Last semester, Collins Memorial Library played host to a traveling collection of books, book-art and visual art broadsheets made in response to the bombing of Al-Mutanabbi Street, a literary and cultural center in Baghdad, Iraq in 2007. Now, two days after the anniversary of the bombing on March 5, Collins again held an event to talk about the project, Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here, with an event entitled Gather Round the Press.
“This week, events are going on all around the world to commemorate the bombing,” to “honor the lives of those lost,” Library Director Jane Carlin said when introducing the event.
Carlin noted the importance of remembering what Beau Beausoliel, the founder of the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here project said his collection is a way of seeing the “commonality [between] any street anywhere that has a bookstore or a library [and] Al-Mutanabbi Street.”
At the Gather Round the Press event, three speakers read works related to the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here project.
Puget Sound student Soroya Bodaghi read her poem “Hijab,” which she wrote as part of professor William Kupinse’s class’s work with the Al-Mutanabbi Street project. Bodaghi’s poem, which she said was a “response to the Al-Mutanabbi bombing and the exhibit,” has been selected to be part of the Al-Mutanabbi traveling exhibit itself.
She also said that she gathered inspiration “from my family—I’m Iranian,” and that she “took some things from my childhood and added those to the poem.” Many members of her family who live in Tacoma attended the event and proudly listened to Bodaghi read what her mother called her “first published work.”
Bodaghi described the narrator of the poem as a young girl growing up in Iraq who “sees it [the bombing of books “written mainly by men”] as an opportunity for her voice to be heard.”
She also said that several of her classmates in Kupinse’s class found the “feminist perspective” of the poem, which finds hope even in the ashes of such a terrible event, a disconcerting response to the tragedy. Bodghi said she “doesn’t see it that way” and that she sees the poem as ultimately about hearing “different stories speak.”
Book artist Lynn Raisl also read a poem, titled “Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal,” by Naomi Shihab Nye, which Raisl noted is read often at her local Tacoma church, Immanuel Presbyterian.
Nye’s poem tells her story of helping translate the words of airport employees to an Arabic-speaking woman, and her conversation spiraling into happily calling up the old woman’s grown sons, and passing out powdered sugar-covered mamool cookies to children in the airport terminal. The poem reads, “And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, this is the world I want to live in. The shared world.”
Library Administrative Coordinator Jaime Spaine detailed the life of Alia Muhammed Baker, an Iraqi librarian who smuggled an estimated 30,000 books out of Al Basrah library before it was destroyed during the Iraq War. Later, the library was rebuilt and Baker was established as chief librarian.
Several children’s books have told Baker’s story, including The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq, written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter.
For the event’s namesake, Pacific Lutheran University student Katie Hoffmann printed off souvenir letterpress cards from the Collins Library Press. Each card had an excerpt from Bodaghi’s poem “Hijab,” which read, “I walked that street in my dreams cradling thick bound books with delicate fingers.”
This printing press, found by Jane Carlin in the Faculty Club Basement four years ago, has now been refurbished and Gather Round the Press events like Remembering Al-Mutanabbi put it to good use.