"Modern Poetry in Translation No.19"
Edited by Daniel Weissbort
Guest Editor: Saadi Simawe
288 pp. $16.95
Review by Paul Catafago
If you who are citizens of the conqueror continue to conquer, what will you do with the poets you have captured? The poems you have collected? The words you have stolen?
The very title Iraqi Poetry Today, an ambitious collection of verse written by current and former citizens of the now dearly-departed"
In his introduction, Saadi Simawe, writes,"Translation can, of course be seen as a tool that facilitates the globalization of capital and thus contributes to the overall deadening of cultures, but when poetry is translated, it works against these effects." However to Iraqi victims of Anglo-American aggression, the fact that poems written by their compatriots have been translated into the language of their conquerors matters less than the fact that they have indeed been conquered.
All this is not to say that translation projects such as these should not be attempted. It's only that when they are embarked upon, they should be done with honesty, care, and essentially, with love.
And now to the poetry itself.
Truly, to call this collection wide ranging is an understatement. The editors successfully attempt to reflect the ethnic and linguistic diversity that
Any anthology of contemporary Iraqi poetry must include the work of Abd al-Wahab al- Bayati (1926-1999). Born in
In his introduction, Simawe lists exile as a major theme running through Iraqi poetry. It stands to reason. Like al-Bayati, Iraqi poets such as Sa'di Yusef (1934-), who lives in
While Mikhail emerges as a new voice, it is a poem,"Bridge of Old Wonders" written by Muzaffar al-Nawwab (1932-) in 1976-77 that shines as the volume's coup de grace. Described by the editors as"the most popular poet in the Arab world", al-Nawwab sings most of his poetry and very little of it is published on the page.
The poet writes,"Does a woman in a tent give birth to an army?/You sons of filth, sons of Palestine/You will return to the land of Palestine, alright/but as corpses/the children looked to the Arab nation for help:/the testicles of the Arab leaders trembled with pride."
When discussing modern Arabic poetry, there is no separate classification for political poetry. That is, all poetry is political: informed by what Etel Adnan has called"The Arab Apocalypse", especially the Palestinian catastrophe, the nakba, and the incompetence and corruption of Arab leaders. The Syrian poet, Nizzar Qabbani, wrote after another Arab defeat, in 1967,"My beloved country, in a flash you transformed me from a poet who wrote love poems to one who writes with a knife."
Iraqi Poetry Today is an impressive anthology of contemporary verse that should be part of everyone's collection. However, in good conscience, I urge you not to buy this book. That is to say, though the publishers are exploiting the situation in Iraq, there is no evidence that any percentage of the proceeds will go to the Iraqi people themselves. Therefore, though the collection is evidence of both great poetry and translation, you shouldn't buy it. As Aristotle said (Abbie Hoffman stole the line from him), you should steal the book, then donate the $16.95 to charity.