The Poetry Center has previously welcomed a number of renowned and diverse poets such as Adrienne Rich, Eavan Boland and Saadi Yousef. Last Tuesday, the Poetry Center upheld this tradition of diversity and talent by commencing the first poetry reading event of the semester with Iraqi poet Amal al-Jubouri and poet, translator and documentarian Rebecca Gayle Howell. The event, held in Weinstein Auditorium on Oct. 2 was a bilingual reading, with al-Jubouri reading in the original Arabic and Howell translating in English.
al-Jubouri read from her most recent collection, Hagar Before the Occupation, Hagar After the Occupation. Out of al-Jubouri’s five collections, which have been translated into 12 different languages, Hagar was the first to be published in English, translated with the help of Howell and Husam Qaisi. The collection consists of complementary pairs of poems that portray life in Iraq before and after the war. “These pairs of before/after poems offer many-layered meditations on the tremendous upheaval of a nation and its people set against the ancient story of Hagar,” according to a recent press release. Both al-Jubouri and Howell read from the critically acclaimed collection, and held a question and answer session at Wright Hall in the Poetry Center before the main event at 7:30 p.m.
Called a “critical voice in contemporary Iraqi and Arabic-language poetry” in the press release, al-Jubouri, a native of Baghdad, worked in Iraq as a journalist and translator; alongside her work as an outspoken journalist, she was publishing poetry when she was 19. al-Jubouri was a member of the ’80s Generation, which she calls “the generation of war,” a group of Iraqi poets who “came of age during Iraq’s invasion of Iran in 1980 and have matured through an era of what must feel like unending war.” Like many of Iraq’s scholars, she sought political asylum during the embargo and emigrated to Germany; she was the first Iraqi writer to return to Baghdad, just two days after the fall of the regime. Here she initiated Al-Diwan, the first and only Arab-German literary magazine.
“Hagar,” which was shortlisted for the 2012 Best Translated Book Awards, and was listed by Library Journal as a best book of 2011, al-Jubouri offers the reader a vivid idea of how life for Iraq’s citizens drastically changed after the war in.
When asked by journalist Werner Bloch how her creativity was affected by the war, al-Jubouri stated, “we [Iraqi poets] tried to free ourselves poetically. We no longer care for rhyme and rhythm of classical Arabic poetry…our free verse poems are a provocation and a challenge to the old form.”
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