Abd al-Wahhab Al-Bayati

Abd al-Wahhab Al-Bayati bigraphy, stories - Poet

Abd al-Wahhab Al-Bayati : biography

19 December 1926 – 3 August 1999

Abd al-Wahhab Al-Bayati (December 19 1926–August 3 1999) was an Iraqi poet. He was a pioneer in his field and defied conventional form of poetry that had been common for centuries.


He was born in Baghdad, near the shrine of the 12th century Sufi Abdel Qadir al-Jilani. In this respect, al-Bayati is unique among his peers, most of whom share pastoral roots. A man of the city, he lived close to the political heartbeat most of his life—one of his friends, Ahmed Abdel-Moeti Hegazi, said urban centers of "hotels and institutions, cafés and airports" were actually his temporary residences.Hegazi, Agmed Abdel-Moeti. "." Al-Ahram Weekly Online Issue No. 442 (12–18 August 1999). Retrieved on 4 May 2005 London, Moscow, Madrid and Baghdad are all represented in his poetry. He attended Baghdad University, and became a teacher after graduating from Dar Al-Mu’allimin (the Teacher’s College) in 1950, the same year that he released his first collection of poems, Mala’ika wa Shayatin (Angels and Devils). In addition to teaching in public schools, al-Bayati also edited the popular and widely-circulated cultural magazine Al-Thaqafa A-Jadida (The New Culture). In 1954 he left Iraq after being dismissed from his positions because of his radical communist political views and anti-government activity, and moved to Damascus. Although he returned to Damascus at the end of his life, his early wanderings also took him to Cairo, Beirut and a number of Western capitals. Always involved in world affairs, some of al-Bayati’s poems are in fact addressed to international figures such as TS Eliot and Che Guevara. Not much information is available about his personal life. Before his exile, he married, but his wife and four children are mentioned only in passing in the few available biographies. This may be because they remained in Iraq after his departure.

After spending four years living in exile in Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, al-Bayyati returned to Iraq in 1958 after a military coup d’état during which Crown Prince Abdul Illah and his nephew King Faisal were assassinated. The new republican government gave him a post in the Ministry of Education, after which he went to Moscow as a cultural attache representing the Iraqi embassy. Al-Bayati resigned from this post in 1961, but did not return to Iraq right away. He continued to live in Russia, teaching at the Asian and African People’s Institute of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. He stayed in Eastern Europe, traveling often, and returned briefly to Iraq in 1964, only to move to Cairo within the year. In the mid-1970s Al-Bayati moved between Cairo, Paris, London, Madrid, Jeddah and Delphi, never staying in one place long but always returning to the Middle East. For the remainder of his life, Al-Bayati moved between his homeland and the rest of the world. "I’ve always searched for the sun’s springs," he said, "When a human being stays in one place, he’s likely to die. People too stagnate like water and air. Therefore the death of nature, of words, of the spirit has prompted me to keep travelling, so as to encounter new suns, new springs, new horizons. A whole new world being born."

Although Al-Bayati was philosophical about his wandering, it was not solely a personal choice. His communist politics made trouble for him throughout his whole life. When the pan-Arab, socialist Ba’ath Party took control of Iraq from the ‘Arif party in 1968, Al-Bayati returned home only to flee a brutal campaign against liberals a few years later. He returned in 1972 to receive honors from the new government, and in 1980 was again assigned as a cultural attaché and was sent by Saddam Hussein to the embassy in Madrid. When Hussein’s government invaded Kuwait in 1990, Al-Bayati left Spain and took refuge in Jordan and later Syria. In 1995, Hussein revoked his citizenship as punishment for Al-Bayati’s participation in a Saudi Arabian cultural festival. Al-Bayati’s difficulty with Iraq over the course of his life became the subject of much of his writing. There is a story that he once explained it by drawing comparisons between his relationship with Iraq and the story of Prometheus. "Of course," Al-Bayati said, "my relations with Iraqi governments were never conciliatory. I belong to the Iraqi people. I cannot separate myself from the people." He died in exile, apparently without any previously diagnosed illness, in Damascus on August 3, 1999.