Let Me Tell You What I Saw

‘One of the most important Iraqi poets alive today.’ – Dr. Abbas Khadim

‘Epic in scope, lyrical and deeply moving, this is a fascinating and powerful work, and a welcome addition to the canon of translated poetry.’ – Poetry Book Society

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.

Reviews of Let Me Tell You What I Saw

“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

‘In Jenny Lewis’ compelling rendering of related extracts from Adnam Al-Sayegh’s Uruk’s Anthem readers are taken on a journey, often harrowing to the emotions yet uplifting to spirit and imagination, from the uncertainties of our war-polluted present back through centuries of painful flux to Uruk (a city still extent), so central to the Epic of Gilgamesh – a work which more and more I believe essential to our understanding of our complex heritage. Jenny Lewis speaks in her Introduction of ‘our’ David Jones, and very fittingly – since the Iraqi poem, like In Parenthesis, conveys the agonies, the bewilderments of the poet’s and his fellows’ grim personal experiences (in the Iraq-Iran War) alongside recognition of the fuller richer truths of their whole human selves, capable of enjoying the challenges of sensuality, the beauty and terror of Nature and of the long, ultimately ineradicable past. A formidable achievement.’ Paul Binding

‘Let Me Tell You What I Saw, is a wonderfully achieved translation, reimagining a great anti-war epic, or more accurately an anti-epic in a vivid, haunting English with a diction, pitch and music of its own that conveys a wide range of questions, hopes, ironies, griefs and other emotions in their full historical breadth and tragi-comic absurdity.’ June Rosen, Long Poem Magazine

See Jude’s full review here –