Several Iraqi poets are putting their lives on the line and their mission goes beyond economic injustice.
BAGHDAD — The violence against protesters in Baghdad grows more dire by the day. But demonstrators are more determined than ever to make their voices heard. And revolution doesn’t come without its artists or poets. It is the voice of poets throughout history who, using the most subversive language, speak up and lament for the people. The poets of Baghdad are no exception. Dying in the streets, they manage to raise their voices above the bloodshed in hope the world will hear them.
It’s been estimated that more than 500 Iraqis have been killed during protests since they began in October. Human rights groups are calling for investigations. The United States and Iran are hovering over the country, threatening war-like action in a tit-for-tat battle for influence over Baghdad’s government. And since December 2017, when Daesh was declared expelled from the country, there have been pop up attacks by Daesh-linked militants. Security is depleting. In addition, the economic situation has not improved since the US invasion in 2003. Iraqis are angry and ready for change. They’re calling for a complete overhaul of their system, rather than new politicians to fill old slots. The resignation of Prime Minister Adil Abudul Mahdi in November did little to calm their frustrations.
Iraq’s poets are grieving. Poetry is an art of spoken word. It is a verbal brush across the canvas of society’s stories. Poetry began in Iraq. The first recorded poet in history was an Akkadian priestess, known by her Sumerian name, Enhuduanna. She wrote the stories of the ancient goddess Innana. She was second to her father, Sargon, a conquering king in the Mesopotamian world. Now the new generation emerges.
TRT World spoke to several poets, who are putting their lives on the line. Their mission goes beyond economic injustice. But due to the threat of opposing militias and targeted attacks on demonstrators, their full names are hidden.
Noor was eager to speak and share her message. On first contact, she sent me one of her poems, it read:
“It portends surprise
Everyone who dreads, staying with artificial repetition so that the last survivor does not contaminate his hands by retouching the form of panic before being lost in the immortal soul.”
When we spoke, she explained that her words were about legacy.
“Life gives you the legacy you deserve. I saw the bad, the faces of evil. This is the legacy [their] life gives,” she said, and poetry is a way for her to capture what is happening to her people.
For poet and writer Osamaa, he believes the demonstrations call for something raw. He’s dissident and crass.
In one poem, he wrote: “On the foreplay table / Its smooth leaves threaten us / In the back room / By erecting our pens / And pouring out its duration / We are killed in a hurry / Extreme ejaculation / However, it is a war / The loss is more delicious.”
His images bring up threats against the people. His images suggest political figures salivate over violence and death.
Ancient philosopher Al Farabi, who spent much of his life in Baghdad, once suggested: "Just as the health of the body is an equilibrium of its temperament and its sickness is a deviation ...so, too, are the health of the city and its uprightness an equilibrium of the moral habits of its inhabitants and its sickness a disparity."
The psyche of one human soul can be connected to the psyche of a whole and it is the artists, the poets who are able to reflect and express such a theory. For Osamaa, the more raw he can communicate rage, the more attention he hopes to draw to the story of his people in their fight against an unjust socioeconomic and political system.
Osamaa has published nine books since 2013. He uses surreal and erotic imagery to express the bare emotions of the human soul. He said: “I am writing this genre to break stereotypes in understanding the body, and the body is a palette of elegance and complete beauty, not just instinct and gender.”
Society needs rebellious language and Osamaa believes if people can understand the body, they can understand the depth of one another in relationship and create the change they seek.
“We are a very emotional people,” he said. “We can face death - and death with naked breasts, we cry - we rely on emotion to influence each other.”
There is a community, a sense of unity within the people, religious and ethnic differences aside, Osamaa believes they won’t give up easily until they feel heard and their demands are met.
But poetry is also an outlet for grief. On the northern side of Baghdad, Iraqi Kurdish poet, Leila watches on, grieving the deaths of demonstrators in the streets. She wrote: “Cities whose poems were stolen / And mixed in / strange blood / The faces of her boys washed away / With Tigris water / She extended her ribs.”
To see passionate young people brave the streets of Baghdad both encourages and breaks her heart. Leila doesn’t join the protests. She practices the Bahaa'i faith and political involvement is discouraged. Even so, she understands how important it is to stand up to corruption.
“I felt like a mother, losing her sons,” Leila explained. “I started crying, the country only wants peace and safety.”
Leila is tired of seeing war destroy her land and hopes her poetry will show the younger generation she is with them and for them in their fight against corruption.
In Baghdad, some of the poets try to get together, to connect, to share their words and artistry. It’s not easy, for fears of being targeted.
Last month a 26-year-old poet, Safa al Sarray was killed during demonstrations. He had been harassed and detained several times. To speak out means to take a risk. There is always one authoritative figure or another who doesn’t want the system questioned. Some have blamed the deaths on security forces, others blame militias taking advantage of the chaos. But all agree; blood in the streets only spurs them on.
Noor believes her poems will “make the world more tender, so they can feel themselves,” she said. In another poem, she wrote:
“They said he will kill you / and I asked them, who will kill who? / Death is your shadow / First, live with delayed existence.”
A unified Iraq, as told by the poets, ripping their hearts out of their chests, may be exactly what authorities need to put down their weapons.
NOTE: The poets mentioned in the story are protective of identities and have given permission for their first names only.