Poetry We Admire: Afghan Poets

By

Over the course of the last month, the world has watched violence unfold at a shocking pace across Afghanistan.

Within the last week alone we saw the new Taliban regime’s brutal reaction to peaceful protests, just days after horrific footage circulated from the Hamid Karzai international airport as the United States abandoned two decades of militarized adventurism, the US leaving in its wake tens of thousands of Afghan citizens who provided essential services to the American military, citizens who, if given the choice, might well have preferred the military had never invaded in the first place.

Foreigners, outsiders, expatriates, and locals alike, through Afghanistan today we have once more become witnesses not only to the ravages of imperialism and war, but witnesses also to our own complicity in this matter — be it as American citizens, international bystanders, or even more directly involved parties.

In light of the violent events of the last month, September’s Poetry We Admire is concerned principally with the work of Afghan poets — unlike our previous posts, these are poems which have been published within the last two decades, rather than focusing exclusively on contemporary publications.

Violence is the snuffing out of resistance, possibility, and personhood. I hoped that through reading and featuring poems which address all three matters I might be able to continue to bear witness to these living worlds — of resistance, of possibility, and of personhood — which continue to exist in the United States, in Afghanistan, and everywhere else, and which can so often go underrepresented or overlooked.

I hope you enjoy these poems as much as I did.

 


When sisters sit together, they always praise their brothers.
When brothers sit together, they sell their sisters to others.

from "Collected Landays"

through Poetry Foundation

From the Pashto, meaning “short, poisonous snake,” Landays are two-line “folk couplets” traditionally spoken aloud, and were created by and for women to be shared in women’s spaces. The anonymity of many Landays bestows upon the form a freedom for those who share and enjoy them, eliminating issues of culpability, feared repercussions, and hesitation about sharing thoughts relating to traditionally taboo topics.


They knock on the door in the dead of the night.
When they don’t knock at all you’re more likely to die.

I should be too old to say so
but this war has made me afraid of the dark.  

from "Notes on the Disappeared 04-08"

by Mariam Ghani, One Story Thirty Stories: An Anthology of Contemporary Afghan American Literature (2010)

Written over the course of six years, Ghani’s poem “Notes on the Disappeared,” associated with the author’s larger project, Index of the Disappeared, makes of many fragments a composite whole. I admire this poem not only for how much it suits its own form, but also for how well it fits inside a larger artistic project, the Index itself, which can be viewed in more detail here.


I’m afraid it’s true,
mother: once you’ve felt scarce inside, that heavy

hollow, there is no more rest

from "Forgiveness"

by Hajjar Baban in Bahr Magazine

I admire this poem for the way it navigates trauma, opting to forego direct address in favor of dwelling at the circumference of the thing itself. This creates a sense in the reader of a danger past, without having to open old wounds in overt retelling— a motioning towards, as the title suggests, a kind of forgiveness.


I’ve been primed for this
for disappearance, for all my life. 

from "Nostos"

by Aria Aber in Yale Review

I admire this poem for its uniting of personal, family, and world history with such a fine degree of precision. The pace at which this poem moves between place and time, all while holding the reader’s attention and not diminishing the importance of any of the many themes it addresses is striking.


to withdraw, leave
to remove or take away 
as in love 

from Two Poems

by Sahar Muradi in The Brooklyn Rail

I admire both of Muradi’s poems published here, and the form of the second in particular holds my attention for the way it at once seems to motion towards the scantness and insufficiency of language to explain or encompass the history of an occupation, and for the way it scrutinizes and problematizes the language of the occupying powers-that-be and their representatives.


I taste the past from which we have escaped with our lives.

from "Voices: Archives of Spines"

by Zohra Saed in How2 Journal

I find myself particularly drawn to the third of Saed’s poems published in How2 Journal, a poem of remembrance, survival, and tradition, a piece that speaks to the power and limitations of memory and long-distance phone calls alike, and what we inherit and carry on with us—not only from our elders, but from all those we love and care for in our lives.

 

 


Benjamin Bartu

Benjamin Bartu is a high school teacher, poet, & writer. He is the winner of the Blood Orange Review’s inaugural poetry contest. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, The Shore Poetry, The Tahoma Literary Review, Tilde, & elsewhere. An Associate Editor at Palette Poetry, he can be found on twitter @alampnamedben.