‘Iraqi Nights’ & Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here

On a Wednesday, I saw Dunya Mikhail at the Hill Center, where she was interviewed/conversed with the Post‘s Ron Charles. Sadly, it was the most disappointing of these events that I’ve attended. Whether it was the language barrier (Arabic being her first language and the one she writes in) or something else, the conversation never quite took off. Ron couldn’t seem to get an extended reaction nor dialogue out of her. It didn’t help that she wasn’t very familiar with the English language translations of her poetry that Ron was reading from.

I read her collection, Iraqi Nights and enjoyed it, but didn’t love it. The idea that this was a poetic take Iraq’s travails through the lens of The Arabian Nights never quite came through and some of the poems bordered on being just pithy lines.

On the following Saturday, I dragged a semi-reluctant friend for an event honoring the ninth anniversary of the bombing of Al-Mutanabbi Street, Baghdad’s ‘Street of Booksellers.’ Poets and musicians, including Dunya Mikhail, were there.

Unfortunately, there was a solid forty-five minutes of self-congratulatory back slapping by some white people that was just… too much.

This is Washington, DC and the year 2016 and we don’t need to be told that Bush’s invasions were colossally incompetent, misguided, and deceitful farces not worth the tiniest amount of the blood and treasure they cost. If you really want to drive this idea home, though, the best way would be to get out of the way and let the Iraqi artists speak through their works.

The last part of the event was a musical performance that sounded almost liturgical in chant-like signing accompanied by an oud and a piano (and wind chimes), but I left early, not because the music wasn’t wonderful (it was), but because those ridiculous opening ceremonies/lectures/chidings/backslappings had left a wound that festered and drove me out.

Fortunately, I did get to see a short video while I was still there – a video the showed the pointlessness of the opening lectures by older white people. It was a simple video. Some footage of the street, including archival footage from before the bombing, but mostly it was just focused on a man who owned a cafe on the street and had lost four of his five sons and one grandson in the bombing. Absolutely heartbreaking, especially once you realized that when he was talking about his son missing a leg, he wasn’t saying that his son was now crippled. He was saying that they couldn’t find all of his son’s body parts. When a man is telling you that story, you don’t need an anti-war lecture.

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