Mazin Mamoory tours France with his rebellious poetry
Mazin Mamoory is one of the poets of the Iraqi group Cultural Militia, which represents a band apart in the Iraqi poetry scene.
Like his colleagues’ work, Mamoory’s poetry is of a rebellious nature, dissatisfied with the language and with reality at the same time. It’s the type of poetry that invites reflection on social, geographic, political and cultural fragmentation of Iraq, an artistic expression of the devastation that has afflicted the country.
Shortly after the release of the French version, translated by Antoine Jockey and published by Editions Lanskine, of his collection “Cadavre dans une maison obscure” (“A Dead Body in a Dark House”), Mamoory went on a reading tour in France.
Mamoory, 49, recently talked about his creative path, his interactive texts, his vision of the creative act of writing in a disintegrated reality, the relationship of culture with ideology and other issues.
Mamoory said his experience as a poet and plastic artist offered fertile ground for experimentation and a platform for launching “resistance rockets” and raising awareness through words and interacting with others.
The purpose of that experience was to draw attention to the tragedy of Iraq, where the people are “prisoners in a huge camp called homeland,” he said.
Mamoory has published four poetry collections in Arabic: “The Book of the Dead,” “Absolute Love,” “Secret Objects” and “A Dead Body in a Dark House.”
He is one of the founders of the group Culture Militia and, as such, he said he believes in the power of poetry to move people to direct action.
A poem is not just a collection of words but must be transformed into a social and resistance movement and the theatre of events and emotions, he said. Through poetry recitals, the poet moves his body and soul into dangerous zones.
Mamoory cited the Camp Speicher massacre in 2014 as a turning point in his experience as a poet. More than 3,000 Iraqi soldiers and air cadets were shot dead or drowned in the Tigris River by Islamic State fighters. At that moment, Mamoory said he felt that words had become hollow.
The sectarian war in Iraq presented modern Iraqi poets with an existential dilemma. Mamoory said: “I was aware of the magnitude of my responsibility as a poet. It is my responsibility to bear witness to a period of violent changes in the history of contemporary Iraq and of the whole region as a matter of fact. It was happening during a time when Arabic poetry was experimenting with linguistic and structural forms that had nothing to do with communicating with the environment.”
For Mamoory, the Arab poet has been unaware with no interaction with his social environment since the 1960s. This was because “Arab nationalism ideology has completely closed the horizon and we all became mere prisoners in a large camp called Iraq or Syria, et cetera,” he said.
At the poetry festival Voix Vives of 2017 in Sete, France, Mamoory recited poems, which were well-received. This prompted publisher Catherine Tourne to acquire the rights to translate and publish “A Dead Body in a Dark House” at Editions Lanskine.
Mamoory was invited on a book signing and recitation tour in several French cities. The collection was also translated and published in English.
Mamoory “performs” his poetry through words and motion. He said this form of presentation is different from what can be called a “poetic performance.” It is a concept that intersects with other artistic genres in terms of relying on performance techniques.
“I do not really mean theatre here, for I’m not an actor,” Mamoory said. “What I mean is performance as a space for reflecting on transmitting discourse in the context of I’d call live poetry.”
Mamoory said that, by resorting to this technique, the poet gains control of the situation and can create work that would have a direct effect on society.
He also said the second point in this type of performance is the presence of the body on stage as either part of the poetic writing or even the essence of the text, integrating action, scene and writing. In Arab culture, the body has always been suppressed, he said. In Mamoory’s poetry, the body sheds its historical veil and shakes off its ancient taboos to become a rhetorical focus, more so than language itself.
Mamoory said he considers his journey in France as being present between two different places and cultures, in partnership with French poet Catherine Serre. He gave a recital of his poem in the market, while Serre performed in one of the squares of Lyon. “We used video and images on social media networks,” he said. “Judging by the immediate reactions of viewers, the poem was a hit in its form.”
Mamoory, a poet closely connected with dark moments of reality, carries his poetry in a large bag of creativity. That bag contains no candies, of course, but is bursting with shrapnel, burned clothes, bones and explosive gazes laden with the smell of dynamite.