Flowers of Flame

The Poetry of IRAQ




Dan Veach

Despite years of war and tsunamis of sound bites, this will be the first opportunity many readers will have to meet Iraqis as real human beings, speaking heart to heart. In these pages you will hear the unheard voices of Iraq: men and women, Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds.

These poems were collected, as the war raged all around them, by Iraqis living and working in Baghdad. This is their message to the world, one that transcends all the barriers dividing present-day Iraq. It is a message that needs to be heard by all sides in the current conflict.     

Iraq’s poets have suffered imprisonment, exile, and death for the truths they have dared to tell. Poetry is not a luxury in Iraq, but a vital part of the struggle for the nation’s future. This is poetry that is feared by tyrants and would-be tyrants.  

How do they do it? How is it even possible to write poetry in present-day Iraq? One poet asks himself, “How can you extract poems and shrapnel from your chest at the very same time?” The answers that you’ll find here will amaze you—a “perfect storm” of international headline news, profound humanity, and genuinely great art.

You’ll find joy here as well as struggle. Arabic poetry has a long and rich tradition of ecstatic love, whimsical humor, and philosophic insight. Remarkably, charm and lightness of touch abound. Even the war invites you to a picnic—from which you will not return untouched.

These poems form a continuous “conversation,” each one speaking to and illuminating those around it. The subjects taken up in turn are war, love, the daily life of the people, and the inner life of the artist. An Iraqi emergency room physician in Baghdad, someone who has surely seen the worst of the current conflict, recently read this collection in English. When he told us that these poems had brought him to tears, I knew that we had captured at least a little of the truth about Iraq.

Flowers of Flame
Copyright 2008 by Michigan State University