an Al-Mutanabbi Street Project edition
Al-Mutanabbi Street, named after the 10th century Arab poet Abu’ Tayib al-Mutanabbi, has been known for centuries as the heart and soul of the Baghdad literary and intellectual community. A winding street lined with booksellers and bookshops, it was an important meeting place for people to hunt for books, debate and share ideas. Scholars, poets, readers, writers and artists often spent their days in the Shabandar Café, which opened in 1917. On March 5, 2007, a car bomb was used to destroy this crowded book market as well as the Shabandar Café. More than thirty people were killed and over a hundred were injured.
In response to this attack Beau Beausoleil, a poet and bookseller in California, set up a coalition of poets, writers, readers, artists, booksellers and printers – not just to remember those who died, but also as a response to the cultural implications of the attack on ideas. In this case the attack was in Baghdad but it could have been any street, anywhere.
Tangent by Alise Alousi is a handmade edition limited to forty copies. Rather than sell these books, the books were offered for a donation of $50 (or more) to Doctors Without Borders. The edition has sold out. No copies remain available.
In making this book – swirling strips of Arabic text that read al-Mutanabbi Street with cotton pulp in the vat, setting the poem in Gill Sans and title in News Gothic Condensed, folding and cutting the Somerset text paper, pasting Indian marble paper and Japanese silk cloth to boards, sewing the book – my hands seem not so far removed from the hands of others I imagine on al-Mutanabbi Street. Hands writing a poem, hands turning pages, hands lining up books on a shelf or laying them out on a cloth, hands tipping a cup of tea, pointing out a passage in a book, or following a line of text. Working with my hands, I understand that ideas and connections are passed hand to hand.
Printed in response to the call “to ‘re-assemble’ some of the ‘inventory’ of the reading material that was lost in the car bombing of al-Mutanabbi Street,” this poem is a reminder that the violence on al-Mutanabbi Street took the lives of individuals who, like each of us, were traveling through this world, turning in particular circles of place and time and family. Through language, through writing, through books, we understand that what is personal is universal. It is my hope that al-Mutanabbi Street will thrive again with the cycles of life.
— Denise Brady, bradypress, Omaha, Nebraska