Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here

By Boullata, Issa J. | World Literature Today, September/October 2013 | Go to article overview

Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here


Boullata, Issa J., World Literature Today


MISCELLANEOUS Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here. Beau Beausoleil & Deema K. Shehabi, ed. Oakland, California. PM Press. 2012. isbn 978- 1604865905

Al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad is a winding street about one thou- sand feet long, noted for its many bookstores and outdoor book stalls. Named after the famous classical Arab poet Abu at-Tayyib al-Mutanabbi (915-965 ce), it has been a thriving center of Bagh- dad's bookselling and publishing for many years. On March 5, 2007, a car bomb was exploded on it, perhaps to intimidate intellectuals. More than thirty people were killed, and more than one hundred were wounded-booksellers, book buy- ers, and devotees of reading and of books-and the Shabandar Café where intellectuals met was gutted. Beau Beausoleil, a poet and San Francisco bookseller, created in soli- darity a coalition of poets, artists, writers, printers, booksellers, and readers; broadsides of their writings and artwork about this tragic event were printed, and recitations were made in many cities. With Deema K. Shehabi, another San Francisco poet, an anthology of 135 pieces in prose and verse has now been com- piled in this book, including some translated from Arabic and French and the texts of some broadsides (see WLT, May 2012, 34-37).

The pieces are of different lengths and moods. Some describe the street and decry the horrible event, others commemorate the innocent victims, and others still exult defiantly in the eventual triumph of freedom and truth: "You can bomb a bookstore or ban / a book, but it will not die. You cannot kill / a poem like you can a man. / Al-Mutanabbi Street will rise again" (Sam Hamill). …

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