Frank Dullaghan: Unsanctioned Writing from the Middle East

by Sampsonia Way    /  February 14, 2013  / No comments

Nowhere Near a Damn Rainbow: Unsanctioned Writing from the Middle East is an anthology of work from 31 poets who are part of the poetry collective known as the Poeticians.

Sampsonia Way asked Hind Shoufani, founder of the Poeticians and curator of the book, to pick eight writers to be interviewed via email. In this series we present those poets’ voices and publish a poem from each.

The writer profiled in our third installment is Frank Dullaghan, an Irish poet who currently resides in Dubai, and allowed us to publish his poem “In A Place Of Darkness.”

Frank Dullaghan, an Irish poet living in Dubai, has been published in several literary magazines across the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom. Photo courtesy of Frank Dullaghan.

  1. Frank Dullaghan
  2. Frank Dullaghan is a poet from Ireland who has been writing for over two decades. His own publications include At The Opened Door, On the Back of the Wind, Enough Light to See the Dark, and The Wasp’s Small Shadow.
  3. Dullaghan’s work has been featured in several anthologies and journals throughout Ireland, the UK, Australia, and the US including, The Iron Book of British Haiku, First Pressings, Teaching a Chicken to Swim, Blithe Spirit, Causeways, The Honest Ulsterman, and Stepping Stones: A Way Into Haiku. Currently, he resides in Dubai, and works as a compliance and business consultant to financial service companies. Additional material can be found here.

Your poem “In A Place Of Darkness” primarily focuses on women in Middle Eastern culture and their perspective of issues in society, such as war, death, relationships, and patriarchy. Why did you pick this topic, and purposefully choose to write it from a female voice?

It is difficult for an outsider to write something like this and I struggled with the idea of it for a while – one has to be careful not to be exploitive. But I felt it needed writing (I included it and similar poems in Enough Light to See the Dark). Women, particularly in poor communities in the Middle East and North African region, live in appalling conditions. They have been denied a voice, an education, and are controlled and exploited by a male dominated society that uses religion to legitimize such abuse. The female voice just sort of came. It demanded to be heard. But it isn’t a voice that is sorry for itself. It’s more resigned, softer (and yet stronger) than that. I hope it works. I have written other poems in a female voice – most recently a short collection of poems about the mythical female pope, Pope Joan, which I am looking to publish as a pamphlet.

What is the importance of the Poeticians to you?

The Poeticians provides a unique platform for many voices, from slam poets to more conventional poets like myself. I believe that performance is part of what a writer needs to learn and Poeticians has allowed this to happen for me. It has also exposed me to more political voices and engaged me in an inner discussion on many of these issues. Most important of all, however, is that it has provided association and fellowship with other good poets and writers. I love them dearly.

Nowhere Near A Damn Rainbow highlights that it’s an uncensored book of “unsanctioned” writing. How have you benefited from being in an uncensored collection?

None of my work has ever been censored so it’s how I expect things to be, but I recognize that this is not the experience of many other writers. When I write, I let the impulse drive me and not some set of external restrictions. Of course, we all impose some level of self-censorship on our writing all the time – is it offensive without artistic merit? Is it just trying to shock for the sake of sensationalism, etc? We have many responsibilities as writers. Our main responsibility, however, is to be true to our gift, to continually try to improve it while ignoring cheap tricks on the one hand, and the constrictions of censorship on the other.

Can you talk about freedom of speech in Dubai? Which topics are not allowed?

One is not generally aware of censorship living in Dubai. It feels liberal; it feels Western. Of course it’s not. There is censorship (I once had a haiku banned online) but we don’t walk around in fear of it. Of course, there are certain topics – sexual matters, anti-establishment discussions, anti-Islamic statements etc. that could get one into trouble. My writing doesn’t tend in that direction. More importantly, I do not generally publish [in Dubai] but in the UK.

What misunderstandings does the West have about Middle Eastern literature?

That it’s inferior. In fact, it’s been around a lot longer!

What are you working on now?

I write poems all the time, so a third collection is scheduled for early 2014. I have also completed a young adult novel and had a major UK publisher interested – they loved the characters and quality of writing – but in the end rejected it because it didn’t fit into a particular genre. So I have to do some more work on that. I am also writing some short stage- and screenplays.

IN A PLACE OF DARKNESS

Sia-sarah the man called us, Black-heads,
because of our black hijabs…
He demanded to know
where our fathers were, our brothers.

He would have beaten us,
being unaccompanied,
had Waheed not come and looked at him,
the way a hawk might look at a mouse,
a stallion at a whelp of a dog.

I took my husband home and washed his hair.
Though there was no glass left
in our window, that night the curtains
held the cold to the street.

****

I would meet Laila by the stream
under the pomegranate trees. We would splash our faces
and talk of her trouble.
Not another day with him, she would say.

When she went to the courts for a divorce
I wanted to stay at home, admire the broad back
of my own husband, a sail rising from the sea
of our bed. I wanted to float there
with him forever.

But I had him take me. It’s a man’s court,
he warned,
she will win nothing but another beating.
Laila was silent when they told her
to go home and be obedient to her
snarl of a husband.

The colour was sudden, the blue aura of it, the flash
into gold, red; into shrieking, writhing,
black; into hands
of flame, a voice no longer hers hammering
at Allah’s door. And all the men were silent.

****

When war came, everything I knew
was flattened.
First my voice,
then the light in my head.
Now there is just day, then night.
They just happen
the way smoke and blood happen.

And noise.
Sometimes it’s another’s noise,
though mostly it’s my own.

When war came,
it came all the way inside
and then nothing was quiet ever again.

****

The birds are fighting.
They stab and slash at each other.

They have razors in their beaks.
They go for an eye, a throat.

Pain is what they feed on now –
a broken wing, a ruptured breast.

They have no interest in the sky,
only this feast of death and dying.

****

I take my blue shawl from the chest
just to have colour in the room.
Sky blue Waheed said when he
bought it for me.
But the sky has been rotted
with smoke and dust.
Everything is black, even the blood
burnt into the street.

Waheed used to say
Allah makes all things beautiful.
If you look, you see.
But Waheed is gone,
a shadow running through the hills.
I am nothing now.
I am just a woman holding on
to a blue shawl in the dark.

****

There are many shades of black.
There’s the black that comes at night,
its faceless voice banging out of the dark.
There’s the morning black when the day
heaves the great hump of its back
in front of the sun. There’s the
black of the heart,
its black river flowing inside me.
Then the black I have seen within the flame.
And, in shame, the black of my mouth
cursing Allah.

Look at that bird in its black tree.
It could easily fly from this place of darkness.
Yet still it remains pecking at its black deeds.
If it were to go, it would carry
its own small blackness with it.
I am like that bird, my soul black within me.
I would come into the new with
the stain of the old.
The man called us Sia-sarah
because of our black hearts.

About the Author

Sampsonia Way is an online magazine sponsored by City of Asylum/Pittsburgh that seeks to protect and advocate for writers who may be endangered, to educate the public about threats to writers and literary expression, and to create a community in which endangered writers thrive and literary culture is a valued part of life.

View all articles by Sampsonia Way

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