Last August, ArabLit ran a brief series on Iraqi poetry and Iraqi poetry in translation, interviewing Iraqi poets and those who translate Iraqi poetry:
There has been very little poetry throughout history, and the poets are a minority. They’re not extinct yet and won’t be. If the poetry in Iraq has decreased, then I don’t care at all, because I don’t write poetry because I’m Iraqi, I write it because poetry chose me to write it.
Had I stayed in Iraq, my writing would have been completely different.
On a very basic level what the poets I’ve worked with and read have given me is their humanity / human-ness. But, then again, that’s what all good poets give — a reminder that we are not alone in the world.
When I decided to study the translations of Sayyab’s poetry, I was shocked when I found that there’s just one book in English about the pioneer of modern Arabic poetry!
The first time I thought of myself as a poet was in secondary school; I used to give poems to my classmates as gifts for their birthdays. But I had my first experience with literature on the roof of my childhood home in Baghdad, where we would sleep summer nights. My grandmother used to tell me animals fables, which fascinated me. I asked her for a book of those fables, as I wanted to read them myself and see pictures, but she kept telling me that she didn’t have the book, and that they were “just stories told from generation to generation.”
September 5: On Nazik al-Mala’ika’s Revolutionary Romantic Poetry
I was initially drawn to al-Mala’ika because of her reputation as one of the pioneers of “free verse” (al-shi‘r al-hurr) in modern Arabic poetry.
When my mother knew from my schoolmates that I was writing poetry, and aiming to be a poet, she became angry and scolded me:
“We try to make you a man and work hard to secure your future, but you want to be a beggar.”
I replied: “A poet, not a beggar.”
She laughed at my naiveté: “And what is the real job of the Arab poets? Nothing but selling their praise poems, full of lies, to this sheikh or that governor, to this vizier or that king.”
I said: “I promise you I will not be like these people.”