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University of Iowa News Release

Release: April 11, 2002

Poetry Of Contemporary Iraq Part Of 'Live From Prairie Lights' April 21-25

The poetry of contemporary Iraq, translated by University of Iowa graduate Saadi Simawe, will be read on the "Live from Prairie Lights" series, hosted by Julie Englander on UI radio station WSUI, 910 AM, at 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 22. The free event is part of a full week of readings to be broadcast April 21-25 from the Prairie Lights bookstore, 15 S. Dubuque St. in downtown Iowa City.

The readings, open to the public free of charge, may also be heard on the internet at

The week's full schedule is:
-- poet Ken McCullough, an alumnus of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, at 8 p.m. Monday, April 21;
-- Simawe, joined by International Writing Program Director Christopher Merrill and Iowa City poets Chuck Miller and Melissa Brown, at 8 p.m. Tuesday, April. 22;
-- poets Matthew Zapruder and Joshua Beckman at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 23; -- poet Mary Szybist, a workshop alumna, at 8 p.m. Thursday, April 24; and
-- fiction writer Brian Shawver, also a graduate of the Writers' Workshop, at 8 p.m. Friday, April 25.

McCullough will read from his new book of poems, "Obsidian Point." UI faculty member Ed Folsom wrote in the preface to one of his books, "McCullough's dialect of ease and informality (working to de-form and re-form and in-form the shape of the poem) . . . neatly captures a cleaning out of a part of the self, turning the self lean, emptying the vowels, ridding the self of selfishness, a ritual of purgation."

Simawe, who is now a faculty member at Grinnell College, edited "Iraqi Poetry Today" with Daniel Weissbort, former head of the UI Translation Workshop, and Norma Rinsler.

Simawe spent six years in an Iraqi prison for publishing verse opposed to Saddam Hussein's Baath party. He wrote in the preface: "Translating Iraqi poetry and publishing it in English had become for me a desperate effort to save what remains of Iraqi humanity and culture in the face of a brutal dictatorship and war. . . Although I lost faith in politics long ago I still believe in the power of the word."

He holds a bachelor's degree from Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad and a master's degree from the University of Nebraska in addition to master's and doctoral degrees from the UI. He has published translations and fiction as well as articles on African-American, Middle Eastern and comparative literature.

In a review of this special issue of "Modern Poetry in Translation," Boyd Tompkin wrote for London's Independent, "This is a yearning, wounded literature of resistance, remembrance and survival, of secret truths told at home and lonely insights honed abroad. Wistful and wry tones prevail. Neither gung-ho Western liberators nor Third World sentimentalists will find any comfort here. These writers loathe dictatorship, which they curse with a fine rhetorical glee; equally, they mourn the guiltless victims of war and blockade."

Matthew Zapruder, editor-in-chief at Verse Press and a poetry teacher at the New School, makes his own poetic debut with "American Linden."

Poet and critic Dean Young called Zapruder "a dangerous poet," and Dara Wier described his debut as "severe, steady, surprising . . . a book that takes my mind and gives it a good shaking --ever so gently."

Zapruder's poems have appeared in many literary magazines and journals, including the Boston Review, Fence, Crowd, Jubilat, Both, the Harvard Review, the New Republic and The New Yorker.

Tomaz Salamun wrote about Joshua Beckman's first book, "Things Are Happening," which won the APR Honickman First Book Prize, "This book seduced me on the spot. I instantly started longing to become friends with the world in it. It's fresh, it's new, its fairness makes me grateful for reading it. There are no similarities with Apollinaire or Ginsberg, except with what they were doing to Time while they were young."

Mary Szybist's debut, "Granted," was published through winning the 2002 Beatrice Hawley Award. She has also been the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize and a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writing Award, and her poems have appeared in the Denver Quarterly, the Colorado Review and other journals.

Donald Justice wrote, "This is poetry of a rare fine delicacy. Its very modesty testifies to a great ambition -- to overcome by the quietest of means."

A Library Journal review observed that Szybist "writes from her own perspective and that of Jesus Christ; his mother, Mary; and the Archangel Gabriel, making the book resemble a polyphonic hymn. Using fresh metaphors . . . Szybist examines spiritual states from longing to abandonment to ecstasy."

And former UI faculty member and U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass wrote, "Mary Szybist's poems are about religious and sexual longing and about suspicion of religious and sexual longing. They exist in, or move toward, the negative spaces, the luminous, maddening almost presences the objects of our deepest desires inhabit. She has a gift for music, a gift for aphorism, a gift for being haunted. This is serious work, so it is occasionally funny and sometimes strange and often beautiful."

Brian Shawver, the winner of a National Endowment for the Humanities award, will read from his first novel, "The Cuban Prospect," in which a baseball man who never quite made it as a player has an opportunity to make his mark by smuggling a hot Cuban pitcher into America.

Mary-Liz Shaw wrote in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "It is surprising to think this fully realized work, with its characters of layered grays and its drum-tight prose, is the product of a first-time novelist. . . 'The Cuban Prospect' may be about baseball, but it belongs on the shelf with other novels that use the jungle as a metaphor for distrust and fear of the unknown, but also growth and redemption."

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STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073,