Poetry has long dominated the cultural landscape of modern Iraq, simultaneously representing the literary pinnacle of high culture and giving voice to the popular discourses of mass culture. As the favored genre of culture expression for religious clerics, nationalist politicians, leftist dissidents, and avant-garde intellectuals, poetry critically shaped the social, political, and cultural debates that consumed the Iraqi public sphere in the twentieth century. The popularity of poetry in modern Iraq, however, made it a dangerous practice that carried serious political consequences and grave risks to dissident poets.
The Dangers of Poetry is the first book to narrate the social history of poetry in the modern Middle East. Moving beyond the analysis of poems as literary and intellectual texts, Kevin M. Jones shows how poems functioned as social acts that critically shaped the cultural politics of revolutionary Iraq. He narrates the history of three generations of Iraqi poets who navigated the fraught relationship between culture and politics in pursuit of their own ambitions and agendas. Through this historical analysis of thousands of poems published in newspapers, recited in popular demonstrations, and disseminated in secret whispers, this book reveals the overlooked contribution of these poets to the spirit of rebellion in modern Iraq.
About the author
Kevin M. Jones is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Georgia.
"Public life in twentieth-century Iraq was thoroughly colored by the contexts, conventions, and critiques of poetic performances. Kevin Jones offers for the first time in English a cogent account of the modern literary giants—such as Muhammad Mahdi al-Jawahiri and Muhammad Salih Bahr al-'Ulum—whose compositions and performances electrified publics and created a unique language for a range of political movements and situations. The Dangers of Poetry is a valuable contribution to our understandings of the social and cultural history of modern Iraq."
—Elliott Colla, Georgetown University
"Through beautiful translations and insightful commentary, The Dangers of Poetry demonstrates how poetic works expressed the hopes, desires, and anxieties of colonized subjects, from tribal landscapes to prison cells. This perceptive book is a welcome addition to recent scholarship on cultures and poetics in Ottoman, Arab, and Persian societies, and will interest all those concerned with non-Western modernities and anticolonial resistance."
—Orit Bashkin, University of Chicago