Sargon Boulus
(Iraq, 1944–2007)   
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Sargon Boulus

Sargon Boulus, of Assyrian descent, was born in the Assyrian enclave al-Habbaniyah built by the British mandatory power, next to a British-made lake, in Irak, in 1943/4. He lived there the first thirteen years of his live. Many later poems reflect his fascination for water, which dates back to these years. His parents then moved to Kirkuk, where he wrote his first poems. In 1961 he sent sixteen poems to Beirut, to Yousef al-Khal, the founder of Shír (poetry), an innovating magazine for poetry. It was the beginning of a lasting friendship with Yousef el-Khal, the poet Adonis and other Lebanese poets and writers.

Encouraged by the calls from Beirut, he decided to go there in 1966. Without the necessary papers and with little money he walked through the desert, from Iraq to Beirut, in 1966. He earned a livelihood as a translator, but being an illegal resident he landed in jail in 1969. His literary friends convinced the Lebanese president first and then the American Ambassador that Sargon Boulus’ merits for American literature were such as to deserve an entry permit to the United States.

After Sargon Boulos had arrived in America, he travelled through New York to San Francisco where he made contact with the Beatnik generation and went to live on a hippy-boat. He had already published an Arabic translation of Ho Chi Minh’s poems with the title Yawmiyât fî sign (Prison Diary) when he learned of the hippies’ opposition against the war in Vietnam. This hectic period is mirrored in his first volume of poetry: al-Wusûl ilâ madînat aina (Arrival in When City). Other titles are: Idha kunta nâ’im fî markab Nûh (When you were sleeping in Noah’s Ark) and Al-Hayâtu qurba ‘l-Akrûbûl (Live next to the Acropolis) written after a stay in Greece.

It is clear that the composition of his own Arabic poems played an important role in the live of Sargon Boulus, but next to this work he continued to translate English poetry into Arabic. He translated sonnets of Shakespeare and poems by Ezra Pound, W.H. Auden, P.B. Shelley, Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Duncan, Pablo Neruda and Rainer Maria Rilke to name a few. He was fascinated by the language of Shakespeare, the flow of which he wanted to transfer to his Arabic translation. Arabic as a universal medium for all poetry is his point of departure and his goal.

Sargon Boulus is economical in the use of words, even stingy one might say, which makes him a modern poet in a language with a long standing tradition.

© Kees Nijland

Publications (selection):
al-Wusûl ilâ madînat aina (Arrival in Where City)
Idha kunta nâ’im fî markab Nûh (When you were sleeping in Noah’s Ark)
Al-Hayâtu qurba ‘l-Akrûbûl (Live next to the Acropolis)

[Sargon Boulos took part in the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 2007.
This text was written on that occasion.]


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