This year’s national poetry day poem (27 August 2021) is a translation from the Arabic by Basim Furat. Furat is one of the Arab writers making a new home in New Zealand. Furat left New Zealand in 2005 after becoming a New Zealand citizen with his Kiwi wife and has lived in Japan, Laos, Ecuador and Sudan. He has become an award-winning travel writer, receiving a major prize in Oman recently.

Furat returned to New Zealand during the COVID-19 crisis in 2020. There have been Arab writers here in New Zealand since the turn of the 20th century (see Niel Wright’s Winter 2014, Poetry Notes article on the Arabic diary of Lebanese writer George Bouzaid translated into English and published in Wellington in 1992) and from the late 1990s there were refugees from Iraq and other places. This year an Egyptian writer Mohamed Hassan has been shortlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

Furat’s poetry has been published all over the world, and has been translated into French, German, Italian, Farsi, Romanian, Chinese, Spanish and English. He has published poetry books in Arabic, one in Spanish, and two collections of translations in English with Wellington publisher HeadworX.

Born in Karbalaa, Iraq, in 1967, he started writing poetry when he was in primary school. His first poem was published when he was in high school. In early 1993 he crossed the border and became a refugee in Jordan. Four years later he arrived in New Zealand. Furat states: “The death of his father when he was two years old, the fact his mother was left a young widow and his compulsory military service for the Iraqi army in the second Gulf War have had a large influence on his poetry.”

Furat’s poem Mesopotamia acknowledges his ancestral roots that “herald the beginning of history”. It’s a strong poem on culture and diversity that relates to the times we live in with ever increasing diversity and cultural inclusiveness in Aotearoa / New Zealand as shown by Mohamed Hassan’s book award shortlisted National Anthem. Furat, like Hassan’s, is an important voice in New Zealand poetry and in the modern Arab world of writers, an ever-widening diaspora dispersed around the globe.

Basim Furat

MESOPOTAMIA

Translated by Dr Salih J. Altoma

There…
where my ancestors planted wisdom
and harvested pain
They built thrones for the gods
and decorated them with their hopes.
They baptized water with their desires
and turned clay into tablets and shelters.
And from the river’s rage
they made a calendar for their days
to herald the beginning of history.

Wellington, New Zealand

(from Visions: Poems 2007-2016, Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop, 2021)

Translation copyright Basim Furat 2021

The poem Mesopotamia and other fine poems by Furat recently translated by Arab translators (edited by me in English) are made available for readers in Aotearoa / New Zealand by Dr Michael O’Leary’s energetic small publishing house Earl of Seacliff Art Worksop in their Mini Series, No. 43.

Basim Furat

Article © Mark Pirie, 2021