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This article is taken from PN Review 247, Volume 45 Number 5, May - June 2019.

on the Poetry Industry
Stripped Naked by the Flames
Andy Croft
‘I now believe that there is an absolute incompatibility between art and private property.’
John Berger

I HAVE NEVER SEEN so many people at a poetry festival, so many television cameras – or so many Kalashnikovs. Two years ago I was in the southern Iraqi city of Basra with my friend the poet Amarjit Chandan. We were guests of the Iraqi Writers Union for the thirteenth annual Al-Marbed International Poetry Festival.

Dedicated to the late Iraqi poet and communist Mehdi Mohammad Ali, the festival attracted almost a hundred poets, amateurs and professionals, from Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Iran, Kuwait, Sudan, Iraq, Assyria, Lebanon, Syria and the Iraqi diaspora scattered across the world.

During a week of readings and debates, poetry and music, we visited the birthplace of Basra’s most famous poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, as well as the Basra international football stadium. There was a showing of the film Samt al-Rai (The Silence of the Shepherd) introduced by its director Raad Mushatat. One of the festival readings took place on the Shatt al-Arab waterway, on board a river-boat built for Saddam Hussein.

But the festival was taking place in a deadly context. Iraqi forces were still fighting Daesh/ISIS in the north. The billboards by the side of the roads advertised, not consumer-goods, but the faces of young men from Basra who had died fighting Daesh. Each night we were woken by the sound of gunfire marking the repatriation of local boys killed fighting in Mosul.

With ...

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