made his way to the United States, the artist and writer Etel Adnan helped him travel from New York to San Francisco, where he fell in with the Beat generation. In his own words he wrote furiously from the time he was 12 until his death, on Monday morning, in a hospital in Berlin.

The poet Sargon Boulus, who championed free verse, honored the depth and breadth of the Arabic language and translated the likes of Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg, John Ashbery, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and Ho Chin Minh, was just 63 years old.

Boulus was born into an Assyrian family in the village of Habbaniya in western Iraq. He moved to Kirkuk just as he hit his teenage years and began writing poems alone in his bedroom. “It just grabbed me,” he told Margaret Obank of the literary journal Banipal, “this magic of words, of music. In the beginning, I wrote so furiously … In was some kind of thing to do with destiny. Yes, I believe in that – in a poet’s case it is always true; that that magic, once it strikes you, you can never live without it.”

In 1961, Boulus sent a suite of 16 poems to Yusuf al-Khal in Beirut, who published them in the influential journal Shir. Later on, Khal traveled to Baghdad, met with Boulus, and told him: “Your place is in Beirut. Come to Beirut. You are one of us.”

In 1967, Boulus set off for Beirut on foot, cutting through northern Iraq and central Syria before crossing the border to Lebanon with nothing in hand but a manuscript of Jabra Ibrahim Jabra’s Arabic-language translation of Shakespeare’s “King Lear.”

He spent a precious few years in Beirut and then, after that brief stint in prison, he left for America.

In San Francisco he met the Beats he had been writing about for Shir in Beirut, including Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Boulus published six collections on poetry, including “Arrival in When City,” “When You Were Sleeping in Noah’s Ark” and “Live Next to the Acropolis.” He also published an autobiography entitled “Witnesses on the Shore” and a short-story collection. – The Daily Star