10. Hagar Before the Occupation, Hagar After the Occupation : Poems by Amal Al-Jubouri
I like poetry, I really do. But I have a hard time sitting down with a book of poetry, feeling like it’s a complete piece of work, not just arbitrarily chosen individual poems. This book of poetry is about the American occupation of Iraq. It specifically invokes the author’s exile from Iraq, but each poem pays homage to, or better yet, mourns a country – her country, and the ways in which it has changed.
Before the womb expelled me
you were my cord to the placenta
I was your creation
I, your heiress
You, my slave
You, my god
You came from Paradise
and so did I
My cheating lover
A number, a zero-sum
– Poetry Before the Occupation
Each poem is presented with a complement. “The Tigris Before the Occupation,” “The Tigris After the Occupation.” “My Neighbor Before the Occupation,” “My Neighbor After the Occupation.” Each poem also comes with the original Arabic text on one page, and an English translation facing. While this may seem unnecessary for a book of poetry published in the US, I think it’s absolutely necessary. This book does an absolutely amazing job in translation. There are extensive explanations and notes at the beginning, noting the importance of translating cultural references, time, place, and keeping the tone of the poems in line, while translating from Arabic to English (which is no easy feat), and managing to keep a poetic, artistic feel about the writing. The translator does a remarkable job of translating the feel of the poems, while retaining the message, references, and overall depth of the book.
As to be expected in a book of poetry about war, most of the poems are heartbreaking, lonely, melancholy. But they are exquisitely beautiful, and each word feels so perfectly chosen in Arabic and in English, that I couldn’t stop reading. For an extremely well written analysis of Al-Jubouri’s poetry, one that I feel adds so much that I want to say, this article has some excellent insights. This is a book I want to dwell on, and one I’ve recommended to several friends.