"The Epic of Gilgamesh forms the core field of reference in Iskander’s own epic of exile and loss. There, among the great eternal symbols of lamentation and vain entreaty which are parts of the troubled stream of the poem, we find perfectly contemporary pieces of debris such as ‘the old photograph album’ and ‘the sad bicycle.’ . . . The book is a majestic achievement for both poet and translator."—George Szirtes, author of Reel
"Woven throughout the book is the question of why—and how—one can continue writing in such a broken world. It’s a difficult question in a collection that privileges silence over speech, emptiness over writing. But: "Here’s the answer: / Shine with a light that does not belong to you."—The National
"Iskander's own transformation of the Gilgamesh epic into a modern poem draws the original's grandeur down to the personal scale, without rendering it inward-looking. The narrator's voice is that of the refugee or exile, the person who loves their homeland and culture but has to witness its collapse, and can depend only on their own resilience."—the Bottle Imp
The Epic of Gilgamesh is perhaps the greatest surviving work of early Mesopotamian literature. According to legend, Gilgamesh built the city walls of Uruk, modern-day Iraq, to protect his people from external threats. Although the epic records events from more than four thousand years ago, those events echo many of the social and cultural concerns of Iraq today.
In this luminous bilingual collection of poems, Ghareeb Iskander offers a personal response to the epic. Iskander’s modern-day Gilgamesh is a nameless Iraqi citizen who witnessed the fall of the dictatorship, who exists in a constant state of threat, and who dreams, not about eternity, but simply about life. While Gilgamesh was searching for the elixir of life, Iskander’s hero is searching for consolation.
Ghareeb Iskander is an Iraqi poet living in London. He has published numerous collections of poems including, A Chariot of Illusion. His critical work includes Semiotic Trends in the Critique of Arab Poetry.
John Glenday is an award-winning Scottish poet and translator. He is the author of several poetry collections including, Grain and Undark.