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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    No country for Iraqi poet

    Dr. Sinan Antoon, poet, novelist, translator and assistant professor at New York University, will be reading new and old material at the UA Poetry Center on Thursday at 8 p.m. He has written a novel, “”I’jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody,”” and numerous poems, notably anthologized in “”The Baghdad Blues.””

    Born in Baghdad, Antoon brings a unique cultural perspective to the UA. Much of his writing has been published in Arabic before English.

    “”I write faster in my native language, but I think the writing retains its power and beauty in any language, if it is well translated,”” Antoon said in an e-mail. “”There is always something lost, I believe, even when we speak our own native language. Don’t we often feel that words are not fully translating our feelings and desires?””

    Antoon’s previous writing dealt with living under dictatorship. His new work focuses on struggling with the horrors of occupation and coping with the death and destruction, while maintaining one’s humanity. This shift appears to be influenced by Antoon’s return to Baghdad in 2003 to co-direct and produce the documentary “”About Baghdad.”” He found his old home under the occupation of his new one.

    “”Imagine if you were to leave the U.S. and then return after many years and are greeted at the border with Chinese or Russian soldiers who search you and ask about your ID. Imagine seeing tanks all over your hometown and guns pointed at you when you are in a car. Imagine seeing barbed wires everywhere and big concrete walls separating neighborhoods you previously walked through,”” he said. “”I always wanted Saddam to go, but not have dictatorship replaced with military occupation.””

    Life in America has not been necessarily simpler for Antoon. As an Iraqi-American in a post-9/11 world, his work faces constant misinterpretation.

    “”(Conceptions of Islam) have gotten much worse after Sept. 11. This affects how I am read or received. I happen to be from a Christian family, but almost everyone assumes that since I am from Iraq, I must be Muslim,”” Antoon said. Even his classroom is affected by cultural discord. “”Many students come saturated with what mainstream media has bombarded them with and are surprised to find a more complex history and diverse cultures that cannot and should not be reduced to soundbites.””

    An advocate for the unheard voices of his native country, Antoon has been published in The Nation and Cairo’s Al-Ahram Weekly, but never The New York Times.

    “”I sent many pieces to The New York Times, but they never publish them and you can guess why … I would like to address more people in this country, but the mainstream is difficult to break into without compromising,”” he said.

    Frustrated by his difficulties in this country, Antoon said, “”I am a citizen of the world, a scholar and writer who tries to be conscious of how the world has shaped him and shaped his ideas. We are all in the world and are shaped by it. There is no outside from which to observe and not be in the world.””

     

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