Thursday, December 12, 2013

Poem by Guest Blogger, JULIA STEIN - "The Woman Disappears Bit by Bit" - re Iraq War

Our Guest Blogger is the Los Angeles poet Julia Stein, who is also a novelist, playwright, critic, and teacher.

Julia shares her poem, "The Woman Disappears Bit by Bit," which is part of her fifth book of poetry, What Were They Like?, a collection of poems that look at lives― Iraqi lives, Afghan lives and U.S. lives― caught up in the Iraq and Afghan wars. The last poem imagines peace. 

Stein’s poems were inspired by Whitman as well  as Sumerian myths by way of Hemingway.  

Julia Stein's powerful book, What Were They Like?  protests war and the effects of war on the victims and perpetrators alike. Underlying the vignettes depicting the different parties affected by the war is a firm belief that poetry and literature can provide healing.

Her poem "The Woman Disappears Bit by Bit" ends ironically --- the woman crosses into Syria for refuge.

What Were They Like? is only available  online from C.C. Marimbopress:
Jaci Hirschman, author of The Arcanes describes this book as "A compelling book of poems that dignifies and honors the Iraqi people…. An important book for anyone of human conscience."


by Julia Stein
copyright 2013, all rights reserved

She disappeared from her Baghdad office.
The Americans invaded in March her company closed down.
She was thrilled to hear her company reopened in June
“packed her backpack full of CDs, floppies, notebooks, chewed-on pens.”
She was a lucky one with a job,
a computer programmer,
eagerly headed up stairs to her office.
Her department director said she couldn’t be protected.
She was fired.
Her brother and cousin rushed her out of the building.
She cried all the way home,
All over Baghdad women doctors, lawyers, teachers heard the same story,
the country full of women disappearing from offices.

She disappeared her sunglasses,
too dangerous to wear.
In her August car trip to visit her aunt with the sun assaulting her eyes
parts of Baghdad she knew had disappeared.
She saw ”the street with the crater where the missile exploded”,
“the street with the ravaged houses.”
She began to write her diary on the Internet,
told us how Baghdad is burning.

She disappeared from the streets,
scores of women kidnapped from Baghdad streets.
her father her brother thought it too dangerous for her to go out,
she has to ask her brother, her cousin to take her to buy groceries,
an excuse to walk down a street,
an excuse to breathe,
like Anne Frank she’s imprisoned in a house
like Anne she writes a diary

Her blue jeans and pants disappeared,
Her hair, her arms and her legs disappear,
too dangerous to show on the street.
Now she wears a hijab, a long skirt, a long-sleeved shirt.
Losing her body, her clothes,
she still has fingers, has a voice.
Riverbend sent her voice, her words, her diary Baghdad Burning
 out over phone lines to the world.

She had stories to tell.
Next door to her cousin’s school men threatened to throw acid at girls who showed hair.
Her cousin kept her 14-year old daughter home.
Her neighbor wouldn’t let her 19-year old daughter go to pharmaceutical college.
She remembers when once half the students in colleges were women before the war,
when once women were doctors, lawyers, engineers before the war,
fights with the electricity not working most of the time.
Imprisoned in her house she devoured the newspapers, the TV news.
A woman on fire, she burns to live.
She writes her diary

She disappeared from Iraq.
Her big lone suitcase waited four months in her bedroom.
In June she sat by her suitcase crying,
unpacked her suitcase.
In September her aunt said her son was threatened.
They had to go now.

She went from room to room saying goodbye,
goodbye to her desk,
goodbye to her curtains,
goodbye to her couch.
Her aunt and uncle cried when she left.
Her uncle tightened the shawl around her head telling her to keep it on until the border.
At the two terrifying checkpoints she prayed under her breath.
At the border their passports were stamped.
She cried again seeing the last Iraqi flags before crossing into Syria.


Bio of Julia Stein:
After receiving a B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley and M.A. in Psychology from California University at Los Angeles, Julia Stein left psychology to be a writer.  Later she got an M.A. in English from UC Irvine.

In 1973 she produced a reading of 2000 years of women's poetry at the Los Angeles Women’s Building in English, Japanese, Chinese, French, German, Spanish.   Stein was editor/writer in 1975 for Sister, a monthly feminist newspaper out of Los Angeles as well as a producer-reporter for a women’s TV news program, Luna Video, which reported on women’s news. The programs were then  broadcast on the "Miscellany" show on KVST TV. 
During the late 1970s and early 1980s Stein handset type for Plantain Press -- the best fine press in Los Angeles. She was also a writer and oral historian specializing in Los Angeles history, and the first to teach creative writing to teenage girls in the Los Angeles county delinquency system at Camp Scott.

During the early 1980s she was associate editor and then editor of Electrum, a multi-cultural poetry magazine. She published her first book of poetry Under the Ladder to Heaven (finalist in the Whitman competition) as well produced as an six-hour anti-war broadcast on KPFK radio entitled "Flowers for Central America." The show featured poets and Central American music.

She helped found Los Angeles local of the National Writers Union and worked as an arts journalist throughout the 1980s publishing articles and commentary inthe Los Angeles Weekly, Los Angeles Reader,  Village Voice,  Daily News, High Performance, and the American Book Review, among other publications.

She has taught psychology at California State University at Los Angeles and English at Los Angeles City College, Santa Monica College, Valley College, UCLA Extension writers program etc. Beginning in 1992, she published more poetry books as well as literary criticism essays on such topics as women’s and working-class literature. She was a featured speaker at several national conferences, and has been an invited poet/reader in venues from Honolulu to Paris.

In 1995 Stein produced an anti-sweatshop literary reading at Midnight Special bookstore for Common Threads. The reading was taken to court by Guess Jeans as slanderous, and she as part of Common Threads waged a 6-month battle against and defeating Guess Jeans.  In 2010 she cofounded Los Angeles Laborfest and helped organize a series of six literary/art events around the Triangle Fire centennial in March 2011.

Here are additional links about Julia Stein:

Julia Stein Official Website


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