Biography of Salah Al Hamdani
by Isabelle Lagny, translated in English by Sonia Alland
Salah Al Hamdani was born in 195l in Baghdad. An opponent of Saddam's regime, he was imprisoned for a time and then succeeded, in 1975, in leaving for France where he has resided ever since. He grew up in poverty, working hard, as a child, in the adult world, his family too poor to send him to a proper school. It was only in prison, where he came into contact with intellectuals who opposed Saddam, that his own education in Arabic began. It was also in prison that he wrote his first poems. Since the early 1990's Al Hamdani has written many of his works in French, though he continues to write in Arabic when, for him, it feels appropriate. The Crossing, in prose, and the poems of Baghdad, Mon Amour are among his texts in French. To read The Crossing and the poems of Baghdad Mon Amour in tandem is to be privy to the innermost thoughts of the poet. In The Crossing Al Hamdani reveals the trials of growing up in Baghdad and the pain and confusion he finds in exile, in the "crossing." He evokes the sights and sounds of the Baghdad that he knew and that he may never see again. His sense of loss is poignant and ever present. The trauma of exile, the memories and images it generates in The Crossing, then reappear in the poems of Baghdad, Mon Amour. In the latter, however, the poet's inner world is imparted through the transformative language of the poet. And it is in the poems that Al Hamdani's expression of solidarity with the suffering of the oppressed is the most pervasive and intense. In his exile, the poet adds other arrows to his bow. He sings of love he has encountered: love that betrays, and love that heals. He is also a father as well as a lover, addressing his children at diverse moments in the poetry. Indeed, he speaks to all of us, often with great wisdom. Throughout his poems, however, we hear his cries of bitterness and, at times, sad resignation as he responds to violence and injustice. Yet, even in his moments of despair, we perceive a positive force that propels his writing and that, no doubt, has allowed him to survive under great hardship. The literature of exile has found an exponent in Salah Al Hamdani in the compelling writing of The Crossing and in the evocative poems of Baghdad Mon Amour. He is, above all, an engaged poet. In his work, he becomes a brother to those who rise up against oppression, employing the arm of poetry to speak out against all assassins.
© Isabelle Lagny