Jabra Ibrahim Jabra said of Muhammad Mahdi al-Jawahiri that “He is more like the voice of the nation’s conscience,” while Salma Khadra Jayyusi called him “undoubtedly the greatest Iraqi poet of his generation.” Now, according to a decision announced May 20, al-Jawahiri’s Baghdad home will be turned into a museum:
The poet between Mahmoud Darwish and Samih al-Qasim.
Born in 1899 or 1900, al-Jawahiri was son of a religious scholar and began writing poetry in the second decade of the twentieth century. In 1921, he became an adviser at the court of King Faisal I, and it was 1928 when he published his first collection. His brother Jaafar’s death,during the Al-Wathbah uprising of 1948, was one of the major turning points in the poet’s life and work, and “My Brother Jaafar” was one of his best-known works.
As Sinan Antoon wrote in The Nation, “many Iraqis know the poem’s opening lines by heart. Like many of al-Jawahiri’s poems, this one has a few prophetic lines: ‘I see a horizon lit with blood/And many a starless night/A generation comes and another goes/And the fire keeps burning.’
Sometimes called a neo-classical poet, or Iraq’s last great classical poet, he wrote about new themes using classical tools.
After the monarchy was overthrown, al-Jawahiri was elected chairman of the writers’ union in 1950s. In the 1960s, he lived in exile in Prague, returning to Iraq in the 1970s. It is this 1970s home that will be turned into a museum and cultural center carrying his name, according to a report by Adnan Abu Zeed in Al Monitor. The poet fled his home — and Iraq — at the end of the 1970s. He settled in Syria, where he died in 1997.
It will join the Prague-based al-Jawahiri Centre, which also seeks to “cultivate and preserve the humanitarian legacy of Mohammed Mahdi al-Jawahiri[.]”
Ghareeb told Al-Monitor that, in addition to honoring al-Jawahiri, “It is also a genuine recognition by the state of the importance of literature, after so many of the homes of important artists and writers from Iraq’s cultural movement fell apart due to neglect.”
He added: “The house will also be turned into a cultural center that hosts literary events, seminars, research and education on poetry. The union seeks to ensure that the museum is a cultural asset, not simply a display of the poet’s archive.”
Al-Monitor, however, also quoted al-Jawahiri’s granddaughter, Ban al-Jawahiri, as saying negotiation over a donation of the poet’s possessions are still ongoing:
“It is difficult to donate and house them in a museum unless there is a strong guarantee that they are secure and will not be damaged or stolen. In a country where the National Museum of Antiquities has been exposed to theft and vandalism, it would be difficult to donate my grandfather’s assets, even if I were paid millions of dollars.”
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