Malka Al-Haddad

Malka Al-Haddad is an Iraqi human rights defender, living in exile in the UK. She worked as a lecturer at Kufa University, Iraq, and taught literary criticism. Malka has a Master’s degree in Arabic Literature from Kufa University and recently attained an MA in the Politics of Conflict and Violence at the University of Leicester. She is a poetry editor of the Other Side of Hope magazine The UK's first literary magazine of Sanctuary, accredited by City of Sanctuary UK. Malka's poetry captures the history and culture of her homeland and is a memoir of her journey into exile and the welcome she found in Britain. She has read her poetry in various locations across the country, including at the House of Commons to Members of Parliament.

Previous publications include her first poetry collection, ‘Birds Without Sky’, published in the UK, (all proceeds are donated to two UK charities), and longlisted for the Leicester Book Prize 2018; and a pamphlet consisting of the first section of The Truth at the End of the Night, long-listed for the Cinnamon Press Poetry Pamphlet Competition, 2017. 

In September 2023, Palewell Press published Malka's new collection - The Truth at the End of the Night

Review of "The Truth at the End of the Night"

The poems in Malka Al-Haddad's collection, "The Truth at the End of the Night" are very powerful and moving, as noted by Emma Lee in her Foreword, and by three reviewers at the start of the anthology. A strength of the collection is the combination of short and longer poems. The shorter poems often include moving ideas and images, described with admirable brevity and economy of words. The anthology includes an effective combination of poems and images about the wars and atrocities in Iraq with images of love, home and hope. Some of the poems (for example, "American Propaganda" (p46) and "Love and War" (p48) include interesting juxtapositions of opposing ideas. Black and white illustrations by George Sfourgas complement the poems movingly and effectively to portray "the pain, struggle, bravery and sorrow" (p8) which Malka so vividly describes. There are striking images, for example:

"...I was told in secrecy that the land I loved
does not want me to grow wheat or fruit here,
I only grow cacti..."
("Tree and Storm", p20).

Vivid, surreal images are used to describe disturbing experiences:

"...Put my head in the chimney
To speed up the burning of waiting and scattered memories,
Put the spoons in the fridge.
Put shoes to sleep on the pillow..."

("Expelled Refugee", p25)
Some of the poems are redolent with memories of home - contrasted with the starkness of war:

"...Remember if Tony Blair had not stormed my country
With his war chariot
I would now be drinking cardamon tea
With my brothers and the children of my neighbourhood.
If he had not occupied my country
I would have fallen asleep
On my mother's pillow smelling of incense..."

("Refugee and the Home Office", pp36-37)

Malka's "Introduction: Author's Journey" (pp1-5) provides an additional, vivid account of her experience of war in Iraq over several decades, and its devastating effects on herself and her family. Malka describes how "discovering poetry was life-changing" , and how she:

"...confronted my pain by working as an advocate in human rights issues in order to raise the voice of the oppressed, and that of my family..." (p3).

Malka also refers to ten years of rejected applications for asylum in the UK, and being moved, by the Home Office, "from place to place" (p5):

"...After ten years of Home Office challenges,
still their hands are spiders mapping
bullets in the walls of my sanctuary..."

("The Truth at the End of the Night, p11)

Other poems describe the unpleasant experiences of being detained in Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre ("Yarl's Wood, pp12-14). This poem is a contrast to the images of hope in "Psychiatrist's Prescription":

"...At sunset
I go to the sea to complain about my bad luck.
Feed the birds.
Write poetry.
Butterflies invite me to dance with them.
The doctor said: All this is beautiful
You do not need medicines...
Keep singing with birds.
This gives you eternal happiness.
And you will feel completely free..."

("Psychiatrist's Prescription", p31).

Elsewhere, there are other expressions of hope. I really like the lovely:

"Exile is the place
Where the light releases your voice"

("Exile", p39) - and:

"My heart is a dark room
And as I fell in love with you
The wind opened all the windows and the sun entered me."

("Your Love", p42)

Malka's collection ends with the lines:

"...and there the bird without sky was able to nest
And the bird rose soaring through the sky"

("Danielle Cohen", p63)

As Pam Thompson writes at the start of the collection:

"...Love will always be home and family for Al-Haddad, yet in their absences, marriage, a love of nature and the solace of specific memories, their images shining brightly within the poems: schoolbooks, birds, a grandmother's song, a wooden table..."

Some of Malka Al-Haddad's verse is majestic and reminds me of the language of the 1611 King James Bible in English. I particularly like the stately cadences of:

"...A campaigner against the madness of the military
A speaker to liberate the inhabitants of other villagers
From the intensity of the horror of the moment
He and his soldiers froze in their places like statues
From that day on, he and his generals became statues..."

("Night Journey", p53)

A few lines later, Malka writes: "That's why all birds now poop on the heads of the statues" (p53) - a great and unexpected contrast to the lines above!

In conclusion, I strongly recommend "The Truth at The End of the Night" The collection includes moving, powerful and vivid descriptions and images of the pains of war, exile, and an appallingly difficult and long process of seeking asylum, as well as of hope, love and family.

Congratulations to Malka Al-Haddad, to George Sfourgaras for illustrations which complement the poems so well, and to Camilla Reeve and Palewell Press for publishing the collection, and making Malka's work available to a wider audience.

Richard Byrt

Camilla Reeve, Senior Editor

enquiries@palewellpress.co.uk

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