Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

I Am a Mute Iraqi With a Voice

I Am a Mute Iraqi With a Voice FRONT1

I studied poetry through the University of New Orleans summer program in Prague. Over the years I wrote over a hundred poems, many which were published in various national and international publications. This year, 90 of these poems will be published in my first poetry book, I Am a Mute Iraqi with a Voice. The book will be released later this month.

I dedicated this book to my ancestors, particularly Enheduanna, the world’s first recorded writer. She was the daughter of the great Mesopotamian king Sargon of Akkad and the high priestess of the temple of Nanna, the Akkadian moon god, in the center of her father’s empire, the city state of Ur. She had a considerable political and religious role in Ur. She wrote during the rise of the agricultural civilization when gathering territory and wealth, warfare, and patriarchy were making their marks. She offers a first-person perspective on the last times women in western society held religious and civil power. After her father’s death, the new ruler of Ur removed her from her position as high priestess. She turned to the goddess Inanna to regain her position, through a poem that mentions her carrying the ritual basket:

“It was in your service that I first entered the holy temple,
I, Enheduanna, the highest priestess. I carried the ritual basket,
I chanted your praise.
Now I have been cast out to the place of lepers.
Day comes and the brightness is hidden around me.
Shadows cover the light, drape it in sandstorms.
My beautiful mouth knows only confusion.
Even my sex is dust.”

Al Mutanabbi Street

Iraqi poet Ahmed Abdel Sara recites a po

My friend Emily Porter is an artist, author and human rights activist who during the Baath regime worked for over a decade at the Iraq Museum. She recently returned to her home in England from a two week trip to Iraq. She told me that what most impressed her about Iraq was Al Mutanabi Street.

“I loved it there,” she said. “I would call it the free republic of Iraq. It’s a republic of its own.”

She was incredibly touched by the lovely and warm hearted people who kissed and hugged her when she arrived there, although they had never met her before. She described the beautiful coffee shops along with the loads of cultural respect, free expressions, and poetry recitals that filled the street.

“It was like Hyde Park of London,” she said. “I wish all of Baghdad would be like Al Mutanabbi Street. Maybe that virus will soon spread throughout Iraq.”

Baghdad’s Al-Mutanabbi Street is the historic center of the city’s intellectual and literary community where books have been sold for centuries. When a car bomb exploded there in 2007, printers and artists around the world responded. For years, letterpress printers created broadsides to share their grief of this event.

In honor of Baghdad’s Al-Mutanabbi Street, the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn is having an exhibition from March 6-July 12, 2015 to showcase a selection of broadsides and artist-made books that make up the Al Mutanabbi Street Starts Here collection, founded by San Francisco poet and bookseller Beau Beausoleil.

Last night at the museum, there was a special event which included several short films produced during poetry translation workshops in Iraq by the U.K. arts organization Highlight Arts. As I watched the powerful poets highlighted in the short films, I remembered more of Emily’s words.

“There’s an old building in Al Mutannabi Street that was built in the early 1920s,” she told me. “Now it stands with no roof, no doors, walls or windows and the presence of smoke and fire still lingers. People placed cloth on the floor and used it for plays or to recite poetry.  They turned a skeleton of a building into a positive thing.”