The Iraqi Nights

The Iraqi Nights

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Author: Dunya Mikhail 

Translator: Kareem James Abu-Zeid

Publisher: New Directions (2013)

The Iraqi Nights is the third collection by the acclaimed Iraqi poet Dunya Mikhail. Taking The One Thousand and One Nights as her central theme, Mikhail personifies the role of Scheherazade the storyteller, saving herself through her tales. The nights are endless, seemingly as dark as war in this haunting collection, seemingly as endless as war. Yet the poet cannot stop dreaming of a future beyond the violence of a place where “every moment / something ordinary / will happen under the sun.” Unlike Scheherazade, however, Mikhail is writing, not to escape death, but to summon the strength to endure. Inhabiting the emotive spaces between Iraq and the U.S., Mikhail infuses those harsh realms with a deep poetic intimacy. The author’s vivid illustrations―inspired by Sumerian tablets―are threaded throughout this powerful book.

"The poems in this extraordinary collection sway back and forth between America (as a new home) and Baghdad (as a birthplace), between the artifacts of ancient Sumerian civilization and the walls of our modern times. There is no trace of nostalgia in Mikhail’s poetry, though her words feel poignantly real and rare, as if creating a museum of memories."

–Hatem al-Sager

"Somewhere between a cutting-edge film and a 1002nd night of storytelling, interspersed with drawings and calligraphy, Dunya Mikhail’s new poems reframe, in a contemporary woman’s voice, the great poet al-Sayab’s cry from the heart: ‘Iraq, Iraq, nothing but Iraq!’ Here, myth alleviates the exile’s longing, and exilic longing itself opens the poet’s eyes to broad horizons."

–Marilyn Hacker