Soheil Najm Translates Iraqi Poetry

by Elizabeth Hoover    /  July 6, 2010  / No comments


Najm reads at Jazz Poetry 2009. Photo by Renee Rosensteel

For the Iraqi translator and poet Soheil Najm, poetry offers an opportunity to start a conversation across cultural barriers. “It’s important to make a good environment to exchange ideas between intellectuals in America and intellectuals in Iraq,” he told the Michigan State News.

Najm tirelessly fosters this exchange by promoting the work of Iraqi poets abroad. He is the co-editor of Flowers of Flame: Unheard Voices of Iraq, an anthology of Iraqi poets in translation. He has also translated selections of work by Nikos Kazantzakis, Alasdair Gray, Ted Hughes, and Jose Saramago. In addition, he has published three books of his own poetry: Breaking the Phrase, Your Carpenter O Light, and No Window Outside the Window. Watch Najm and other featured poets read at City of Asylum/Pittsburgh‘s Jazz Poetry Concert in 2009.

Ra’ad Zamil’s poem, presented here for the first time in English, offers a glimpse into the struggles of a generation of Iraqis who have survived Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship and are trying to make a life in Iraqi’s nascent democracy.

Najm says this about Ra’ad Zamil’s work: “In this poem Ra’ad Zamil elegantly summarizes, in a poetic style, the real dilemma most of the Iraqi young people lived in during the era of dictator Saddam Hussein, especially in the eighties and the nineties of the previous century. It is the bitter pill of disappointment the middle- age man feels after he is compelled to be a soldier in a useless war with Iran for eight years.

“Moreover this poem shows us the double press young people suffer from in Iraq from the tyrannical treatment of the head of the government and the head of the family. The poet adds to that, from his inside, his disappointment of love and his illusion to be a renowned poet as his friends used to mislead him. What is poetic here is that the poet blames those who ruined his life and wants to return it back but there is no way. It is a sincere poem written in a moment of clearness. The poem appeared in the collection of the poet issued last year in Baghdad.”

READ RA’AD ZAMIL’S POEM

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About the Author

Elizabeth Hoover earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Indiana University, where she received a Project on African Expressive Traditions grant and the Won-Joon Yon Scholarship for Racial Tolerance. She has written for American Heritage, Life, and Poets and Writers. Her criticism has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. She has published poetry in The Adirondack Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and the Atlanta Review. Recently, New Letters nominated her for a Pushcart Prize. Hoover is a former associate editor at Sampsonia Way.

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