Dunya Mikhail was born in Baghdad in 1965 and lived there until the authorities considered her poetry to be not as innocent as it looked. When the threat towards her became pronounced, Dunya Mikhail left for the United States. By then she had published two collections of poetry that also included poems about the wars she had experienced: the Iraq–Iran war of 1980–88 and the first Gulf War of 1992, which lasted 43 days.
Dunya Mikhail writes about war. The word ‘war’ is even in the title of her third collection War Works Hard (2001), in which poems about the second Gulf War have been included. These are no heroic poems; they do not ring in the reader’s ears. Time after time, she catches the reader on the wrong foot and then casually tells the horrible truth in just a few words.
Dunya Mikhail’s poems differ from most war poems by the simple fact that she writes about war as a woman, mother, wife and friend, whereas most war poets are men. In the poem ‘Bags of bones’, she writes:
To give back to your mother
on the occasion of death
a handful of bones
she had given to you
on the occasion of birth?
In 2001, she was awarded the UN Human Rights Award for Freedom of Writing. Her poems have been included in all sorts of anthologies, including World Beat − International Poetry Now. She has a Masters degree in Near Eastern Studies from Wayne State University in Michigan and a Bachelors degree in English Literature from the University of Baghdad. She is currently working as an Arabic resource coordinator for Dearborn Public Schools, the town of the Ford factories, which has a large Arab (Iraqi) population.
[Dunya Mikhail was a guest at the Poetry International Festival, Rotterdam in June 2009. This text was written for that occasion.]
Diary of A Wave Outside the Sea, New Directions, New York, 2009
The War Works Hard, 2nd ed., Carcanet, London, 2006
The War Works Hard, New Directions, New York, 2005 (winner of PEN’s translation award)
The War Works Hard, Arabic edition, Al-Mada, 2000
Dunya Mikhail and Vera Pavlova interviewed by Don Share, senior editor of Poetry magazine in Chicago, at the 2009 Poetry International Festival
Dunya Mikhail, Vera Pavlova / Don Share
Link to audio recording of ‘The War Works Hard’ on National Public Radion (NPR)
Dunya Mikhail’s official web site
Boston Review A Poetry Microreview of The War Works Hard
‘Hong Kong’, a poem by Dunya Mikhail on the Guernica website