This is a continuation of the interview with Iraqi poet Dunya Mikhail.
Let’s go back to that statement… You say “poetry, in return, saved my life. Not in the metaphorical way, but it really did.” Can you explain that?
DM: This is a long story, my life story. But in brief, it was written in my Iraqi passport that “the profession of the passport bearer is: poet” and that was the reason I could leave at the right time. Otherwise, any other profession would require a lot of paperwork and job permission when my writings were questioned in Iraq and my life was at risk. “Poetry” didn’t require a leave of absence from anywhere, and thus I could leave immediately.Iraq has changed since you left in 1996. How has your writing about it changed?
DM: After I left Iraq, my writing became more straightforward and less symbolic. Now I use metaphors only when I need them. In other words, the metaphors and symbols in my writing become instrumental to the well being of my writing — and not to my own well being. In Iraq, they were my shield against censorship.
I think the best way for us as outsiders to understand Iraq as a society, is not through the words of politicians or journalists, but through regular people who can shape their thoughts for the public.
DM: It’s hard to see Iraq as a whole because part of it has been buried under the ruins. I mean what’s on the surface to see is just half of the truth. You can see that half through the eyes of regular people and through the works of artists and writers, and only sometimes through the words and pictures of journalists. What the politicians let you see is zero% of that truth.
Part Three: How does a person write about an oppressive situation without being completely bleak? Award-winning Iraqi poet Dunya Mikhail discusses her writing approach.