Fadhil al-Azzawi was born in Kirkuk, in northern Iraq. He studied English at Baghdad University and journalism at the University of Leipzig. He spent three years in an Iraqi jail and in 1977 settled in then East Germany.
In 1983 he moved to East Berlin, where he went to work as a free-lance writer and critic. Besides poetry and criticism he writes novellas and translates English and German literature into Arabic. Excerpts from his work have been translated into German, English, Italian, Hebrew, Kurdish, Dutch, and other languages.
As a youth, even before he began to write poetry himself, he was fascinated by the magic rhythms of the Koran and the mystical tales of the Arabian Nights. When modern poetry found its way to Iraq after World War Two, al-Azzawi was quick to acquaint himself with this new form. At fifteen, he began publishing poems in leading Arabic periodicals, whose publishers were ignorant of the fact that their author was a mere schoolboy.
Al-Azzawi says the cultural diversity of his native city Kirkuk strongly inspired his own intellectual and artistic development. Kirkuk, then the centre of a British-owned oil industry, with a population speaking Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish and Assyrian, made him aware of the game of Poetry versus Life.
At an early age he realized that everything around him was saturated with poetry. A recurring image from childhood is that of Turkish drunks returning home late at night, loudly singing quatrains that they made up as they went. When one of them finished, another responded from a distance, and then a third, and maybe a fourth, creating a poetic exchange. The poets themselves had forgotten all about their poems the following day, but people who heard them had memorized them and written them down.
The role of poetry is to confront lies and fraud. It pulls the masks off the faces of those who peddle delusions, by uncovering the truth from under a stack of commercial, repetitive slogans. From the bottom of the deepest ocean, poetry salvages the treasures of the spoken word. Poetry reminds us time and again of what is where in life, it puts knowledge above ignorance, decency above barbarism, distinction above generalisation, remembrance above amnesia, and most of all, creativity above the daily grind.
A poet sows doubt and confusion, he topples established values, not to prove his point but to get at the truth of life. It is the poet's imagination which speaks to our soul, to our essential being, to give it back the variety of colours and forms that only poetry can evoke.
At the end of the day, every poet is a roadside singer, like the Turkish drunk who rubs the sleep from his eyes and relieves his heart of despair. If only to forget the loneliness of the road he has to go all by himself.
[Fadhil al-Azzawi took part in the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 2001. This text was written on that occasion.]
Fadhil al-Azzawi on Lyrikline