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Poets examine, discuss Iraq at OCU





Although the Iraq War officially ended in 2011 with US military withdrawal, conflict in the region has continued unabated. Groups like ISIS and al-Qaida continue to wage war on the Iraqi population, prompting the Obama administration to authorize airstrikes to stem ISIS movements in 2014.

Meanwhile, popular culture at home has already begun to place a mythic spin on the last decade; films like Green Zone, The Hurt Locker and, most recently, American Sniper each tell their own singular versions of events during the war.

A discussion between poets Brian Turner and Dunya Mikhail at Oklahoma City University (OCU) on Wednesday, Feb. 18, adds color to the narrative.

Turner is an Iraq War veteran and author of two poetry collections, Phantom Noise and Here, Bullet. He also published a memoir about his experiences as a soldier: My Life as a Foreign Country.

Mikhail is an Iraqi expatriate and former journalist who fled Iraq following the Gulf War because her writing was deemed too subversive by Saddam Hussein’s government. She has written two poetry collections, The Iraqi Nights and The War Works Hard, and a memoir, Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea: Poetry and Stories from Iraq, which won the Arab American Book Award in 2010.

The discussion, titled Iraq, Culture and Conflict: A Dialogue, brings Turner and Mikhail together in conversation for the first time.

“We found it a compelling idea to have two individuals from different ethnic and national backgrounds who both know a lot about the same topic to come together and converse, to jointly discuss the situation of Iraq,” Harbour Winn, OCU English professor and chairman of the Distinguished Speakers series, said.

“In Brian Turner, we have ... a soldier poet because he served in Iraq and Afghanistan, had several tours of duty in that region,” Winn said. “He writes about not only his experience there but also how a soldier never leaves his experience when he returns.”

Mikhail, as a woman, Iraqi and former journalist, will serve almost as a foil. Mikhail said she and Brian both hope that the craft of writing isn’t ignored in the midst of any discussion they have.

“With the writing life comes everything else,” she said. “It opens the door to everything else, even politics.”

Mikhail said that her writing — especially her use of metaphor — was primarily influenced by her time as a journalist for the Baghdad Observer during and after the Gulf War.

“Being a journalist in a country like Iraq at the time, expression was really risky, because you want to say what you want, but you’re also dictated,” she said. “I remember the invasion of Kuwait; there were some words we had to change. For example, instead of ‘invasion,’ we had to change it to ‘annexation.’”

The event is 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 18, at the Margaret E. Petree Recital Hall at OCU. Turner and Mikhail will answer questions following a poetry reading and discussion.

Print headline: Distinguished discussion, Two poets examine the war in Iraq from opposite perspectives.


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