The Baghdad Blues by Sinan Antoon

Published in 2007 by small press Harbor Mountain Press, The Baghdad Blues by Sinan Antoon is a collection of poems that straddles the line between war and peace with war.  The narrator uncovers the emptiness of loss beneath the hard exterior of those consumed by the act of war, while at the same time drawing line in the sand to call out the enemy.  Each line is carefully selected for its subtle power, which can only be unleashed by an unexpected turn in the poem or in a stanza.

From “Wrinkles; on the wind’s forehead” (page 23-8)


the wind was tired
from carrying the coffins
and leaned
against a palm tree . . .


My heart is a stork
perched on a distant dome
in Baghdad
it’s nest made of bones . . .


the Tigris and Euphrates
are two strings
in death’s lute
and we are songs
or fingers strumming

The collection is divided into four parts, with Phantasmagoria II containing the most poems. Phantasmagoria, according to Wikipedia, “was a form of theater which used a modified magic lantern to project frightening images such as skeletons, demons, and ghosts onto walls, smoke, or semi-transparent screens, frequently using rear projection. The projector was mobile, allowing the projected image to move and change size on the screen, and multiple projecting devices allowed for quick switching of different images.”  “A Photograph” is the most illustrative of phantasmagoria in that as the narrator unfolds the image of a photograph seen in the New York Times of a young boy in Baghdad, the true horror of the event comes to life and leaps off the page through the carefully chosen, yet sparse language used by Antoon.

Unlike other poets who discuss war in vivid and disturbing imagery, Antoon focuses on the impact of war on mothers, sons, and lovers as well as an entire nation and culture.  His use of slanted images and subtle transitions sets his verse apart from other “war” poets in that it creates an ironic atmosphere as the narrator speaks of blind bravery and courage, while at the same time stripping away worries of death by setting up orderly ways in which people will be taken care of once they have died.  There is a great sense of loss in many of these poems, but there is that faint hope that love will conquer all — whether it is the love of a mother for her son or the romantic love between men and women or the love of culture.

The Baghdad Blues by Sinan Antoon is a slim volume at 42 pages that will stick with readers long after they have read each poem.  Returning to these poems, readers will uncover the irony of Antoon’s words, but also the truth behind them.  Coping with the horrible sights and sounds that surround them, Iraqis must learn to preserve their sense of self amid chaos and find direction within the confines of their circumstances.

About the Poet:

Sinan Antoon is an Iraqi-born poet, novelist, filmmaker and assistant professor at New York University. His novel I’jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody and his collection of poems The Baghdad Blues are written with great sophistication and a haunting sense of irony, according to The Electronic Intifada.

Read more about him at NYU Gallatin.


This is my 10th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.



This is my 17th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.



This is my 8th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge. I’ve wanted to read this volume ever since I picked it up at the last Split This Rock Poetry Festival in March 2010.


  1. Wow — the excerpts you shared are so impactful (12 in particular just hit me in the gut). Thank you for sharing this new to me poet — will look around for him at my local bookstore.

  2. This sounds fascinating. I’ll have to borrow your copy.

  3. Poetry is my first love. And it is still my love. Love these… very enjoyable.

    • I’m glad that you enjoyed the excerpts I posted. I think this collection has a lot to say in just a few words. I hope you got my recent email.

  4. Alexis @ Reflections of a Bookaholic says

    Love the cover. Thanks for the introduction.

    • I really liked the cover of this one too…it’s what attracted me to this collection of all the ones to choose from. I’m really glad I picked it up at the Split This Rock poetry festival last year.