POETRY IN THE MINEFIELDS (Iraqi poets translated by Haider Catan and Tim Heffernan)

(edited by Ramon Loyola & Michele Seminara)

An Extract from the Introduction to The Poetry in the Minefields

By Abdulrahman Almajedi, Iraqi journalist and poet living in the Netherlands

Organizers of poetry and drama festivals in Western countries may organize poetry readings on a lake or in a field, but have their poets read in the middle of a minefield? Or inside a destroyed nuclear reactor, surrounded by walls filled with radiation? Or in an ambulance?  Or in a hospital bed?

This may sound shocking, however this is what is happening today, in Iraq, organised by a valiant group of young poets — The Militia of Culture — who are using their poetics to fight against the transmission of the deadly semantics of the militia which has consumed the lifeblood of Iraq since 2003.  These poets organise ‘festivals’ in order to express what is no longer allowed to be talk about in Iraq — but these festivals take place in the middle of the numerous minefields still littering the country, amongst nuclear reactors still sending their deadly radiation across civilian neighborhoods, and surrounded by the trauma of bombs intended to maim and kill innocent women and children.

These painful poems have been neglected by the local media in Iraq, but now they are crossing the border and drawing the attention of Arab and European nations, confirming the role of literature as a powerful creative and political tool for expressing the nightmarish daily reality of death in Iraq.


by kadhem khanja

when the policeman checks you at the market, you feel like a terrorist.
when your eyes try to cross the barbed wire that separates the house and the street,
you pass like a terrorist.
whenever you walk near the concrete blocks leading to your work, you walk like a terrorist.
whenever you give the rent to the owner he treats you like a terrorist.
and when watching tv with your children, you see your terrorism in the mouths of others.
when you visit your brother in prison, the guards check your name on the wanted list and find that you are not a terrorist.
when you park your bike on the sidewalk, shop owners believe it is a bombed bicycle and that you are a terrorist.
when you go with your wife to see a doctor about fractures and they keep you waiting and waiting, like a terrorist.
when from terror you buy a bottle of whisky, creeping it under their eyes, you feel like a terrorist.
daily, swallowing tablets of terrorism—in the morning, the afternoon, at night—just as the pharmacist recommended.

Kadhem Khanjar

a bombed car

by kadhem khanjar

wings for the cat on the fence of the power station.
wings for the fence.
wings for seven construction workers.
wings for the vegetable shopper.
wings for vegetables.
wings for the little girl’s legs on her way to school.
wings for her backpack.
wings for the skin of bus passengers.
wings for the bicycle and the cyclist and his bread.
wings for the asphalt and power poles and signboards.
wings for the eardrum.
wings for the urgent news.
bombed cars grant wings to everything.

Wissam Ali

6 pm / street 40

by wissan ali

death’s fingers prick our feet and we are running like dancers carrying the shells
of bombed cars to get them to the survivors.
from your palm to the earth’s palm is a lake of dettol and gauze stained with blood.
i doubt my upper body, especially my mouth.
i was the last in line at the morgue where everyone returned to ice-filled eskies.
“both whisky and organs are served with ice.”
how will i be after three tons of explosives? and with which grin will i face the lord?
no guarantee, my face will not scare him. any geometric shape will take the coffin.
if i survive i will cheat everyone by buying jeans and the best dentist for my teeth.
i will still look strange but at least not the same as the one who liquefied above me.
bombs lick my body after the door finishes sucking my finger.
we are coffins strapped with safety belts.

Ahmed Diaa

i didn’t care about the bombing, as all survivors are casualties anyway

by ahmad diaa

i      death

this silent bombing
tickles half of my hat.

ii     beheaders

it has not started yet
encapsulating tears,
becoming a ladder which the casualties climb.

iii    bullets

tears are war strings
so don’t hesitate to pick the head.

iv    continuers

from the cage of my ribs, i carved the meat from the bone
and the dream from the awakening.
This is how we learned slaughterhouses.

v     apprehension

a scar
the memory.

vi    claws

eyelids bleed tears, wallowing, coagulating above
a handful of dust.

vii   prisoners of war

stupid death is sweeping the place as the gates of paradise push back their heads.

viii  graves

our backs are riddled with bullets and the blind man sees
things with his ears.
the blind are walking inside the minefield and this old man
teaches me to sleep on the shoulder of dust.

ix    violation

i turn to water when i hear the ambulance scream.

x     barbarism

the officer releases convoys of the slaughtered soldiers
while receiving convoys of those who seek to die.

xi    primitive leukaemia

my feet are a thermometer
measuring the heat of the mine’s lips.

xii   tension

no escape from death
that’s what i was told
at the execution washing line.

Mohamed Karim

an 81 magazine

by mohamed karim

25  in the body,
25  in the body,
25  in the body,
5  random shots,
fired from a kalashnikov’s mouth…!

Ahmed Jabbour


by ahmed jabbour

by the name of allah,
by the name of bullets,
by the name of the wise,
by the name of the group,
by the name of the militias,
by the name of the gun muffler.
opening the factory of improvised explosive devices
in a country that has become a divided sewer.

Mazen Almaamouri


by mazen almaamouri

in the street adjacent to osirak
i saw people coming out from the cancerous cells and the bellies of wires,
and the remnants of mutants
hung on the doors
adorning the houses with the colour of the new dawn.
scorched earth.
dead people sneak one by one
towards the last paper,
transparent as the colour of their skin,
its edges like remnants of meat flying over the graves and shoulders
of the cloaks that shroud mourning mothers
with scattered fragments and acid rain.
school clothes are torn on street’s wires.
the dead sneak toward the white paper
to absorb an old nectar dream.
i came out of the barrel of a cannon, i think it was russian-made.
it was cold and at its edges rust trembled at the sound of the shell.


when i was a fish,
i approached the sand—my scales began to soften,
my tail became two long legs and my eyes grew close to each other.
i grabbed the ground with two long hands,
because the world is the lavishness of the sea,
and so i’m the shit of a shark, old, but i breathe.


the cockroach tasted the stool of the corpse jammed into the sewer tunnel,
it tasted of bullets and the spice of gunpowder.
its joints constricted after its stomach decayed,
then the soldier’s boot fell and fled.


ants are coming out of the soldier’s pocket while he sits on the train bench.
the girl, sitting near the soldier, opens her mouth to breathe from the window
above the bench where the soldier is sitting.
people are moving rapidly toward the dim light far from the soldier and the girl—
they are diving into deep sleep.

Ali Taj Aldeen

the structure of fragmenting

by ali taj aldeen

bones are rolling from the mouths of lizards whenever they throw the nets on us. one has vomited everything it has eaten in the last 2400 years, so it doesn’t leave any sidewalk without painting it the colour of its lust. then we find the streets have gathered their cloaks and they wait at the morgue, smoking their last pipe.

a second lizard comes out of the earth like a volcano with seven heads, dragging a trifork and inserting it into the stomachs of millions of shells emptied from the rust, staring, visiting my dreams, waking up with blood, dazzling with death, i wash my body with devastation and debris, the same devastation and debris i use to build my house located on the opposite side of the seventh gate of this world, close to the nail where manhood was hanged while those gathering were drinking wine. they fear every checkpoint on the entry to each city. cities are bombed everyday by the fingers of āyāt, before they are lit  by a thousand suns. suns that are shut by the sharia of single-celled algae, containing nothing but the rocks covered with black cloth in the morning.

Ali Thareb

from a paper left by a passenger in the bus

by ali thrab

the body is not reflected in the saliva of the hungry people.
friends do not think of suicide.
a god does not develop without meaning.
a mother is standing by the clothes line
with a good heart.
another chance to escape from this moment.
a woman does not fall into the mouth of an animal.
a shadow becomes a tree,
climbing to escape from the land.
stepping toward his childhood
his mouth gone at once
into a whole apple.
all this for a man who would live.

because we do not have a weapon at home
renegades in the neighbourhood
hang their shoes on the door knob.
my father and i are fighting,
who will wear it first?

when i kiss my burned hand
i make fun of my futile flesh
and touch this lost life
as my fingers cry a distorted knowledge.

i want to annihilate newspapers
and complete life naked.
i just wish to sell lingerie
and for my mother to stop cooking her hand
for us every night.
i wish to defecate in our neighbour’s toilet,
and to fall from eyes that walk
and legs that see.

the dead angel i saw
in the house’s sewer
could flee on my bike
so i would not be frightened
of these rooms anymore.

the hook in the room’s ceiling
catches me whenever i disappear into sleep.

i was running in a coffin
when life finally visited.


by wissan ali

i still burn in vain,
my song is over,
my dance has melted into wheezy footsteps.
insert your hand inside the knife to find my lost neck,
then hold the clouds softly
so as not to overlap the cries of my friends when they watch my head roll over
the bottom of the youtube screen.
the tie of the power pole,
rope gallows,
i refuse to be hung on it, i don’t want my face to touch the bar.
fragments looking for a toilet.
fragments settling in me.
bomb and car and gun muffler
packed with stones from the kidney of the lord.

Hasan Tahsin

the pages of sidewalk

by hasan tahsin

browsing the pages of the sidewalk with my burnt fingers
i found tears,
then i watered the sand
and wished it could give birth to an eye to guard the earth.
tired, i walked,
and i saw bunches of burnt heads like black grapes.
i walked more and, hearing a whisper,
found my body sounded good and asked,
is there any person who can plant me to grow again?

The Poetry in the Minefields (in Arabic) can be purchased  from Amazon

View more footage of the poets reading here.

Haider Catan, an Iraqi-born poet and academic, came to Australia to work on a research project in psycholinguistics and memory. Catan has enriched his experience of poetry in English by working with Wollongong poet Tim Heffernan. Their translations have been published by Red Room Company and Verity La.

Tim Heffernan is a Wollongong poet and recipient of the 2016 joanne burns microlit award. Tim was very proud to have his poem ‘Butterflies in Iraq’ published with Haider Catan’s ‘Purple Breeze’ in Out of Place, Spineless Wonders’ 2015 prose poetry and micofiction anthology. As well as joining together in translation we borrow from each other in our lives and our poetry