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Levi Thompson

Badr Shakir Al-Sayyab: The Poem and the Phoenix

[Image of a young Sayyab delivering poem, from]

From the new room, my bier calls on me to write a poem. So I write what’s in my blood, and I cross out until the unruly idea gives in. My new room is spacious, more spacious than my grave. If fatigue descends over wakefulness, sleep is sweeter— springing up even from eyes of stone, even from the lonely fireplace set up in the far corner. Then the dry, dilapidated bier lifts up its head and gazes at the walls, the ceiling, the mirror, and the vials. How dark ...

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Badr Shakir al-Sayyab: Whorehouse

[Badr Shakir al-Sayyab (1925-1964). Image from as-Safir]

Whorehouse By Badr Shakir al-Sayyab   Baghdad? It’s a giant whorehouse. The singing girl’s glances Like a clock ticking on the wall In a train station departures hall. O corpse flung on the ground, Its worms are a wave of flame and silk.   Baghdad’s a nightmare, a rotten ruin Swallowed up by someone sleeping. Hours are days there, days are years, and a year is toil. A year is a wound boiling in the conscience.   Oryx eyes between Rusafah and the ...

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Levi Thompson


Levi Thompson studies Arabic literature at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is currently exploring the development of modernism in Arabic. His other academic interests include pre-modern Arabic and Persian literature, translation, and literary criticism. He has a Masters in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the University of Pennsylvania and was a 2010-2011 Fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad in Cairo. He is the co-founder of, which hosts English translations of documents gathered during the 2011 Egyptian uprising.