/Dunya Mikhail, photo via Vimeo/
Iraqi poet Dunya Mikhail continues to amaze me. I recently read The War Works Hard, Mikhail’s first poetry collection translated to English (beautifully translated by Elizabeth Winslow). The War Works Hard was also the first translation of poems by a female Iraqi poet published in the United States (it was published in 2005).
The poems in this collection were written between 1985 and 2004, during the two decades of mainly sad and painful moments for Iraq and its people. Years of war working hard. In a poem I was in a hurry, Mikhail writes:
Yesterday I lost a country.
I was in a hurry,
And didn’t notice
When it fell from me
Like a broken branch from a forgetful tree
Mikhail was born in Iraq in 1965. While working as a journalist for the Baghdad Observer, she faced increasing threats from the authorities and fled first to Jordan and then to the United States in the late 1990s. In 2001, she was awarded the UN Human Rights Award for Freedom of Writing.
When you first look at it, Mikhail’s poetry might seem very simple, but she manages to achieve so much with so little. Her writing is gentle, bare, unadorned, direct. The language is pointed, stark. There’s so much beauty, honesty and love in that – it’s moving, it’s thoughtful and respectful. It’s caring.
In a poem Prisoner, Mikhail writes:
She doesn’t understand
The prisoner’s mother doesn’t understand
Why she should leave him
“The visit is over”
I am thankful to Dunya Mikhail for continuing to write (Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea was published in 2009, Iraqi Nights in 2014), and to Elizabeth Winslow and Kareem James Abu-Zeid for translating Mikhail’s work and making it available for more readers everywhere.
I hope to read more of Mikhail’s new poetry, but I am also sure I will go back to The War Works Hard many times in the future. I’d go back, even if it was only for this verse:
You planted pomegranates and prisons
round, red and full.
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