Reel Iraq: Kurdistan diary #5

Niniti International Literature Festival begins! From now on referred to as NILF (by me, perhaps only by me). Nilf is a collaboration between the British Council and Artrole. No joke. Art-role. Up, feeling like a giant sack of dying cats, early, for the press conference. Very spaced out today, no sleep. Lots of Turk coffee. Worth it to see the raconteur stylings of Ted Hodgkinson, and a ten year old Iraqi girl reading Choman Hardi in homage while Ted became a human mic stand, and then Ryan Van Winkle introduced as Dan Gorman, gave a lovely opening speech about the Reel project and its place in the wider literature festival. I then went to do some filming with Yasmin Fedda, a brilliant documentary filmmaker and generous companion on this trip. She couldn't be more generous with her time, and I've learned a lot about the middle east from just talking to her. The rare mix of humility, intelligence and talent that seems to make up the majority of those involved in the Reel Iraq week. I suppose an exceptional project will be peopled by exceptional people. Here is her beautiful doc Breadmakers, & another about a boxer & a squatter in Rome; look for more of her work off the back of this festival, and a work on Syria imminent. Yas and I shot a small interview and some footage of me reading in the creepy subterranean gym in the hotel Chrwa Charw (?) which is low on equipment and high on mirrors. It looks like the final scene of Enter Dragon. It means my fat face will be refracted into eternity.

We then had a group meeting to prepare for our big reading at the fest, where I will be reading with Zhawen Shally. We talked over our performance, reading each others translations. Such a privilege to read with Zhawen, who is really wonderfully talented and kind, and who is the only Kurdish writer in our group. Hoshang Waziri really helped us again, not only translating but convincing Zhawen that my often radical translations were the right thing for her work in English. I found out Zhawen has seven siblings and Hoshang ten! Four of Zhawen's kin live in London in fact. Clearly the fertility stone is working.
no reason for this, I just liked it, found it in the hotel somewhere

I trained in the carpeted basement doom gym, grunting next to the weird massage parlour that also fills out the hotel basement in the chraw chaw, before attending the big opening reading event. It was a colourful affair, a real wild mix of stuff. Local writers, Iraqi's travelled in from Baghdad and the like, British Council writers and a few of the Reel Iraqers. I was prepared for the 'allah' wails of pleasure from the audience, but it wasn't really like that in the end. No need to open it up really, but I think with my events and art performances, I'm known for a pursuit of friendliness, authenticity and anti-pretension, whatever that means, in the face of stereotyped 'literary' poetry brouha, and I was prepared here for some crimping, lip biting and selfharm. It wasn't that bad, more wild west than ferrero roche, more a smorgasbord of real variation of style, delivery and quality. Nia, Kei, Zhawen and the ten year old girl were amazing. There were at least 20 readers. And someone came dressed as aquaman and wept uncontrollably as they read, which I thought was pretty hot avant garde. A good marathon sesh to set us off.

After that we got a bit creeped out by a super strange man in a maroon tuxedo who was touring the hotel, who was touching me a lot but professing his love for the ladies. It was worse than that but I won't blog it. It was as awkward as a really really long awkward silence, and I enjoyed that immensely. To escape we all met up to take a taxi to the christian area of the city for a big mesgouf fish barbecue. After a very long cab drive we were dropped off near the American embassy, strangely underwhelming and hidden and walked to find an open plan garden restaurant that seemed more a park than a restaurant. I had an interesting conversation with one of Dan's friends from SOAS, a Dane called Henrik, who worked for a charity in Kurdistan that provides psychological care for torture victims. He educated me on contemporary Kurdish politics and the work he's involved in, and once we started talking poetry (by his request) it turned out he knew and loved the work of Morten Sondergaard! Spending such lovely time with Morten in Copenhagen a few weeks back made the world feel small while making time seem slow. That feels a long time ago, reading in the literature house in copenhagen, as I write from Iraq. We sat for hours, til midnight, on a very mild evening, talking, eating coaly flayed fish and generally being merry.