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In 1973 a young man from the northern Lebanese village of Shabtin, stood in Hamra Street in Beirut, handing out his poetry to the passersby. It was Wadih Saadeh with a stack of handwritten copies of his first poetry collection, Laysa lil-masa ikhwa [The Evening has no Brothers]. Stepping outside the established avenues for “making it” in the world of writing and publishing, he placed himself and his writing out in the open, literally on the side of the street. Sidetracking the institutions and networks of poets, critics, editors, and publishers, he went out to meet the abstract reader, in person.
From distributing poetry on the street to publishing all of his work online, Wadih Saadeh is committed to an immediate relationship with his reader. “I wanted to see, face to face, people’s reaction to poetry and the poet,” he often says. This unconventional debut, which he often remembers in interviews, reveals penetrating features of his poetic stance, features which shaped his first work and continued to evolve in his twelve subsequent collections. He claims to be a poet of texts not poems; a poet of sayings which have not yet settled into a category. He speaks out into the open without guidelines or expectations. Thus, his experimentations in writing and the experience of reading them both remain without pretenses, without goals or models, and open unto limitless possibilities.
Born in Lebanon in 1948, Wadih Saadeh emigrated to Sydney, Australia, where he has resided since 1988. Some of his poetry collections include: al-Miyah, al-miyah [Water, Water] (Private publication, 1981), Rajul fi hawa’ musta‘mal yaq‘ud wa yufakkir fi al-ḥayawanat [A Man in Reused Air Sits and Thinks of Animals] (private publication, 1983), Maq‘ad rakib ghadara al-baṣ (The Seat of Passenger Who has Left the Bus] (private publication, 1987), Bi-sabab ghayma ‘ala al-arjaḥ (Because of a Cloud, Most Likely] (Beirut. Dar al-Jadeed, 1992), Man akhdha al-nazra allati taraktuha amam al-bab [Who took the Gaze I left at the Door] (online publication, 2011), Qull lil-‘abir an ya‘oud, nasiya zillah huna [Tell the One Passing through to Return, He left his shadow here] (online publication, 2012). The last two collections, which were originally published online, later came out in print from Dar Nilsun in 2012.
A volume of his collected works was published in 2018 by Dar al-Nahda al-‘Arabiya in Beirut. In 1997 a volume of selected poems entitled A Secret Sky was published in Australia by Ginninderra Press, after he was awarded a grant for the translations by Anne Fairbairn. Some of Wadih Saadeh’s poems have been also included in anthologies such as Crack in the Wall: New Arab Poetry (Saqi Books, 2001) edited by Margaret Obank and Samuel Shimon, and Language for a new century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond (Norton, 2008) edited by Tina Chang, Nathalie Handal and Ravi Shankar.
Wadih Saadeh was awarded the 2018 Argana International Poetry Prize for his contributions to the Arabic prose poem by the House of Poetry in Morocco. Selected poems are published in a special article about the award in Banipal 67 (Spring 2020).