Let Me Tell You What I Saw ,a collaboration by Adnan Al-Sayegh, MSt tutor Jenny Lewis, and Ruba Abughaida is to be published by Seren Books
Let Me Tell You What I Saw is the first ever publication as a
dual-language (English/Arabic) text of substantial extracts from Adnan
Al-Sayegh’s ground-breaking epic poem, Uruk’s Anthem, one of
the longest poems ever written in Arabic literature, which gives voice
to the profound despair of the Iraqi experience. This superb translation
brings the eloquent original Arabic epic to a new readership.
Uruk’s Anthem has been described as beautiful, powerful and
courageous and at the same time apocalyptic and terrifying in its
unwavering scrutiny of, and opposition to, oppression and dictatorship
wherever it occurs in the world. Fusing ancient Arabic and Sumerian
poetic traditions with many innovative and experimental features of both
Arabic and Western literature, Uruk’s Anthem might best be
described as a modernist dream poem that frequently strays into
nightmare; yet it is also imbued with a unique blend of history,
mythology, tenderness, lyricism, humour and surrealism.
It took twelve years to write (1984-1996). During eight years of that
time Adnan was forced to fight in the Iran-Iraq War. Many of his
friends were killed and he spent eighteen months in an army detention
centre, a disused stable and dynamite store, dangerously close to the
border with Iran.
Parts of Uruk’s Anthem were adapted for the stage and
performed in 1989 at the Academy of Fine Arts and in 1993 at the Rasheed
Theatre in Baghdad where the play received wide acclaim but angered the
government. Adnan fled the country with his family and sought asylum
first in Amman, then Beirut and then Sweden, where extracts of Uruk’s
Anthem, together with the poems of Adnan’s friend, the Nobel Laureate
Tomas Tranströmer, formed a play which was performed in 2006, 2007, 2008
and 2014 as well as in Egypt 2007 and 2008. It was also performed in
Morocco 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2014.
A smaller selection of extracts from Uruk’s Anthem (translated by Jenny Lewis and Ruba Abughaida) was published in English for the first time in Singing for Inanna (Mulfran Press, 2014) a first step towards Let Me Tell You What I Saw.
This important, more comprehensive translation includes notes to the
text and an introduction by Jenny Lewis, and translation notes by Jenny
and by Ruba Abughaida.
“To see such a significant selection from this major work of world
literature in this thrilling translation gives me great pleasure. This
fine poet of terror and tenderness has found the translators he
deserves.” – Leona Medlin
“The clarity and integrity of Adnan Al-Sayegh’s poems (in
translation), combine unforgettably with the music of his native voice.
Now his world-class poetry is at last reaching a wider audience in the
English-speaking world. That Jenny Lewis’s own work is integral to that
process is testimony to a rich and rewarding collaboration.” – Lucy Hamilton
“It’s Iraq’s collective catastrophe poem. It’s a choir poem, a
linguistic flux, a continuous surging of language between words and
images…that flows out with the force of a thousand horsepower!” – Sherko Bekas (1940–2013) Kurdish poet and freedom fighter
“An epic phantasmagoria, Uruk’s Anthem is, nevertheless,
often terrifyingly real, with the speaker both a witness to shattering
events and also an active participant in trying to make sense of a world
in chaos where the poem is the only place where the exile can be at
home. At the heart of the book are ordinary people who love, lust, laugh
and despair, but are in the grip of vast political, historical, and
cosmic forces. Yet despite it all, Al-Sayegh’s monumental work refuses
to submit, holding fervently to a belief in the power of poetry to
reckon and redeem.” – Niall Munro, Director, Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre