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Monday, March 16, 2009

"Poetry in Iraq is people's life"

Thanks to Ron Silliman (2006 Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere) for the link to this curious human interest story from The Boston Globe, about a US contractor, John Dunlop, who co-organised a poetry competition with Saad Shaker, an Iraqi arts professor in Rashid.
Dunlop said Shaker explained to him the enormous importance of poetry in Iraqi society, not just as an art form, but as a way of communicating in religion, politics, and love, "We started to talk about how we could promote poetry as an art form, and he said, 'How about a poetry contest?' "

So the embedded civil-military development team helped Shaker's group set up the competition, with small prizes of plates or other mementos. Over the past month, four preliminary rounds were held, with more than 100 poets reading their works at each gathering in Rashid neighborhoods, including one drawing 350 people. The final was held yesterday at the Assyrian Hall in Rashid, and more than 200 people turned out for it, Dunlop said.
As a comment on the legitimacy of the US invasion of Iraq, or on the depth and riches of Iraqi literature, it's a little infuriating (and the comments are balanced between people with warmed cockles and people with flames of rage coming out of their heads), but it does convey something amazing about the importance of poetry -- best put by
Dhafer Al Makuter, an Iraqi translator who has worked with Dunlop since last August, said the importance of poetry to Iraqis can't be overstated. "It's like McDonald's to Americans. Poetry is for when you pray or go to the circus. Everything in Iraq is done with poetry. Today we bought some tractors for Iraqi farmers. A poet was hired to read poetry to the guests at the ceremony for almost an hour. Poetry in Iraq is people's life."
"Like McDonald's to Americans": as a manifesto for poetry's place in public life, heartening and terrifying in equal measures.

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