Middle East

‘The Scent of Human Barbecue!’—A Poem by Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi

Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi. Photo from Traces Project website.

Born and raised in Omdurman Khartoum, Al Saddiq Al-Raddi is one of the leading African poets writing in Arabic today. Al-Raddi served as the cultural editor of Al-Sudani newspaper from 2006 until 2012, when he was stripped of his position during an uprising against Omar Al-Bashir due to his principled opposition to Sudan’s dictatorship. He now lives and writes from exile in London, maintaining contact with audiences in Sudan through social media. Geographical distance prompted Al-Raddi to develop an innovative dialogical approach to writing, using Facebook as a forum in which readers can reflect on and respond to his works-in-progress. Inspired by the Dadaists’ collaborative fiction, his writing process is open to the public and encourages audiences to share their ideas across continents. During the September 2019 revolution, his daily posts and poems circulated among supporters, becoming rallying cries and communicating their messages.

Al-Raddi has authored three poetry collections in Arabic: Songs for Solitude (1996), The Sultan’s Labyrinth (1996) and The Far Reaches of the Screen (1999/2000). In 2009, these works were published as a single volume, Collected Poems. His English-language books include, He Tells Tales of Meroe (Poetry Translation Centre, 2015) and A Monkey at the Window (Bloodaxe Books, 2016), both translated collaboratively by Atef Alshaer, Rashid El Sheikh, Sabry Hafez, Hafiz Kheir, Sarah Maguire and Mark Ford, and A Friend’s Kitchen (Poetry Translation Centre, 2023), translated by Bryar Bajalan and Shook.

His poem, “The Scent of Human Barbecue!,” published below in Arabic and in English (translated by Bryar Bajalan and Shook) was born from the present war in Sudan. Using lyric intensity, Al-Raddi imbues scenes of the everyday with power and politics, compelling readers to ask what animates and sustains violence. At the same time, his poetry draws attention to how people experience and respond to brutality. Through these themes, Al-Raddi speaks not only to Sudan but also to the genocides unfolding in Palestine and Congo, connecting communities and struggles in a critical moment.


The Scent of Human Barbecue!

The world is not a big house filled with the supposed kindness of humanity!

It’s not a small village thanks to technology and the brutality of capital!

…. …. ….

The world is the world–since time immemorial

An actual world and a fictitious one, by necessity!

A dwelling place for personal myths that treasure images and idols

A world swept up in its need for idol and image

The need for trickery and money

The constant need for the scent of human barbecue!

…. …. ….

Faces that age a hundred years in a single second!

In a world whose origins are a psychiatric hospital

The imprisonment of childhood is proof of perpetual innocence!

…. …. ….

In the street

It’s terrifying: not knowing where the bullet is coming from!

In the hospital

It’s terrifying: not knowing where your laughter comes from!

In the grave

It’s terrifying: to be barren

With a tongue outpaced by words

To be without a tongue

Without music

Without the colors that once embraced you!


-July 27, 2023

!رائحةُ الشّواء البشر

!العالمُ ليس بيتاً كبيراً بلطف الإنسانية المُفترض

!ليس قريةً صغيرةً بفضل التكنولوجيا ووحشية رأس المال

…. …. ….


العالمُ هو العالمُ- منذ أزلٍ بعيدٍ

!عالمٌ حَيٌّ ومُفترضٌ بالضرورة

مَسْكَنٌ لأساطيرَ شخصيةً تكنُز الصّورةَ والمِثَالْ

تَكْنُسُه الحاجةُ للمِثَالِ والصّورةِ

الحاجةُ للحِيلَةِ والمال

!الحاجةُ الدائمةُ لرائحة الشّواء البشريّْ

…. …. ….

!وجوهٌ تشيخُ مائةَ سنةٍ في ثانية ٍ واحدةْ

في عالمٍ أصلُهُ مستشفى أمراضَ نفسية وعقلية

!سجنُ الطفولة فيه وصْمَةُ البرآءة المستديمْ

…. …. ….

في الشَّارعِ

!مرعبٌ جداً: أن لا تعرف من أين تأتيك الطلقة

في المستشفى

!مرعبٌ جداً: أن لا تعرف من أين تأتيكَ الضحكة

في القبر

مرعبٌ جداً: أن تكون مْجْرَّدَاً

بلسانٍ تُعْجُزُهُ الكَلِمَةُ

أن تكون بلا لسانْ

بلا موسيقى

!بلا ألوانَ أحبَّتْكَ على وجه الخصوص


27 يوليو 2023م-


[Bryar Bajalan is a writer, translator and filmmaker currently pursuing a PhD in Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter. Shook is a poet, translator and filmmaker on unceded Coast Miwok land in Northern California.]


This article appears in MER issue 310 “The Struggle for Sudan.”

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