Stability lets Basra, a city of poets, return to its roots


In the southern Iraqi city, poetry and music have returned since Iraqi forces wrested control from Shiite extremists last year.

By Jane Arraf | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Basra, Iraq – At Al Rasheed radio, poet Khalid al-Mayahi leans into the microphone and pours out his heart to the city, using words that could have gotten him killed before Iraqi forces took back Basra last year from Shiite extremists.

“I am a monk for your love. I built the biggest church in my soul for you,” he recites, waving his arms with passion to echo the verses he’s written. The poignant improvisation of violinist Na’el Hamid next to him soars onto the airwaves. The announcer picks up a traditional Arabic oud to accompany them.

In this city, with its crumbling beauty and centuries of culture, the poetry and music that were driven underground when the militias were in charge are beginning to blossom again.

“I inscribed a cross in my heart,” continues Mr. Mayahi, who looks like a film star and recites as if he’s on fire. “In the universe, there is no one else like you – you are a question wrapped in an entire book.”

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