Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"Cairo writes, Beirut publishes, Baghdad reads."

Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here

     "It was a summer day in 2003, when Iraq was still filled with the half-truths of occupation and liberation, before its nihilistic descent into carnage. Mohammed Hawayi, a bald bear of a man, stood in his shop, the Renaissance Bookstore, along Baghdad's storied al-Mutanabbi Street . . . .

A car bomb detonated last week on al-Mutanabbi Street, leaving a scene that has grown familiar in Baghdad, a collage of chaotic images, disturbing in their brutality, grotesque in their repetition. At least 26 people were killed. Hawayi the bookseller was one of them." -ANTHONY SHADID
Washington Post, March 12, 2007

Anthony Shadid died in Syria in February 2012 while working as a foreign correspondent for the New York Times.

Shadid's reporting from Baghdad is the first essay in AL-MUTANABBI STREET STARTS HERE, the new anthology of prose and poetry edited by Beau Beausoleil and Deema Shehabi, just published by PM Press.

The list of contributors to this anthology includes Naomi Shihab Nye, Meena Alexander, Kenneth Wong, Diane di Prima, Lewis Buzbee, Josh Kun, Mahmoud Darwish, Etel Adnan, Kazim Ali, Adrienne Rich, Cornelius Eady, Amy Gerstler, Azar Nafisi, Owen Hill, Susan Moon, Dana Teen Lomax, and Summer Brenner, the editor-at-large who invited me to contribute. 

Thanks to Julie Allen, my colleague in The Bancroft Library, for bringing some of her favorite contributions to my attention (see Gazar Hantoosh's "Destinies" and Dima Hilal's "The Sudden Cessation of Electricity").

I look forward to reading everything in this anthology.

        From the book:

     "For part of my life, I worked as a bookseller on al-Mutanabbi Street. In the early 1990s, I was well known for buying the libraries of writers who were besieged by hunger because of the
sanctions . . . "
From "Escape from al-Mutanabbi Street" 
     by Muhammad al-Hamrani

"The six men, all relatives,
were hunting for a teenager's remains. The boy had been
shopping for notebooks on al-Mutanabbi Street, named
for a tenth-century poet. They had been digging since
Wednesday, morning till night."

From "March 9, 2007 Al-Mutanabbi Street, Baghdad" 
     by Julie Bruck

     "For so many Iraqis, books have always been like the food of life. If you can't get them, you starve, and al-Mutanabbi Street is where you came for nourishment."

From "The River Turned Black with Ink" 
     by Maysoon Pachacki

Collection of al-Mutanabbi Street Broadsides
Jaffe Library, Florida Atlantic University

The broadsides commissioned by Beau Beausoleil for this project are now part of library collections around the world. Thanks to him for his untiring efforts toward peace and understanding, and for bringing us all together.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Huckleberry Finn in Arabic

Huckleberry Finn

Psalms and Ashes, My Dream of Pasternak, Stanzas in the Form of a Dove

The sea has swallowed the honey
And love turned to ashes in the roads.
— Hamid Mokhtar, “The Rabble” 
"Near the old Jewish quarter of Baghdad, at Al Rasheed Street, there is a meandering alley named after the Iraqi poet Al Mutanabbi. Bookstores of every description occupy the street-level spaces, selling technical manuals, ornate copies of the Quran and a nice selection of pirated software. Al Mutanabbi then runs downhill toward the mud-brown bend of the Tigris until veering west at a covered market and the high walls of an old mosque school. Right at the bend in the road is Baghdad’s legendary literary cafe, the Shabandar, where for decades writers and intellectuals have come. 

On Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2005, walking carefully under the white-hot sun, a man carried a bag down Al Mutanabbi Street and walked into Hajji Qais Anni’s stationery store, stayed for a short time, then left without his package. When the package exploded a short time later, the blast killed Hajji Qais, who was sitting near the door where he kept watch over his shop." - Salon
In March of 2007, another bomb exploded in the booksellers quarter in Baghdad (read about the bombing and reconstruction of al-Mutanabbi Street in NYT articles and blogs here  and here).

[In 2007], the San Francisco bookseller Beau Beausoleil started the Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition "Because I felt this connection … If I were an Iraqi, a bookseller, a poet, I would be on that street. I felt we needed some sort of response (to the bombing) from our own arts community.'"
Since then, at Beau's invitation, book artists and printers have created incredible broadsides that have been exhibited all over the world and are archived in many special collections and libraries.

PM Press has just published AL-MUTANABBI STREET STARTS HERE (edited by Beau Beausoleil and Dema Shahabi), an anthology of poets and writers responding to the bombing. You can get it from the publisher, at your local bookstore, or here

The volume includes my story/essay "Psalms and Ashes," commissioned by contributing editor Summer Brenner. The anthology includes work by Owen Hill, Susan Moon, and many other terrific writers from around the world, including Iraq.
Huckleberry Finn has been translated into many languages, including Arabic, so my essay about the booksellers quarter in Baghdad mentions Mark Twain.

I thought his books might have been there along with with the Book of Psalms, computer software, reams of paper and stacks of envelopes, American soldiers and Iraqi booksellers. What could be more American than Mark Twain's anti-imperialism?

I also included him because I work in The Bancroft Library, home of the Mark Twain Papers.

"They did not know that it was impossible and so they did it." - Mark Twain
Check out this
 very interesting interview with Beau Beausoleil.

New Issue of ELEVEN ELEVEN  

A los diecinueve años escribí el poema / más lindo del mundo." It really *is* the most beautiful poem in the world, and it's by Eduardo Chirinos, a writer new to me. It's the first thing in the new issue of this beautiful CCA magazine Eleven Eleven.

I have work in this issue, too (my "Dream After Reading Pasternak"--probably the first time Jean Genet, Palestinian refugee camps, the Black Panthers and  Tip O'Neill have ever been in the same place). 

Nakba (Palestinian exodus, 1948)

Michael Cammarata, NYFD,
died in the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001--
cugine, paisan

"The past isn't over. It isn't even past."

- William Faulker

Tip O'Neill (with reporter Garry Armstrong)

"All politics is local."


On 9/11/2012, last week, out of the blue, I received a letter forwarded by my publisher, Bill Corbettt (Pressed Wafer), telling me that my poem"Stanzas in the Form of a Dove" will be included in NEW CALIFORNIA WRITING 2013 (edited by Gayle Wattawa, published by Heyday).

"Stanzas in the Form of Dove" comes from Borges' "Invocation to Joyce" and is one of two 9/11 poems in the last section of my book, THE PUBLIC GARDENS: POEMS AND HISTORY.

I am so honored and pleased to be part of anything published by the wonderful people at Heyday.