new zealand electronic poetry centre

Emad Jabbar


Emad Jabbar, 34, was born in Maysan, Southern Iraq. He has published two books of poetry in Arabic – There Were Songs There (1996) and Tears On the Eyelids of Distant Windows (1998) – and won a number of awards, including the Iraq Prize for Creativity, presented by the Ministry of Culture and Information in 2000. 
          In March 2000 Emad travelled to the United Arab Emirates to receive a prize from the al-Sada House for Journalism. He has not yet returned to Iraq. Living in Jordan as a political refugee with the UNHCR, in 2001 his long poem ‘O you prayer rug of al-Aqsa’ won the (American) Holy Land Institute for Relief and Development's Cultural Contest on the theme of ‘The suffering of the Palestinian Refugees’. In 2002, he won the al-Sharjah Award for Arabic Creativity, presented by the Ministry of Information and Culture of the UAE, for the poetry collection A Feather from Sorrow. The material prize of the al-Sharjah Award is the upcoming publication of A Feather from Sorrow (in Arabic) by the UAE government. Also in 2002 A Feather from Sorrow was translated into English by the Jordanian scholar Yaqoub Abouna. Emad has not yet sought publication of this work in translation.
          He has been in New Zealand for approximately one year, currently living in Wellington, studying English language, working with translators to refine and bring more of his works into English, writing new pieces in both English and Arabic and working with the International Writers’ group (established 2002) in Wellington. His family remains in Iraq.


Do not live a day in a homeland's memory

Each time you pack up
          your things to travel
All the little stars flutter
          in you
All the bridge's lamps return
All the house's eyes
The stubborn date palms
          return you
Their nascent clusters have landed
And the last squadrons are
          startled in my heart
And they shout: don't leave
You are a poet
You are he
Who gathers people's tears
In the dawn of registers
You are a witness
Live here between the
          twin rivers and persist
Live here and strew the 
          years of sufferance
In the embers of the braziers
You weep every time a bullet
          hurts Baghdad
Every time the river's water
          returns a drowned babe
The voice of death's colour
          in its eyes wounds you
Leaves from the bushes' top
On the migrant's crown
And the green boughs almost
Grasping the garments
And the bitter orange
Throwing fragrance and questions
          in the way
Why do you pack the bags
If you leave the door
          will weep
And the virgin footbridge
And your eye tired mother
will weep
And the wind shall fling her
          weeping lock
Upon the neighbours
Live here forever
And reproach whoever you wish
          to reproach

Who do you think will house
          you, who?
Who do you think will bring
          you close?
If the bird of songs
          cries in your ribs
Who will give you a hand's width
          of sympathy?
Do not live a day in a homeland's
You are this wind
          This cloud
                    This water
You this remaining mountain
          across the ages
Do no live a day in a homeland's

O fire be peaceful

O fire
O fire
O fire be peaceful
upon the river
          and love
                    and the lovers
who are tired
          and broken
they tell their secrets
          to the water
and push their dreams 
          like clouds in the evening
O fire be peaceful

clouds pass by my family's home
and forget a wisp
          and pass on
and I still farewell clouds
          in this cool
                    and wait for clouds
O my family's cloud
I pray every day
to come
gathering night's tales
O fire be peaceful

there, mornings' greetings are a poem
there, children's quarrels are a poem
there, tears are a poem
and the abaya's night musk
is a poem of dew

so fire be peaceful
upon Al-Sayyaab's face in the gloom
upon his hand wet with wavings
benedictions of shrapnel from the Arab Gulf
          in his coat pocket
he kisses the children of his city
the children of Basra
          every morning
and casts greetings towards the poor
peace on people who fade
          before their time
peace on people who set like suns
peace on people who are bleeding
on the Zakurah's clay in
time's consciousness
glory to you – the guardian of the poor
you will withstand horror
withstand aircraft
by what is in your words
          and in your heart
you will bleed in death much
more than life
and so lavender greens near to 
salamun aleika when you scream
then songs come like boats
flapping with a wounded sail
and a lover's oath hits the waves

we smelt over the distance Iraq's breeze
and his boy's voices in the alley
we smelt over this distance, master…
and the tears poured on earth remain
salamun upon Iraq's mountains
how many exhausted among these stations
how many regretful beyond these oceans
with no bosom friends under 
this darkness

so fire be peaceful
upon the rose and goodness
          and memories
upon the friends still noble
upon Joseph's wound
when the wind leaves her children
in the reeds
upon his chest in the nights of exhaustion

and say salaamaa

cough will go… and the poem remains
and the mountain grass will
wither… but the poem remains
and the singer's voice will
tire… but songs remain
and poets will be broken
          when their children starve
the poets will be broken when they
enter markets… but
the poem remains
the poem remains

© Emad Jabbar 2003


  1. Abaya: an abaya is a traditional woman's robe worn over clothes, and is almost always black in colour.
  2. Al-Sayyaab: Al-Sayyaab was a great Iraqi poet.
  3. Bassra: is an Islamic city in Southern Iraq
  4. Zakurah: the Zakurah are the sacred steps of ancient Sumarian temples.
  5. Shanaasheel: is a traditional Iraqi verandah of decorated wood – found especially in Bassra.
  6. Joseph: is a great Iraqi poet who is dying of lung disease at the time of writing.


Last updated 15 July, 2003