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Tenement Press is an occasional publisher of esoteric,
accidental, angular, & interdisciplinary literatures.



My head is my only house unless it rains

Don Glen Vliet



Were a wind to arise
I could put up a sail
Were there no sailI’d make one of canvas and sticks

Bertolt Brecht, ‘Motto’
(Bucknow Elegies)






A Horse at the Door
Wadih Saadeh

A chronology of poems selected
& translated by Robin Moger

Tenement Press #16
978-1-917304-02-3
200pp [Approx.]

£18.50

 PREORDER DIRECT FROM TENEMENT HERE 

Publishing 10th December 2024

With an Afterword by Youssef Rakha


An English language survey of works by
the celebrated poet, drawing from collections
published between 1968 and 2012.






In a 2014 AlMayadeen TV interview with the Lebanese poet-host Zahi Wehbe, Wadih Saadeh called his work ‘an autobiography of other people’s lives.’ At this point in the conversation he had already explained that people are essentially alike, so the deeper you plunge into yourself the more you find out about others. Speaking casually, the then sixty-six year old—very arguably the greatest living Arabic poet—did not seem to realise how startling is the idea. Donald M. Murray’s All Writing Is Autobiography is one thing, but to say that poetry is a way to be someone else, and so let someone else be you—that feels like a coup de foudre. A poem, Saadeh told Wahbe, is ‘a momentary, illusory cure’ from the horrors of the world, wounds actually dressed by working, having a family, emigrating. He called the third person, which in Arabic translates to ‘the absent one,’ ‘a shadow self, the self that cannot be present.’ Summoning that inner absence, switching on the reader’s presence, is what the Lebanese master manages, every time.

Youssef Rakha,
from his Afterword, ‘The Australian’



See here for Moger’s translation
of Saadeh’s ‘Dead Moments,’
℅ the Cordite Poetry
Review




IT WAS, IT WAS  
كان... كان


(Saadeh’s poem-as-introduction to these texts.)





There was a house there that was mine, in a mountain village called Chabtine, and on the 6th July 1948 its stones heard the first sound to leave my mouth: the cry of my birth. House whose roof was soil, whose floor was soil, and there, on soil, my mother laid me down. I was born with soil beneath me and soil above me. Soil was the first touch on my body and the first sight in my eye, and ever since I have carried soil in my eye and in my heart, in my wanderings and in my dreams.


 



When was twelve I left this house and went down to the city of Batroun with my mother to finish my schooling. We rented a house on top of a rock on the shore, and the waves of the sea were one of us. I would walk to school and come home walking, and it was returning from school one afternoon in 1962 that my uncle stopped me on the road and said, “Your father’s dead.” There, in that house far away, my father burned to death. I went up the steps and looked in at his body, a charred skeleton, hands clasped round its knees. From house, to char and smoke. Too young to lift the dead, I bore him, as they carried him, in my eyes. And I left.

After Batroun, Beirut, where I worked first as a distributor of Kodak film, then as a primary school teacher, but I soon resigned from that position and entered the world of journalism, a freelancer without fixed hours, without a livelihood almost. Beirut back then bore on its back all the Arab dreams—cultural, political, social, individual—and Hamra Street, the Horseshoe Cafe in particular, was the refuge of these dreams. I would pass whole nights in this street and it was there I came to know Ounsi El Hage and Adonis and other poets, writers, and artists, Lebanese and Arab, for whom Beirut was one of their greatest dreams become real. But despite Beirut’s spaciousness, I felt it narrow, and in the early ‘70s I packed my bags and went to Paris. In Paris without money or work. A priest at La Maison du Liban lent me fifty francs and pointed me to an old people’s home where I spent a few nights in the company of one hundred and fifty old men who spent the night calling out for help and being taken to the toilets. Then I picked up my bags again and went wandering through France, on foot and hitchhiking, sleeping at bus stops open to the wind and snow then setting off again, my hand raised to passing cars. I came to Hendaye on the Spanish border, lacking the twenty pesetas I needed for a train to Madrid, so I gave up and, walking and hitchhiking, went back to Paris where my brother Hanna came to my aid with a ticket to Beirut.

Beirut again, with its dreams, realised and aborted, and with my own modest dream of poetry, which at that time, in 1973, amounted to a collection of poems handwritten on huge sheets of paper like maps, front and back. I called it The evening has no siblings and sold it on the streets of Beirut for two lire a copy. Then Beirut narrowed around me again, and that same year, 1973, I took myself and my bags to Australia, to the most distant place there is. In Sydney I laboured nine months in the factories, waking with the dawn and straight to work, returning at night to a small room in a family home, paying the rent and dreaming of a return to my house in Chabtine.

As soon as I’d saved the price of a return ticket I flew back to Lebanon, to a chemical factory in Chekka, to the 1975 war, to a suitcase I carried from village to village selling first-aid to the elderly. Then London, and after London, Paris, with the Al Nahar magazine, with Ounsi El Hage and Amin Maalouf and Issam Mahfouz and Issa Makhlouf and others. In Saint-Germaine and in the Latin Quarter and in the train tunnels with the homeless. Then from Paris to Lebanon, and from Lebanon to Greece, with Sargon Boulos and Jad El Hage, raki and the Acropolis. After Greece, Lebanon, and after Lebanon, Cyprus, with a band of poets seeking refuge from the war in Lebanon, and then, in November 1988, from Cyprus to Australia. This is the last exile, I said, the last place, the last country, though within myself I was still without a place or a country. The first place, the first house, remained present in dream and absent in reality, while the other place, the other country, was present in reality and absent in dream. My reality was empty in its presence, my dream brimming with absence. My second country, with a house in lieu of one lost, and my first country, a house lost.


I had intended my poetry to be a kind of salvation for me in my confrontation with the onslaught of a perpetually antagonistic world. When this confrontation failed, I tried convincing myself that surrendering to the world—being a scrap of paper floating downriver—was the only salvation available to me. But this proved impossible, too.

Wadih Saadeh



The dead are sleeping / 
الموتى نيام وديع سعادة






They were naked,
and they had children
whose hair they stroked in the evenings,
and slept.
They were naked and they were simple.
Sweating all day, smiling, stopping
before shop windows coming home
and measuring clothes for the children with their eyes,
and walking on.

They would take two paces and touch,
ahead of the dawn breeze,
the trunks of the trees
and beneath their eyes boughs would fruit
in January snows,
and their sickles keened for the fields
and the breeze between the villages
was always there to call to them,

when suddenly their wheat stalks turned to ribs
and the breeze to grass
that grew over their bodies.

They were naked
and the sun would, every evening,
lay its light silk cover
back over their souls.





Wadih Saadeh
was born Wadih Amine Stephan in 1948 in the village of Chabtine in northern Lebanon. As a young man he moved to Beirut where he first began to write poetry and where, in 1973, he would distribute handwritten copies of his first collection, The evening has no siblings. He lived and travelled between Beirut and Europe—Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Cyprus—until in 1988 he finally emigrated with his family to Australia, where he lives now: ‘a village farmer, resident in Sydney.’ A figure of central importance in the development of the Arabic prose poem, his published collections are as follows ...

The evening has no siblings (1981) /
 يس للمساء إخوة 

(In two parts—the first written between 1968 and 1973, the second between 1973 and 1980—that were published together in a single volume in 1981.)

The water, the water (1983) /
المياه المياه

A man in second-hand air sits and thinks of animals (1985) /
رجل في هواء مستعمل يقعد ويفكر في الحيوانات

Seat of passenger who left the bus (1987) /
مقعد راكب غادر الباص

Because of a cloud most probably (1992) /
بسبب غيمة على الأرجح

An attempt to join two banks with a voice (1997)
محاولة وصل ضفتين بصوت

The text of absence (1999)
نص الغياب

Dust (2001)
غبار

Darning the air (2006)
رتق الهواء

Another configuration of the life of Wadih Saadeh (2006)
تركيب آخر لحياة وديع سعادة

Who took the glance I left before the door (2011)
من أخذ النظرة التي تركتها أمام الباب؟

Tell the passer-by to return, he left his shadow (2012)
قل للعابر أن يعود, نسي هنا ظله

Translations of individual poems and collections have been published in a number of European languages, most frequently his Lebanese civil-war collection Because of a cloud most probably. In English, many translations of his poems can be found online, and in anthologies such as Crack in the wall: New Arab Poetry (Saqi Books, 2001) and Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia and Beyond (Norton, 2008). The only published English-language volume dedicated to his work is Anne Fairburn’s A secret sky (Ginninderra Press, 1997), which contains poems from Saadeh 1992 collection. 

Robin Moger
 is a translator of Arabic to English who lives in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat. His translations of prose and poetry have appeared widely. His most recent publications include Strangers in Light Coats (Seagull Press, 2023)—a collection of the poems of Palestinian poet Ghassan Zaqtan—and Traces of Enayat by Iman Mersal (And Other Stories Press, 2023) which was a joint winner of the 2024 James Tait Black Prize for Biography.  

Youssef Rakha
is an Egyptian writer of fiction and non-fiction working in Arabic and English. He is the author of the novels The Book of the Sultan’s Seal (Interlink, 2014) and The Crocodiles (Seven Stories Press, 2015), which are available in English, and Paolo, which was on the long list of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2017 and won the 2017 Sawiris Award. The Dissenters (Graywolf, 2025) is his first novel to be written in English.

 



                                                   
editors@tenementpress.com

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