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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Culture and Identity

Couple of months ago, the department of English where I teach held a poetry reading session; actually it was wholly arranged by a senior student who claims to be a poet. He invited to it some poets whom, he said, are considered "schools" in today's poetry in Iraq! I attended it thinking that finally I may encounter something that trigger my interest and guide me out of my ignorance in Arabic poetry of nowadays! The reading session was horrible experience for me; what I listened to then was nothing like poetry, but cheap erotic verse meant for flirtations with audience who was mostly females!!! I rushed out after half an hour because I felt insulted and lost hope in finding something of interest in this aspect of my culture.                       

The whole identity issue requires a sense of the identification with one's culture: to relate to the language spoken by people, music, lyrics and other cultural aspects. When my foreign friends ask me about these aspects in my Iraqi cultural I feel embarrassed for the fact that I'm ignorant in most of these. I did listened to couple of Iraq songs of the late 1970s and 80s, but it was accidental experience rather than being heartily interested in.

One of the things that make me feel detached from the culture of my country is the use of language. In Iraq people speak Iraqi dialect, one of many versions of Arabic language. No need to talk here about the history of this dialect, but all I can say it is one of the many variations that Arab countries use. Now my relationship to this dialect is limited to the everyday use of it as means of communicating with others, rather than as a means of expression. Before I join the department of English, and take English as a major study, I used to write my diaries and thoughts in standard Arabic, rather than dialect Iraqi. Of course most of the Arabs, Iraqis included do that, as the use of dialects is mostly oral rather than written. However, once I gained confidence in using English, it became my means of expression, and using it as such felt like finding a lost ring in the chain of my being.

For almost 15 years now, English is the language I use in my personal and private writings (standard Arabic is used occasionally when I do some translation tasks, but not for personal writings). This creates a breach between me and Arabic (of course thanks to Quran that I still know how to read it correctly, and how to write it without spelling mistakes!!).

It becomes also embarrassing when people ask me about the poetry written by Iraqi people when they come to know that I'm university instructor of English poetry. They think I would have developed an interest in comparative studies between Arabic and English poetry, which, to be honest here, I should have done, since I speak both languages and this gives better access for both fields as well as being majored in literature!! Unfortunately, my information about Arabic poetry doesn't exceed what I have already learned in school, and if it wouldn't for my good memory, all would have been lost by now!

I can talk for hours about the prosody of English poetry, I can actually edit poems in English to fix their rhythm and rhyme, but all I can do with Arabic poetry is to read it and enjoy it if there is something I can relate to.
After being asked several times about the poetry written by my people, the Iraqis, I thought of searching for more information, thinking that maybe there will be something of interest which take me closer to this aspect of my culture. I couldn't! and didn't even find anything that gives the urge to search more.

However, not to sound too grim, sometimes I still manage to find courage and check few websites here and there; I try to create hope in the possibility of finding something good and worth reading that can take me back to the culture I belong to. 



  1. Ok take number 2 seeing my previous comment went awol :)

    What can I say, I can hardly write poetry in any language, so there u go, I can only remain a silent spectator in most cases.

    I used to know someone who excelled in arabic poetry, but as you say I have to say his poetry too bordered more on ribaldry :( Has it got to do anything with gender at all? Ha ha having said that I dont want to start any gender wars here.

    Anyway I read a lot of Arabic poetry translated in english...sadly so I guess I seem to miss the innuendoes and the subtle pun in most cases, especially that of Nizar's. How do you find his writings?

  2. I'm not so much inclined toward translated poetry, not even for study purposes! poetry need to be read in its original form because the wording carry with it the culture and spirit of the poet. it is a mind and soul thrown into words, the original one that the poet composed and wrote down. Translation deals only with scratches on white sheets attempting to find equivalent forms for them in the target language. That is why i find myself disappointed with much of Poetry in Iraq today, because it failed to take our culture and spirit into the words the poets put in their verse.