Readings for the 7th Anniversary of al-Mutanabbi Street Bombing

Beau Beausoleil, a poet who has tirelessly organized the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here project since shortly after the 2007 bombing of Baghdad’s central book-selling street, continues to hold onto the lit candle, and is asking poets and readers to organize events for March 5, 2014. At least 10 are already scheduled:

7758671In a note to supporters, Beausoleil wrote that, “Organizing a reading is a relatively simple/complex matter (like everything else in this project) of gathering friends and colleagues to read poems and prose from the Middle East and North Africa as well as work that resonates with the ideas of the project. It can be held in a cafe or art space, in a university, or a library. It can be attended by 10 people or 50 people.”

At a recent event hosted by Poet’s House in NYC, focused on the al-Mutanabbi project, Beausoleil responded to an audience member’s question of “Why al-Mutanabbi Street? Why, if we are to remember a moment, is it the bombing of Baghdad’s central book-selling street? Why aren’t we remembering the US invasion of Iraq, or the embargo, or many other previous events?” I wasn’t recording the event, but later, Beausoleil reconstructed what he had said:

The emotional enormity of the invasion and occupation of Iraq is enough to completely freeze one up. Where does one start? How do you organize a list of horrible events so that they are addressed but not compared and contrasted as to their importance?
I feel one must simply pick something. You must find a moment that you can step into, one that resonates with who you are in your everyday life. That moment for me was the bombing of al-Mutanabbi Street because, as a bookseller and poet, I knew that al-Mutanabbi Street would be where my used bookshop would be, and that as a poet this would be my cultural community that was attacked.
Looking closely at any such small but devastating moment — in the context of a brutal occupation that lasted more than eight years — reveals the layers of the war as it was laid down year after year. The entire war is in this one day, in both its complexity and clarity. Positioning the project as ‘anti-war’ would, I feel, make it too easy to dismiss and brush aside.
Imperialism is wide and sweeping but responses need to be focused and direct.

The readings scheduled for March 5, 2014 thus far are in:

1. The Collins Memorial Library, the University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, Washington – Coordinators – Jane Carlin and Jessica Spring

2. Washington D.C. – Coordinators – Helen Frederick and Casey Smith

3. Detroit, Michigan – Coordinators – Dunya Mikhail and Alise Alousi

4. Exeter, UK. – Coordinator – Catherine Cartwright

5. St. John’s Newfoundland, Canada – Coordinators – Patrick Warner and Tara Bryan

6. Herron Art Library, Herron School of Art and Design, IUPUI, Indianapolis, Indiana -Coordinator – Sonja Staum

7. Bristol, UK. – Coordinator – Sarah Bodman

8. London, UK. – Coordinator – Clare Skelton – Clare writes – “I’ll be organising a March reading, Beau – with children from my friend’s school and hopefully holding it in my other friend’s pottery studio!”

9. London, UK. – Coordinators – Hassan Abdulrazzak and Alan Ingram

10. Guarini Library, New Jersey City University, Jersey City, New Jersey – Coordinator – Melida Rodas

If you would like to organize a reading, please do contact mlynxqualey [at] gmail [dot] com, and I will pass along your email.

Beausoleil also, in his call for readings, shared the Manifesto of the Poets of Baghdad, which was written and read by the poet Abdul-Zehra Zeki in the place where the bombing took place, and Al-Mutanabbi Street, less than 24 hours following the crime.

The version here is trans. Inam Jaber:

It is here amid the debris of the bombing of Al-Mutanabbi Street,
near the smell arising from the burning treasures of the bookshops of Baghdad,
not far away from the bodies of the loved ones which are still buried under the rubble of the bombing,
that stand today, the poets of bereaved Baghdad;
shocked and startled amid the whistles of the destruction,
and the exhalation of the smoke,
and the floating particles of ashes,
hearing sounds of shooting here and explosions there,
to read their poems for death and life.
No surprise they are the sons of Baghdad who safeguarded its immortality.
It is Baghdad whose body is being snapped by death; whereas, its soul ascends with life and with the hope of extracting an opportunity from between the claws of death.
The poets are the soul of the city with its immeasurable feelings.

The poets of Baghdad, just like their great City, stand today looking along the horizon of freedom. But our degradation and slavery are still maintained by this gluttony for murder,
which blocks our broad horizons with the darkness of cellars.

We are caught between two powers: the power of hope to which we are holding tight, and the power that is trying hard to force us into the darkness of the deep cellars.
It is the result of this struggle between these two powers that may decide the fate of the City of Baghdad and that of its poets and its people.

After all, we have but one option. It is that of going forward supported by the immortal soul of our City and by the power of the will of its people, to live a free, dignified, secure and independent life.
It is our immortal soul and our great will to make the life we deserve and want.

We, the poets of Baghdad, look forward confidently to our friends and colleagues in poetry and culture in the Arab and Islamic world, as well as people everywhere, to raise their voices loudly in support of us and of Baghdad; a city which has significance in being the centre of civilization and one of largest cities of enlightenment in history.

The poets of Baghdad, who have always shared with humanity its suffering in defense of the values of justice and dignity, are looking forward to hearing the voices of solidarity with them, and with their City, in its ordeal in confronting terrorism and destruction.
These are the obstructions of the realization of the dream of Iraqis…to see a better tomorrow when they can enjoy their freedom, security, and independence.

We stand today with the debris from the bombing surrounding us on Al-Mutanabbi Street, at a time when we appreciate very well what this Street signifies for contemporary Arab culture. We also know very well the significance of the Street as far as the terrorists are concerned. This is why they targeted it. There are no police, nor government, nor occupiers here. It is a Street which is populated by books of different sects, books expressive of different ideas and trends, as well as of their sellers and buyers from all over the country.

To target Al-Mutanabbi Street is to target the very essence of Iraqi culture,
which extends beyond any differences.

Having said that, all educated people, wherever they might be, should not keep silent.
The voice of humanity should be louder than that of differences, and in favor of a human being’s right to live without fear and threats.

Show solidarity with us!


10 Years Later: Artists and Writers in Search of a Common Street

‘Al-Mutanabbi Street’ Project Coming to Cairo

Sinan Antoon: Poetry Still Has a Home in Baghdad

‘Write, Even If It’s Imaginary’