A DOCUMENTARY about the life of iconic Bahraini poet Qassem Haddad is making waves internationally. The film, Qassem Haddad… The Last Door’s Hour, has won the Best Documentary Film Award at the Oniros Film Awards in Italy.
During the middle days of the Egyptian revolution, a group of 137 Bahraini writers, artists, and intellectuals issued a statement in solidarity with the Egyptians’ struggle for freedom and dignity.
One of the signatories, according to Bahrain’s Gulf Daily News, was celebrated Bahraini poet Qassim Haddad.
I don’t know where he is in the current Bahraini uprising. However, inTradition, modernity, and postmodernity in Arabic literature, Bassam Frangieh notes that Haddad was “tortured and imprisoned for five years for his belief in the need for a radical revolution in Arab society in order to achieve freedom and justice. An important figure in the process of modernity, he called for democracy and protested tyranny and oppression.”
However, as a poet, Haddad told Al Ahram reporter Rania Khallaf in 2006 that he can only effect a certain sort of change:
Changing the world is not the poet’s responsibility. Giving in to the illusion that literature can bring about political change is detrimental on both fronts. It’s a totally different mechanism. This is an important lesson that writers involved in ideology can benefit from. Literature effects only a sort of change — in the spirit of people, their sensibility and their convictions…
Haddad was born in Bahrain; he did not finish his secondary schooling and is largely self-educated. He came to prominence in the 1970s after publishing his first collection of poetry, Good Omen. By 2002, when Haddad received the prestigious Owais Cultural Foundation Prize for Poetry, he was one of Bahrain’s most celebrated authors.
“Sin 2,” translated by Frangieh
When a rag conceals the map Shame will not do For all these naked nations.
O King We are your flocks, of whom you boast to the nations. We are fed up with this glory.
O fire o queen of time Where shall I hide you, while the dry stalk is the ruler of this place?
And the final sections of “Words from a Young Night,” translated by Khaled Mattawa:
The clicking of my chains fills the place, I, who claim freedom.
My lip trembles now before a word… My lip is defeated.
Be prepared… the past is coming.
None of these are poems are exactly populist. But a number of the poems and translations on Qassim Haddad’s website—the translations being by respected poets and translators like Frangieh, Khaled Mattawa, Sharif Elmusa, Lena Jayyusi and Christopher Middleton, Naomi Shihab Nye—are interesting, textured, worth reading and re-reading.
In addition to these few poems, two AUC professors recently won a $100,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant to translate more of Haddad’s work. Ferial Ghazoul and John Verlenden have been working with Haddad’s poetry and prose since 2003.