The Arbil suite: a history of Erbil by Steven J Fowler

30th December 2014

In April 2014 Highlight Arts were in Iraqi Kurdistan to work on a poetry translation project.

Steven J Fowler was one of 8 poets including Ali Wajeeh, Kei Miller, Nia Davis, Zhawen Shally, Vikck Feaver, Mariam Al Attar, and Ahmad Abdel Hussein. The translations were presented at the Niniti Literature Festival in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan that took place from 22 – 24 April, in collaboration with Art Role and the British Council.

The Arbil Suite

The Arbil Suite is a poetic history of a city that rightfully claims itself to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited places on earth. In that time, somehow seemingly situated in the centre of the world, it has seen, and survived, some of human kinds most devastating conquerors and profound cultures. These poems are a faulty, miniaturised thread through 8000 years.

SJ Fowler


Where are you hurrying to? You will never

find that life for which you are looking.

                    from the Epic of Gilgamesh


sadly with my hands I’ll punch men

before I hold to light

my children’s neon face

they will have to make do

as once did with electricity

& be allowed to be so bold

I dedicate my memory

to my sons lost at sea

the killed & eaten Ishtar
the guard of spaces owning
the ruin standing between

imperial & earth police

I am ready to take part

of a closed garden
in exchange for a selling

of time into money
& so sorry you have to leave
but the minutes from door

to front aren’t &

I think about the taking of a life

my death a lesson: net > spear

their life, the first nations; a mace






With their blood I dyed the mountain red as red wool, while the

ravines and torrents of the mountain swallowed the rest of them


I wonder, often, why the infidel

ity of men is in the bed of women

arguing upon an army

with my second wife, the implacable

in silence, I knew that the taking

was the first step of lovelessness

bring me my other wife

in full regalia, for just a few shy

in conversation, also silence

in recognition of what might be

& so it is, rearmed

I raid the sky entranced

in hostage to happiness




as a matter of self-preservation, a man needs good friends or ardent

enemies, for the former instruct him and the latter take him to task

                                                Diogenes the Cynic


even when I don’t have to write

I arrange it every morning

with the painter’s rigour

that has made me lose so many wives

–       disciplined out of reaction to my negligence

–       generous to conceal my meanness

–       prudent to hide my evil mindedness

–       conciliatory to not succumb to murderous rage

–       punctual to hide how little

  • I care about other people’s lives

there is no grudge torn apart by horses
& no Gaugamela was 100k from home

I’d like to enjoy some beautiful

things before I next might die




So potent was religion in persuading to evil deeds



dearest, would you drink if you could?

the well taste of liver, the eyes water

(this is often mistaken for weeping)

as though forward motion were a wheel spinning

turn to your instead, perhaps bodies?

I have heard a blue tears are the bestest

the fish eats skin & they say we’re starving

from the back of a skull Centurion

emerges the sunbeam which proves

god to my ride in the yard

as she weeps for joy I touch her shoulder

as Sarin, & whisper that is not a sunbeam

but a cut the night which begs me

to ask you to leave

while the naysmith, the black fur is
a slave whispering in the returning ear

De Rerum Natura
“You are not good a god”




Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the

earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

            Matthew 10:34


our weddings are eventually eternal

unrusting the control of dad & so

no need to be upset, the only boreal

tears come to me & we shall be friends

held together like melting candles

two beaks from an egg

two handles on the cliff

one drop into powder

we the brass dropping our guts

all over the thorn

I request you help me

wash my brown

legs & feet & trunk, my belly

if you truly feel guilty

for what your ride has done

for there are bandits in my hills

& you have killed my son

So what certainly beats

walking is waiting

for in the end it will end




I’m a flail of god. If you had not committed great sins, god

would not have sent a punishment like me upon you

                                           Chingiz Khan


you hope I’m feeling well

on the road

(as I’m the driving)

sitting throne of petrol

shaped a horse

Where did the mongol descend upon Arbil?

the porcelain elephants in Paris

made famous, can you believe

by the wretched

the underhoof

that ended as they began

booking book to burn

in favour of tolerance

in the division of the number six

my thumb the road

lifted home

I have lived in an Ivory tower

Quite well it turns out

soon down
Bricked on with important

impotent descriptivism

Where the depressing

Met the ruled




As there is but one god in heaven, so should there by but one ruler on earth.



the island of dreams

where a whale body is a bone

& whale falls breed

or some way to escape being in the tower

of living, breathing, rebelling human beings

having moved into the nervous

while not being a city naturally at home.

now matter is evaporating.

he is going. there are only mutters

name isn’t recorded

hard in his pocket, leaking the leather.

the possibility of enjoyment is passed,

but you might not think so given

the conversation of those who are

the reason it has passed




No need to listen for the fall. This is

the world’s end.

Rudyard Kipling


some foreigner says that if

at the moment of a person’s death

all our pity for them was somehow

enjoined they would be spared

I believe that would depend

on the manner of their death

tripping over a loose rut of rubble

there are still women to laugh at me

& truly I am still able to feel foolish

there are certain moments

when they have not claimed enough

the flying planes are ribs

the grounded planes are organs

the sky the skin, the spy arrived

I, of course, am the eyes

while the rest is spare

for the Great Game, Lord.


MOOT {1988}


What military are you talking about? Where

can we find the ‘vice’ of poetry?

Sherko Bekas


hasim asked me ‘do you imagine your Bridge

is swimming upon lies? all A is of the blinded?’

yes, smiling, to both questions

but added, ashen faced, that both truths

were true because they were too complex

to explain to an Idiot


the women in the street today, as you ask

on the way to the registry office, crying

‘bring back sons, bring back brothers’

I opened my window & shouted

to draw the out     ‘they are busy’


work has ended during weddings

this is finally a chance to read

the night begs me to ask you to leave this time

so I may meet it




The mind is always looking to comprehend some key

part of its circumstance and condition

George Szirtes


how to reconcile the food of people with the food of persons

is it necessary to do so?

the captives will remain mighty

still red salt, amber sugar, & green fat

fewer bodies wash ashore

health is improving

let me suggest to you that boats

may be our quickest glimpse of hell

would you have me explain? in order

to pretend you do not understand

a realism is not a reality

which is already in itself ‘water’ not ‘land’

& though the outside may appear a world
it doesn’t feel that way on the inside
they move you like a pan

Clay pigeon drone shooting
on afternoons, Wolffog on the fold, it is old

so a fragment of a child’s skull

still mottled with scalp

rests in my palm

the first piece of a brand new armada

Originally published on Reel Festivals website on April 29th, 2014. 

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