martes, 4 de noviembre de 2008

opinions/in english

On 21 st May, World Poetry Day was celebrated. Yes, there is even space for poetry in Iraq, in this time of war. Muhsin Al-Ramli, one of the great Iraq playwrights and translator of Spanish classics into Arabic knows this too well. In the following moving article, Al-Ramli exposes the relevance of poetry in this time of bombardments. He is currently living in Spain.
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Poetry and life in Iraq
By Muhsin Al-Ramli

We, the Iraqi people in general and intellectuals, in particular, feel saddened by the fact that today Iraq is being talked about only as if it were a great threat to the world. It is being affirmed that Iraq is a fountain of evil, with weapons of mass destruction, a dictator, and a sea of petrol.
Iraq is hardly referred to as one of the earliest ancient civilizations in the world: Sumer, Akkad, Nimrud, Uruk, Asiria, Nínive, Babylonia, Iraq as Mesopotamia, the place where writing and the first calendar emerged more than five thousand years ago, the first code, the first democracy, the earliest place of epic poets like Gilgamesh or the Creation.
It makes us sad to see people appearing on screens and claiming to know everything about Iraq, yet most probably none of them has ever read an Iraqi poem, novel, or even listened to Iraqi music. What they know too well, is to count the petrol wells in Iraq. Thanks to poetry, one can live what is not permitted.
In my country, poetry is not considered a compliment or luxury. It is a necessity. It is not a simple way of communication, but a living experience. It is something more, the continuity of life.
Poetry is enriching Iraq more than petrol, which, unfortunately, has caused disgrace. The Arabian Peninsula and Iraq are the only places in the world where the birth of a poet is celebrated because he or she will become the tribe’s spokesperson. Laws, instructions, history, are all written in verse. Even in my country today letters are written in verse form. It is the only place in the world where there is market for poetry, Mirbad in Basora. This is a place people used to visit from far away to buy poems (especially for those in love) to sell, learn, and critique poems.
The relationship between poetry and life can be identified in many daily instances in Iraq. Yawahiri was a poet known in the 1950s and 60s for his great influence in the struggle for human rights. People used to follow him on the streets, and many a time, this led to impromptu demonstrations against the government.
Mudafar Al-Nauab escaped prison to live outside the country. In universities students used to exchange his poems secretly. During the Gulf War, we used to sit in the trench guided by his poetry. There was a solder who used to tell him before each bombardment, “Muhsin, if I die, publish my poems.” Didn’t that soldier consider the publication of his poems a continuity of life?
My country and a neighboring one were at the brink of war. But thanks to a poem written by Mula Mutlak, the conflict was resolved. A few days ago it was reported in the newspapers that a group of poets sent President George Bush 13,000 poems against war, written from all over the world. Can poetry help stop this war?
How many times has poetry saved people from death? How many times has poetry killed even the poet, or sent him or her to prison, or even to exile? I have received several letters from my poet friends in exile who are earning their livings in very far off places.
It is difficult to count the number of Iraqi poets in the country. Maybe a thousand or so. In a book he prepared in the 1980s about contemporary popular poets (those who write in dialect), Abbas Al-hili managed to count 741 poets. Seven hundred of them are still alive. Iraqi poets who write in al-fusha (classical Arabic) number more than 3000, and about 300 of them are in exile. The biggest percentage of important Iraqis of the last generation is in exile. As Sadi Yousef writes: “I´m going together with the rest but I’m making lonely steps.”
In spite of the suffering experienced by Iraqis today because of war, dictatorship, embargo, creativity continues in an admiral way. The most common technique of sharing information is through information, not because the poet is talking about him/herself , but because he/she is socially responsible, and continues to play the role of the tribe’s spokesperson within his/her community, country, and throughout the world.
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*published in (africa news nouvelles) Anno1, nr.2 aprile 2003 Roma-Italia