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The ideal choice for a young Iraqi poet

When life finally reached us / I was inside a coffin running around,” writes the Iraqi poet Ali Thareb in one of his early poems. Ali was born in 1988 in the city of Babil in Iraq. These lines summarise the fate of his generation: a whole life lived in perpetual devastation and death. Thareb is currently an ICORN writer in Jönköping, Sweden. His first published work is the collection of poems "A Bright White Emptiness" (2015). And his fifth collection in Arabic is “Soft-hearted Man from the Kingdom of Knives.” He became a name in contemporary Arabic poetry by means of the performance group with the strange name Cultural Militia. This group consists of poets from Babil who read their poems in unexpected places such as a bombed nuclear power station, a mine field, the world’s largest burial ground, or in ambulances.

In this text Thareb reflects on his life before Jönköping opened its gates to him. It depicts the tragic Iraqi reality in which his colleagues are still living.

By Jasim Mohamed

Credits Text: Ali Thareb Translation: Wael Sawah Translation of introduction: Christina Cullhed Photo: : Johan Werner March 10 2021

During the last three months of my stay in Iraq, I took to contemplation. No words can explain the pain and alienation I was enduring. My feet were in one place and my head in another. I was filled with profound questions about everything; questions that I wanted to believe I alone was having. My questions were about the city I live in and other cities in Iraq, about the people whose eyes are deprived of hope, while their last breaths are forcibly taken from their chests. I wondered about what awaited us and the days that stubbornly do not want to move, as though they were bound by all the stones of the earth. I also wondered about those other days that pass by without us ever feeling them. Everything seemed different and mysterious; my eyes, my heart, my bones, my memories, and my pain were just pushing me towards death.

But in a country like Iraq, the idea of committing ​​suicide seems waggish, for a simple reason: what would the suicide of a poet change? Would my death be of any significance? Would it make others feel loss and, maybe, revisit my words that will remain homeless after my departure? I do not say this because I believe poets are more valuable than others are or that they are made of gold. Rather, a poet is, as I see and imagine it, a place in this vast universe where love, words, ants, bits, and bites of Hell meet. The constant threat and terror of humanity remains very closely tied to survival. I do not fear death, insofar as it is the dismantling of my humanity that I fear most. I dread becoming a different person, somebody who is full of dark fantasies such as sabotage, extremism and the like; a person whom I cannot hear, nor can I share with him his visions. Many are those who went on this path. They were not killed, but changed, and their survival is no longer meaningful. Man cannot survive if he loses his humanity.

The energy of the killers in Iraq is greater than the energy of the innocent who dream of a clean life. That is why every innocent Iraqi has got a painful memory. In every Iraqi is a cry, in every Iraqi there is a corpse, every Iraqi is waiting for something to happen. In every Iraqi, there is a kite; in every Iraqi, there is an empty swing; in every Iraqi, there is a small river; in every Iraqi, there is a bird that eats its young to remain alone. In every Iraqi there is a shortcut to paradise or hell, as life grows around him like a tree and ends like a piece of snow.

Iraq has gone through major political and social transformations. Wars have dominated our souls. Consecutive failures kill not only the sincere attempts to overcome problems, but also the aspiration to overcome them. Individuals swarm in cliques and align with those who are stronger and mightier, as every weak person tries to find a strong protector. This situation has gone beyond any logic; it is a war with civilization, history and the future. There are two Iraqs today: one is manipulating life, and the other is always on the edge of a sword.

As a poet, I do not look only at my personal crises. The bond between reality and myself is not individual. I am not isolated from what is going on around me. People’s problems, in my view, are not wild animals that are to be placed in cages to allow others to inspect them. Rather, they are live problems that one meets in the streets, alleys, and markets: everywhere. It is only natural therefore to feel responsible for them and to share some of the pain and grief. This collective empathy, if I could use this expression, will only double the volume of the pain and augment the suffering. At the end of the day, I come up with many stories that I have heard or saw happen, and, thus, I cannot separate myself from them or even snub them. I will be that woman who asks others to help her pay the rent for the room that is falling apart, but still is sheltering her and her daughters. I will be that young man who was killed on his way home in the evening, because he was demanding his freedom. And I will be the children who sell boxes of tissues at the traffic lights. In fact, I will be all the people who suffer. When you find yourself in all these people and in their stories, what will your life look like and how best can you confront it? Any one in my position will find themselves in a constant struggle with insanity.

I may not be the only Iraqi, nor the only poet, who has these feelings. There must be many others like myself. However, each deals with pain in a different way. The disparity in absorbing this pain and suffering is what differentiates the size of our personal pain. We are all on the same path, crucified, even if we do not carry a cross on our shoulders.

The only thing that I cannot comprehend is how.

Some people who I’ve met or spoken to, managed to fill their mind with wrong convictions. Their yearning to discover another face of life has been exterminated, as if they are isolated from what is going on around them. How could they become so tame that they believe that this is the life they aspire for, and whoever doesn’t like it can leave the country? This category of Iraqis has not found solutions to their dilemma and does not have somebody to guide them to understand the waste that has controlled all aspects of life. What the killers and politicians are doing today in Iraq will never end, as the innocent are looking for things that I cannot grasp.

In those days, I could not remain dazzled. I could not seek peace and tranquility in poetry, when the world hunted me. I could not live a normal life: love, dream, and believe that the portion of air and freedom I had is sufficient for me. I could not remain balanced, as if I did not really care about anything that is going around me. Frustration surmounted any other desire within me: writing, fear, and even hatred. I was fragile and dreadfully defeated; still, I remained, suffered, and refused to commit suicide.

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