Twana Twana carried sixty years of memories from his native Mosul to Chicago’s North Side in 2012. Routine work days as a pharmacist in the old city, or glimpses of his favorite landmark, an imperfectly leaning minaret giving Mosul its nickname “the hunchback,” are cherished memories that shape his poems. Though resettlement has greatly helped his children, like many Iraqi refugees Twana finds himself torn between his birthplace and Chicago. “As a refugee you are like a candle, you burn so that others can see,” he says.
This month, Twana is one of a handful of local Middle Eastern refugee poets reading at the Poetry Foundation’s April 23 Poetry Off the Shelf event, “What We Carried: Poetry by Middle Eastern Refugees.” The festival is cohosted with the Iraqi Mutual Aid Society, a local nonprofit based in West Ridge which serves some of the eight thousand Iraqi refugees resettled in the Chicago area since 2007. Local refugees as well as published Middle Eastern poets will read at the event to shed light on Middle Eastern experiences in the city.
The Poetry Foundation will host the fourth annual spring event in an effort to open a window into the lives of Middle Eastern refugees in the city, and to create a space for Middle Easterners to celebrate poetry in their native tongues, such as Arabic, Assyrian and Kurdish. “In most cultures, poets and poetry hold a revered place in a society. If one has moved from their country of origin, there is a special connection that happens when they celebrate and hear the poetry from their native land,” says Elizabeth Burke-Dain of the Poetry Foundation.
“This event gives an opportunity for Iraqis to share their poetry, which is a big part of their culture, with Chicago,” says Laura Youngberg, executive director of the Iraqi Mutual Aid Society. Youngberg believes the annual event will create more links between Iraqi refugees and the larger Chicago community. (Sarah Conway)
What We Carried: Poetry by Middle Eastern Refugees on April 23, 2pm, at Poetry Foundation, 61 West Superior, (312)787-7070, poetryfoundation.org. Free.
Toni Nealie is the Literary Editor of Newcity and the author of the essay collection “The Miles Between Me.” A Pushcart Prize nominee, her essays have appeared in Guernica Magazine, Rust Belt: Chicago, The Rumpus, The Offing, Essay Daily, Chicago Quarterly Review, Hobart, Entropy and elsewhere. She worked in magazine journalism, politics and PR in her native New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Singapore and now edits, writes and teaches in Chicago. Find her at toninealie.com and on Twitter @tnealie. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.