Kurdish-Canadian writer 'produces honey with words'
From a small Kurdish village to Edmonton, Alberta, Jalal Barzanji has broken through the thick walls of suffering and hardship, changing them into walls of optimism and creativity.
An award-winning poet and author, Barzanji has introduced Kurdish culture, heritage, and literature to the entire world through the power of his words. "An author that produces honey from words," says one of his readers.
His poetry is free from ideology, bigotry, hatred, nationalism, or any other negative thoughts. Even though he was tortured in an Iraqi prison in the late 1980s, his poems are not vengeful.
"His poems come from a pure heart, comes from spirituality, has no sense of revenge," says Kamaran Ali, one of his readers. "From his words, which are for all humanity, Jalal Barzanji produces honey."
Coming from a small village in Erbil, Kurdistan Region, called "Ashkawsaqa," Barzanji has been able to reach the international stage and say that he too exists. Not only that, he has won several awards for his literary works.
He was the first person in Edmonton to be the beneficiary of the PEN Writer-in-Exile program. In addition, he is the recipient of the 2004 eRISE award, the 2021 Hall of Fame award, the NorQuest Award, the Wild Award, and several others.
His literary memoir, The Man in Blue Pajamas, won the Lois Hole Award for Editorial Excellence.
The Man in Blue Pajamas, initially written in Kurdish and then translated into English by Sabah A. Salih, documents his suffering in a notorious prison in Saddam Hussein's Iraq and the despair of a nation.
"Jalal Barzanji chronicles the path of exile and estrangement from his beloved native Kurdistan to his chosen home in Canada," writes his Publisher on its Website. "His poems speak of the tension that exists between the place of one's birth and an adoptive land, of that delicate dance that happens in the face of censorship and oppression."
Saddam's regime imprisoned him for three years in 1986 for his poetry and writings. After that, he left Iraq for Turkey in 1996 and immigrated to Canada two years later. He lives now in Edmonton, Alberta.
"I had only 35 centimeters to sleep in prison. I was like a sardine fish in a can," he says. Barzanji has used "a sardine fish in a can" in his poems about his time in prison.
About Barzanji's poetry, Salih writes, "Jalal Barzanji seems to have decided that it is necessary to put the interest of poetry above all the others. Self-pity, obscurity, and advocacy are not allowed to intrude. For him, the language of poetry is too dear to be debased by politics and the troubles of a wounded nation. Words and images matter a great deal to him, as do clarity and precision, but definitely not tear for tear's sake or propaganda."
Exile, as a theme, has a strong presence in Barzanji's poems. He believes that Canada as his second home brought new elements, new atmosphere, and new angles into his poetry. "Although it is hard to make it outside your own home."
One of his short poems was sandblasted into sidewalks on 107-72 Street in downtown Edmonton. The poem reads: "My path takes the highroads. The sorrow of leaving and the joy of arrival paint the distance."
In the anthology of Waging Peace, one of his poems came first in the competition of poems about peace in the world. The poem is now hung in a frame in the Canadian parliament.
Barzanji has published several books, including The Dawning of the Evening Snow, Unwarm, War, Holy Rain and Memory of a Person Under the Wind.
"It's a losing battle: my words have no chance against time. Sometimes, unable to catch up with imagination, I leave the battle, candle in hand, in complete darkness."― from "Trying Again to Stop Time," a collection of selected poems of the Kurdish-Canadian poet.