Contents of this web page:

1. 2012 performances of Iraqi Experimental Theatre
2. POEMS OF THE EAST by Antony Johae -- A Review
3. Three poems by Iraqi poet Khalid al-Hilli
Hayder Al-Shallal
Arabic Lead Actor,
Director of Iraqi
Experimental Theatre
Hayder was born in Iraq.  
From a very young age, he
became a well-known stage
actor, and later became a
director and script writer for
experimental Arabic theatre.  
While still in Iraq, he worked
as an academic and taught
many of today's younger
generation in Iraq who
presently work in theatre and
movie-making especially in
Southern Iraq.  In Australia, he
worked as a radio
broadcaster.  He also spent
time in Bali where he
researched Balinese theatre
and dance.
Hayder Al-Shallal,Ibtesam Alasaad, Raad Barakat (singer) take a curtain call  
2012 Michigan, USA

Sponsor: The Mesopotamia Forum Activities for Art and Culture
Iraqi performers Hayder al-Shallal and
Ibtesam Alasaad reunited
POEMS OF THE EAST by Antony Johae
A collection of original poems
Published in the United Kingdom, Gipping Press Ltd: 2015. (132 pages)

With Antony Johae’s first poetry collection Poems of the East, it becomes profoundly logical to mingle the results of scholarly
research with personal experience and emotional response. That is, Johae’s medium, namely poetry accomplishes his very
personal mode of expression. The poems are organized in a sequence that follows the poet’s own itinerary throughout his life
starting with his observations on Kuwait, where he was a professor of comparative literature; the poems go on to comment
on Lebanon, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as well as the sad situation in Iraq and its overflow to Jordan. The poet’s roving
mind also takes us in general around the Middle East, as well as to India and to Chinese lore.

The poem Al-Kuwaiti Brothers (for Yahya Taleb Ali) (pp. 15-17) spans in a nutshell the history of the Eastern Jews’ cultural
exodus from Iraq to Israel, and in describing the ensemble created by the al-Kuwaiti brothers with their interim stay in Kuwait,
Johae brings to light a former Jewish community in Kuwait. The al-Kuwaiti brothers continued on to Tel Aviv where the
European Jewish (Ashkenazi) Establishment pushed Eastern Jewish culture to the margins. In the Middle East itself, Jewish
cultural achievements were exponged from the records. The following lines describe the immeasurable success of the al-
Kuwaiti brothers in Arab culture:  

It was 1928 when ambition took them with instrument and song across the bay to Basra
Where nights were alive and lucrative livings could be made.
Mohammed al-Qubbanchi, master-singer of maqama, heard the young men playing
And on night-club stage improvised with them until early morning.
Entrepreneurs heard them too, and cut records for new gramophones
In the bars and cafes of Basra and Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk.

The poem concludes with lines succinctly describing the state of affairs in the second half of the twentieth century:

This was 1936 with war winds blowing from the west,
Ashkenazim purged by Hitler’s men,
And Palestine in protest at foreign settlement.

The above poem is emotive essentially by reason of its content and by the by is a concise presentation of research done.  
Elsewhere, the reader finds that Johae has an admirable ability to introduce humor into his poems and that the poet is adept
with creating images; this is illustrated for example in the following lines from his poem Skating in Kuwait (p. 12):

There’s a local girl now taken by the ice
Taking to it: she’s seen
Those skaters reach for the air
In figures of three, eight and Dervish whirls
And now she’s out there mirroring their moves –
Not fine-footed in loaned boots
With blunt blades and collapsed ankles
But elated, notwithstanding, arms
Beating like wild swans
Wheeling in great broken rings.
Only, not like them, she’s in abaya black
(no ugly duckling though), scarf-covered
Imagining lithe glides, pirouettes,
Three leaps, the bell-beat of wings,
Her figure flying on ice.

In a more serious vein, drawing on his personal religiosity, Johae justifies his urgent desire for peace as well as an end to
barbarism – one could say a courageous message in today’s world environment.  Thus we have for example his poems Not
Far to Galilee: “the border’s barbed and Galilee’s a no-go zone. / You can’t even phone” (p. 29) and At Sheba: “One day to let
the people tread the hallowed land” (p. 30).  In for example his poem Throwing Stones, we find a horrifying example of
inhumane cruelty juxtaposed with the Christian Gospels: “There was a man who looking up from writing with his finger on the
ground / saw those with stones in their hands set to throw at a hapless woman / caught, they said, in adulterous, venereal act;
/ but he would have none of judgement and invited them thus: / He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at
her.” (p. 45)  

It is with political awareness, as well as an awareness of an all-round tragedy, that Johae presents us with memories of the
Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, executed on 30 December, 2006: “I turn back to the front page and read of a man at Baghdad /
stood on a platform before first call to prayer, / insults flung – and hanged (After Execution, p. 86).

POEMS OF THE EAST, composed as they are as a result of research and informed poetics, represent an innovative way to
write poetry.

                                     – Aviva Butt
                                        January 2017
Alassad Ibtesam Y.A.  PhD

Dissertation (Russian)
Globalization and the Problem of Cultural Identity
in Contemporary Arab Thought

The main thrust of this paper is to explain the inner
relations between globalization and cultural identity
and expression in ideological trends of contemporary
Arab thought.  Major modern trends are classified and
compared in the light of their significance regarding
cultural identity. Various issues of conflict and
dialogue between civilizations are analyzed and
discussed as alternatives to modern globalization.
For Ibtesam's dissertation, see:
KHALID AL HILLI Iraqi journalist, news correspondent, literary critic, writer, poet.  

He was born in Iraq in al Hilla.  After living in the Gulf and in Morocco, he settled in
Australia in 1989.  I met him in Melbourne in mid 2005.  
After meeting Khalid, I translated together with Professor Reuven Snir, the following 3
poems from one of his two published volumes of poems.  The imagery and ideas found
in these poems inspired me in writing my screenplay IN BLOOD I COME drafted at the
end of 2005.

From his volume Mudun Gha’ima (Rabat: Babel Company, 1988), pp.13-21, 96-97

Translated from the Arabic by Reuven Snir and Aviva Butt

Overcast Cities

Cities from a paper that I toy with
I write off the days on their forehead
Cities that in their darkness I read
Letters which no language knows
I wear them
They wear me
Overcrowded cities at times
But for at times emptied out
. . .
And on the forehead of the years which
The newcomer bears
Other cities come
Cities that toy with me
Whenever I ask about some of their sons
Or about the banks of the river in them
Cities walk,
Anchoring in my harbour
So that I imagine
I'm one of their inhabitants
. . .
The hands of the clock
Bear me
In the night's corpses and hide me,
They abandon me,
I'm intoxicated from their pulse,
Until if I'm dazed they banish me
. . .
The ways of the cities
United their journey since they announced
Another cease fire,
And they slept under the bridge of time
Roads flee from them,
And buildings,
And houses,
Departing from them were
And birds
So I was prepared and shaved
I withdrew slowly to the rear,
They spoke with me,
My foot abandoned me
And I was left hanging alone in space,
And on the face of my lover
I had left my blood
And the yearning of the Prophets.

The Garden of Sadness, its Name "Exhilaration by Chance"

That is the voice which cuts my head
It came to me at night,
Whispering, and rain,
I was united
I slept within both of my palms
I loosed my grief and slept
My watch left my palm
I searched
I am in my hand,
And my hand is my blood
Where are the writings that know of my distress
And my longing and my commitment to boredom?
The watch was lost. And the palm is rain.
And the night is ended
And my times are rain
My body has not left the palm
And the voice which cut my head left me
I became a palm in the rain
The sun at dawn embraced it
And in the morning it faded
In the oceans of sorrow
. . .
Before I knew that the breathless world became older
My step was growing on the window
And in my heart are all the doors of distances,
In my heart there is a street leading to existence,
Stretching to a universe that my imagination traversed, in the years before I was born, I
was walking in blood that man has not seen yet, that death has not born yet. I was walking
alone like a fragrance, free like water
I didn't know the meaning of how life was melting in the tea at coffeehouses
I didn't believe an event that my lips didn't once see
I used to walk upon my days fast like time
And slowly like exhilaration
My scrambled writings constructing histories, dreams grew in my heart
I embraced for me another exhilaration
My feet trampled down the sand; in the sand I drew the face,
The face became voice and body,
We were united
Which history is this present moment
In my voice the distances disappeared
And the distances were ended
The point became my voice
And we started
. . .
I was alone the first exhilaration
I was the sea and the trees,
And the fragrance that still spreads
. . .
From the end of my voice I am falling, so that I will begin another voice
In order to whisper something; who will hear my voice?
Who will inform my trees and my seas about my death
If I die alone ..
Now I have known that I will die
. . .
My body controls my shadow
And I control the shadow of the shadow
Will we die
As a body in its shadow?
Then we will escape our place unto the silence


Is there no vessel with me to fill my blood
Or are there no notebooks with me
In which to write off
Or write over their margins
So why am I limp like water, and crying like water and waking up:
My voice is a wound
And my wounds are salt
The night is an island
. . .
Overwhelming times are decorating themselves in the distance before my face
Man is asking: Who is this?
The voices are raised asking: Who is this? ..
I shut up reproached, the joy in my heart stifled, and I
Know that I am of them
And I sing of times and ages I didn't witness
Clarity is formed in them, so we'll awaken
And we'll sing for the other beginning

O woman possessing my body; I sleep with her in my dreams
O mysterious woman
Opening shrouds in my body and singing in my fantasies
Will love come at all?