Gifts from an Empty Suitcase and Other Short Stories: And Twenty Poems (SBPRA 2012)

Poets from a War Torn World
With Introduction by Reuven Snir   (SBPRA 2012)

On Screenwriting and Love and Politics: The Screenplay "Blue Mist"
With Introduction by Gaetano Nino Martinetti (ACS)   (SBPRA 2012)

Poets from a War Torn World

Of the four essays in Poets from a War Torn World, the first two are about mysticism in modern
Arabic poetry, and the other two are about literary philosophy in modern Hebrew poetry. All four
essays focus on the 1960s and 1970s— a time when poets hoped that through their writings they
could help bring peace to a war torn Middle East.

Reuven Snir’s introduction is in clear simple language. It provides background knowledge that will
assist the general reader who has no previous knowledge of specifically Arabic or Hebrew poetry.
Otherwise, the introduction and essays are of interest to scholars, students and the general
reader—those interested in poetry, poetics or diverse cultures.

The four essays include Aviva Butt’s translations of entire poems, so that the book is also a
collection of poems which are enjoyable to read. The leading poets under discussion in three
separate essays are Adunis (Adonis), Mahmud Darwish (Arabic poets) and Natan Zach (Hebrew
poet). Rashid Husayn (Arabic poet) is mentioned. The last essay, A Surge of Poetry, deals with
the creativity of the Hebrew poets Natan Zach, Yehuda Amichai, Meir Wieseltier and Asher Reich.
Natan Alterman is mentioned.

On Screenwriting and Love and Politics
is a book by screenwriter Aviva Butt that invites the
reader to take an up close view at writing a film script. Written in an engaging and literary style, the
book attempts to illuminate the emotions, theories and process that go into creating a screenplay.
As a special appendix, the book includes the author’s latest full-length screenplay Blue Mist.  About
this screenplay, she comments: “I write about love and politics. My screenplays are theatrical
feature films on Middle Eastern subjects. This time with my screenplay Blue Mist, the world
situation and the Middle East come to New Zealand.”

The book also features an introduction from Gaetano Nino Martinetti, an award-winning
cinematographer who contributes his views on the role of cinematography in making movies.
2013) for translations of Adunis’ two poems on Baghdad:
  • May poetry press its lips to Baghdad’s breast (1969)
  • Time crushes Baghdad’s body (2005)

Aviva Butt's
COMMENT ON  Adunis’ two poems on Baghdad:
  • May poetry press its lips to Baghdad’s breast (1969)
  • Time crushes Baghdad’s body (2005)

And two screenplays by Aviva Butt:
  • Love under an Umbrella (an original screenplay by Aviva Butt with poetry by Rammahi ) (2001)  
  • In Blood I Come (an original screenplay by Aviva Butt) (2005)

As portrayed in his poem May poetry press its lips to Baghdad’s breast, Adunis’ impression of Baghdad
under the dictatorship is accurate.  Only the darkest moments of Baghdad’s history are called to mind.  
Adunis writes in 1969.  The situation worsened from 1991 with George Bush’s abrupt ceasefire ending
the First Gulf War and the ensuing American-led economic blockade.  The blockade, euphemistically
called “sanctions” was enforced militarily by air and by sea until the Second Gulf War in 1993.  

In my screenplay titled Love Under an Umbrella (2001), I depict the situation in Baghdad between the
two Gulf wars.  The “political hammer” (to quote Adunis) knocked the “anvil” of Baghdadi neighborhoods
in the same manner as described by Adunis in 1969,  and there were in addition the above outlined
external pressures.  To accurately convey the emotional and human story, I worked with an Iraqi poet,
so that the screenplay is an original screenplay by Aviva Butt with poetry by Rammahi (Abid Ali al-
Afrawi).  The protagonist Maher says that he sits in a world of blockades.  In his own personal blockade,
he enjoys his awareness of existence and watches far off stars glowing.  As with Adunis’ poem, the poet
of Love Under an Umbrella makes a sharp distinction between day in Baghdad and night.  With dawn,
Maher says, he sees his baby daughter’s face and thin body.  He sees a world of “blockades, war and
starvation”.  Above all, he lives in fear of every passing shadow.  Rammahi writes the original Arabic
poem that Maher sings:  “In my kaleidoscopic blockade/My soul split into two scenes/The birds are
fearful/And my hand shakes/And I am fearful/From afar an informant watches me. . .  

In the first two stanzas of his poem of 1969, Adunis describes the fear that there will be an informant
and the fear of the consequences.  The informant could be anyone—a neighbor, a friend, a relative or
family member or just a passerby.  Adunis could only have understood this because he is a poet-
prophet with special vision.  It is unlikely that anyone in Iraq would have explained to him that Iraqis were
living in an ‘upside down society’; and it is even more unlikely that anyone outside Iraq would have
believed him if he had published his poem in 1969 when he wrote it.  

To reinforce the terror that ensured absolute political control, Adunis tells us that “the dictator’s mind is
devoted to composing specific encyclopedias that hunt human beings and tame them.”  Torture was the
common means to “tame” Iraqis, which is to say, make them compliant.  Iraqi citizens were tortured
even at local police stations and despite “torture” being against the law!  In Love under an Umbrella,
Maher together with his friend Ali is brought to the local police station (mode-riyat al-amn al-aama).  Ali,
a schoolteacher, on the word of his pupil, is accused of sedition.  The gravity of this offence was all the
more since the regime’s definition of “traitor” was an Iraqi who was unenthusiastic about the dictator or
his regime.  In this light, Adunis’ line “. . .each struggles to be the regime’s parrot, the most eloquent of
them all” makes sense.  In  Love under an Umbrella, Ali is tortured and his mutilated body is dumped into
Maher’s cell.  Then, Maher is released.  Nearing home, Maher witnesses the bombing of his house.  His
wife and two babies are killed and some of the neighbors injured.  Adunis refers to such punitive
demolitions in his line “My friend J lives in what seems to be a palace.  He said to me:  It is easier for
this house to be destroyed than for me to open one of the windows you see before you.”  In Love
Under an Umbrella, we hear the reaction to such events from Maher’s neighbors:  “Crazy poet!  What
grief have you brought down on us?  Blockades, war, starvation.  That’s not enough for you.  Shut your
big mouth.  Your wife and children are buried under that rubble,” and “That wasn’t any American plane!  
This must be some sort of punitive demolition.  What have you done?” and “Our houses, our families!  
You’re crazy.  You’re crazy.  Your big mouth!  Kill him.  Traitor!  Spy!“  So Maher becomes a refugee in
his own country; he leaves Iraq and walks through the desert to Jordan.

Maher and Ali live in Madinat al-Thawra (now Sadr City), a Baghdadi slum district largely populated by
immigration from South Iraq with a mainly Shiite population and a concentration of poets.  The glitter
and sparkle of the Euphrates and Tigris still in their eyes and hearts, the devout Shiites and poets of
Madinat al-Thawra remained defiant during the dictatorship and in the aftermath of the Second Gulf War.

In his poem Time crushes Baghdad’s body written in 2005, Adunis tells us that the Iraqis have been
unable to return to the “river of history”.  The poet in a manner of speaking writes a love poem for
Baghdad; it serves to console lovers of the land of the two rivers for the tragedy they must come to
grips with:  “Night almost spreads its stars on Baghdad’s body/Murmuring, sleeping, she waits for the
prophet of waking/Putting her cheek on the sand, she waits for the prophet of waking/She would be
pleased if the earth were a book that she could seal/With her moans while being possessed by the
prophet of waking. . .”  At present, the poet says, it is impossible for Iraqis to return and pick up the
thread of their lives in what was their homeland.  Baghdad is a sort of “sleeping beauty”  awaiting a
prophet to come and rouse her.  The first stanza of Adunis’ poem hints at the immediate history behind
this situation.  It portrays the hope in the immediate aftermath of the American-led invasion of 2003:  
“Tigris’ lips are shivering, life a jug nearly broken. . . O angel sleeping beneath her naval, when will you
arise?/Spurt upwards, O you unseen water/You alone have defeated the desert.”  

The poet fervently desires the artesian wells from the beginning of civilization to rise and defeat the
desert with the pure sparkling water of renewal.  But, the jug that contains the shared soul of the Iraqi
people is cracked only to be shattered by the actuality of the invasion.

Adunis barely mentions the “iron roof upon Baghdad’s shoulder”.  He is not interested in American
aspirations and oil wells—the Iraqi people likewise.  My original screenplay In Blood I Come (2005) is
about the indeterminate period immediately after the invasion.  Towards the end of this screenplay, the
protagonist Khalil, an Iraqi journalist, makes a sort of pilgrimage to save the lives of the villagers he
grew up with, who are under siege.  Wearing kafiyeh and riding a donkey, he passes deserted cars by
the roadside.  He passes a petrol station.  A sign reads: No Petrol.  He looks into the distance and sees
skyscrapers under construction.  He goes to a place that looks like Madinat al-Thawra and approaches
a person who looks like Muqtada al-Sadr.  Khalil says:  “We trust you, Shaykh.  Please take us under
your wing.  Please include us as your followers.”  The Shaykh (Shiite religious authority) says:  “You
know of course that we have only the same kind of fighters that you do.  We fight with personal
weapons and our fighters are ordinary people from all walks of life.”  Khalil replies:  “Shaykh, we are
asking out of desperation.  My pen, my words bring no success.  Change nothing.”  

It seems that the punishment the Americans and their allies inflicted on the Iraqi people and their dashed
hopes in the aftermath of the Second Gulf War was the last straw—more than they could bear.  Adunis
is right.  Baghdad rests her cheek on the sand, and also Basra and all of Iraq.  

Aviva Butt
April 1, 2012
Aviva Butt's

two poems on Baghdad:
  • May poetry press
    its lips to Baghdad’
    s breast (1969)
  • Time crushes
    Baghdad’s body

And two screenplays by
Aviva Butt:
  • Love under an
    Umbrella (an
    original screenplay
    by Aviva Butt with
    poetry by
    Rammahi ) (2001)  
  • In Blood I Come
    (an original
    screenplay by
    Aviva Butt) (2005)
ed. and trans. Reuven Snir (2013)

This book was released November 2013. It is published by
Harvard University Press.
I cannot praise it enough.  That
seems also to be the opinion of others who have already
reviewed it.

An anonymous review in
2013/10/17 states that the book is the “fruit of pure love. . .
The small volume attempts to capture and reflect the history
of one of the world’s great cities through its poetry, with
offerings beginning in the 700s and ending in 2012 . . . It is a
stunningly good idea.”

Aviva Butt
Robyn Cresswell in the says that this book “has been my bedside reading        
for the last week.” One may conclude from the above remarks that Baghdad: The City in Verse is not only           
a work of great scholarship, but is also a gripping account.

Joseph Braude has written a lengthy and of course well-informed review titled “Round City Poets: A new
anthology captures Baghdad throughout the ages.” This review, which could well serve as a sort of second
preface, will appear in the 2013 December/January issue of

Working along with
Reuven Snir and others on this project, I had the experience of coming in contact with
leading Baghdadi poet Abdul Kader El Janabi while he was composing the Afterword for the book. It was the
most exciting event in my life as a writer. El Janabi worked methodically, in tune with his deep theoretical
knowledge of language per se and his art. I felt as if I was rocking on the waves of the ocean of a shared
                                                                             -- Aviva
Professor Shmuel Moreh's memoirs
written in Arabic commemorate his
death in September 2017.

English Title:

Baghdâd mon Amoure:
Reminiscences on the Jews of
The childhood of Shmuel Moreh (1932 - 2017) was spent in Baghdad in the period before the
Farhud and the mass exodus of Jews from Iraq. He writes “The Farhud, a massacre of Jews
in Baghdad, with figures at 179 men, women and children, took place in June 1-2, 1941,
when there was virtually no government due to a change of government. However, the signs
were in the air so to speak for some years prior. Resentment against the Jewish community
was manifested and felt even at the personal level as also experienced by my family and
myself in my childhood . . .”

The personal account from a great scholar of a controversial and only vaguely known period
in Jewish history is invaluable, as is his account of especially the Sephardic community and
early years of the State of Israel. As a young scholar in Iraq he made his mark on the
development of modern Arabic poetry, and continued in the field of Arabic literature, both
modern and classical, throughout his life. He was “professor” then “professor emeritus” at the
Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a leading figure in the Israeli Iraqi Jewish community.

I remember Professor Shmuel Moreh for his friendship and help to me from when I first went
to see him in Jerusalem during my studies at the University of Sydney in 1981.

                                                                                            -- Aviva Butt, 2017.

Books by Aviva Butt
Books on the Middle East: its Literature and Poets.