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Have You Ever Tried to Write a War Poem?
by Faleeha Hassan
Faleeha Hassan arrived in the U.S. in 2012. She was forced to flee her country, not because of her political alliance, but because she wrote poetry about love, family, womanhood, and war. Militants found her poetry too subversive and soon she found herself on a public death list
When WWrite asked Faleeha Hassan to write for this blog on WWI and was writing, she submitted the essay, “Have You Ever Tried to Write a War Poem?” Writing a poem about war is the same in every war, she seems to say. Weapons, geography, and scope may change, she intimates, but poets who have lived through war share a unique characteristic when it comes to the writing process. Not only do they feel the overwhelming, unexpected presence of the memories, even if the events that shaped them happened many years prior; like WWI nurse Mary Borden, British soldier, Robert Graves, and Ernest Hemingway, they also feel the enormous gap that war digs between the combat and civilian experience.
Have You Ever Tried to Write a War Poem?
Some people believe that writing poetry requires training and planning. That if you go to school and attend poetry-writing classes or get experience by attending workshops, then you will get the ability you need to write poetry.
I am not totally against this idea, but there are some questions that jump into my head every time I hear it.
Is *everyone* capable of writing poetry even if s/he does not have natural talent?
Are training and planning alone sufficient for the birth of a poem?
Even if we are convinced that training and planning are generally necessary, writing a poem about war is completely different. Going to school or workshops to gain enough experience to write a poem about war is not enough. No matter what we do to prepare, war poems remain frightening at their birth.
Let's explore that idea.
Let's say you are sitting on your rocking chair on your balcony on a beautiful quiet morning. As usual, you are smoking your cigarette. Next to you is a glass table with a cup of coffee. Suddenly you decide to write a poem. To be specific, you tell yourself, "Today I will write a war poem."
You take a deep breath and a sip of your coffee. You close your eyes to imagine a short war scene of a little girl sitting on the floor trying to hide her head between her knees. She is shaking and does not dare turn around for fear of the sound of the fighter planes. She panics as the sound gets louder.
You might imagine a group of children without shoes screaming and running in every direction, looking for a safe place to shelter. They hear the warning siren and stumble into the holes in the streets made by tanks.
Now, what do you think?
Is it easy for you to find the short, concise phrases that show how you feel and what you sense to describe the panicked little girl?
Is it easy for you to find a convincing, persuasive phrase to help the reader visualize the status of those frightened children?
I honestly do not think you could write those phrases unless you were that little girl who was hiding during the raid. That girl who was watching with all her senses the death that was approaching her moment by moment. Or you would have to be one of those children who was running in every direction in order to survive.
Only then could you write a real war poem.
And in that moment--I mean in the moment of writing the war poem--you will remember how you miraculously survived the shrapnel and the missiles. How the sound of the guns and engines of the fighter craft would not go away from your ears. And you will find out that in that moment that you are reliving those dangerous memories, everything around you will turn into a war zone.
Suddenly the chirp of a bird turns into a warning siren. You see the dove that is flying over your head become a military observation plane. The tangled bushes on your balcony become barbed wire. The air almost fades around you, and the space closes in and tightens.
You want to scream but you can't, because your voice is now mingled with the muffled murmurs of that shaking girl and those frightened children.
Even your cigarette becomes a dynamite finger that is about to explode in between your real fingers. So dangerous that you need to carefully put it in the ashtray. The taste of your coffee changes to become bitter.
You try and try to find a gap through which to escape from your memories that have now turned into horrible present moments. And when you do not find that gap, different feelings start to conflict inside you. You want to cry, but there are not enough tears in your eyes to wash your soul of that terrible moment--a moment which is full of fear.
But you try and try and try anyway to find a moment of peace like you felt this morning, not so long before your poem was born-- after a very hard labor.
Yes, writing a war poem is a dangerous process. You may lose your sense of internal peace, or you may lose that moment of enjoyment that you feel when you notice the small things around you.
Maybe some who read this article will say that the writer is a plaintiff, or that her words are exaggerated, or that she is insane. But I say to all of them: No one can write a war poem where the reader can truly hear and see and feel the war moments inside it unless s/he has actually experienced sitting on the edge of death. And has been lucky enough to survive and become a poet.
Brief Description of WWI and Iraq Scott Anderson, in a special report published in June 2014 issue Smithsonian, discusses the impact on WWI on the current situation in Iraq. When Serbian nationalists assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, they had lit the fuse that would, six weeks later, explode into World War I. Anderson explains that the fallout from those murders, and the ghastly legacy of the entire war, extend far beyond the time frame of the late 1910s. Nor were they limited to Europe; the war’s effects are as fresh as the grisly stories and images coming out of Iraq today.
At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, where former, defeated Ottoman Empire lands were divided up among the Allied victors, it was decided that France was to be given much of greater Syria – essentially the modern-day borders of that country, along with Lebanon - while the British would take possession of the vast swath of the Arab world just below, an expanse stretching from Palestine in the west all the way to Iraq. Eventually, the nation of Iraq was created by fusing several Ottoman provinces into one and put under direct British control. This was the beginning of deadly conflicts among different groups, conflicts that continued even after the 1932 Iraqi Independence and have continued until today---WWrite
Faleeha Hassan IWA, poet, teacher, editor, writer, playwriter, and cultural ambassador for the US and Iraq, was born in Najaf, Iraq, in 1967 and now lives in the United States. Faleeha is the first woman to wrote poetry for children in Iraq. She received her master's degree in Arabic literature and has now published 21 books. Her poems have been translated into English, Turkmen, Bosevih, Indian, French, Italian, German, Kurdish, Spanish, Korean, Greek, Serbian, Albanian, and Pakistani languages. She has received many awards in Iraq and throughout the Middle East for her poetry and short stories. Faleeha has also had her poems and short stories published in a variety of American magazines such as Philadelphia poets 22, Harbinger Asylum, Brooklyn Rail April 2016, Screaming mamas, The Galway Review, Words Without Borders, TXTOBJX, Intranslation, SJ Magazine, Nondoc, Wordgathering, SCARLET LEAF REVIEW, Courier-Post, I am not a Silent Poet, Taos Journal, Inner Child Press, Atlantic City Press, SJ Magazine, Intranslation Magazine, The Guardian, Words Without Borders, Courier-Post, Life and Legends,Wordgathering, SCARLET LEAF REVIEW, Indiana Voice Journal, The Bees Are Dead, IWA, Poetry Soup, Poetry Adelaide Literary Magazine, Philly, The Fountain Magazine, DRYLAND, The Blue Mountain Review, Otoliths, Taos Journal of Poetry and Art, TXTOBJX, DODGING THE RAIN, Poetry Adelaide Literary Magazine, NonDoc Philly, DRYLAND, American Poetry Review, The Fountain Magazine, Uljana Wolf, Arcs, Tiferet and Ice Cream Poetry Anthology, Dryland Los Angeles underground art &writing Magazine , Opa Anthology of contemporary, BACOPA Literary Review , Better than Starbucks Magazine , Tweymatikh ZQH Magazine ,TUCK Magazine , Street Light Press, Empty Mirror Magazine , Spider Mirror Journal, Turn A Page Or Two, Within Darkness & Light, RAMINGO Magazine, Pyrokinection magazines, Anapest Journal, NewMyths and Oprah Magazine