Parray Shahid presents two grief-stricken poems that travel to a distant land and to its peoples, who in many ways are closer to the heart of Kasheer than any nearby neighbor—especially in what concerns a kinship formed from a state of subjugation, and sealed with a pact of resistance.
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Abdulla Moaswes is originally from Jerusalem, Palestine. On a day such as this he presents a poem of remembrance against forgetting that returns to the days of his grandfather through a narration binding the dispossession and grief of one generation to another. The scholar and poet is inspired by Edward Said’s 1984 essay “Permission to Narrate” (published in The London Review of Books), where Said addresses the silencing and invisibilization that Palestinians faced in the international media while Zionists tirelessly propagated the myth of an Eden-like homeland—one that, according to them, was barren of inhabitants (conveniently made into ghosts) yet paradisiacal enough for an indefinite and still ongoing occupation. Beyond the need for an introduction, Abdulla’s poem speaks for itself, as his verses transit through time like remembrance transits through forgetting to keep memories alive, deep within the terrain of narration.
Young Kashmiri poet Zabirah Fazili returns with a timely ode to the perseverance of the Palestinian people at a difficult time made worse by an army of incursions. In expressing solidarity, her verses travel from the streets of Kashmir to the tear-gassed steps of a besieged mosque that has become a site of death, horror and injury in the holiest of months. The tenacity of these verses is a testament to the determination that characterizes two peoples, two lands and two struggles, with the poet seeing both as one.
There are no suitable words to describe or introduce Zabirah Fazili’s latest poem. Within such verses one finds an utterance that every Kashmiri mother, tending to her family, has brought to her lips—with the ringing of gunfire in the horizon or an eerie silence ushered in by the passing of daylight. That utterance is one tragically guided by an intuition that Kashmiri mothers have—a sixth sense that connects them to those who they love with devotion, as if their spirits lived within those loved ones. In interviews and testimonials by many mothers of Kashmir, when they narrate the happenings of a horror that has left an open wound in their hearts and memory, they often recall the day when trauma took shape due to a horrific event—and they refer to something odd, an ominous sign, or some glitch in their quotidian space on that fateful day of irremediable grief and pain. In her poem, the young poet captures—within that one utterance and the verses that contain it—an intuition that defies logic and resides in the presentiment of the mothers, spouses, siblings, daughters, and women of Kashmir who over decades of horrors have developed the ability to smell death in the air. That ability takes heartbreak and grief to abysmal depths where language fails to convey an understanding. It is here that Zabirah’s poetry succeeds to transmit such a heartbreak and grief through her verses because they are relatable to far too many Kashmiris confined, among other prisons, to the prison of silence.
On August 5, 2019, Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution were revoked to enforce the status of Union Territory on the state of Jammu and Kashmir without democratic consent from the Kashmiri people. As a measure to quell expected upheaval, the internet, TV channels, mobile telephony, landlines, press, public transport and air travel were taken out of circulation by government order while more Indian troops were moved into the Himalayan territory. In the pitch drop silence of indefinite siege, a poet wrote from his memory to “her heart” not knowing when his message would get across, while even houses from adjacent neighborhoods were left without communication with one another. This poem by Khawar Khan Achakzai is a reminder-in-verse of that time still fresh in the collective memory of Kashmir and its peoples, and a testament to the fact that no lockdown, siege or territory-wide curfew can keep a longing Kashmiri heart from beating.
All the way from New York City, writer and translator Alex Woodend brings us six poems by Chinese poet Feng Tang. The original poems in Mandarin and their English translations are published here with permission from their original publisher, People’s Literature.
We are proud to present a poem by Dr. Ramzy Baroud in memoriam of Afzal Guru, who was hanged to death (after 12 years of solitary confinement) on February 9, 2013 for his “alleged” role in the December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament. The poem, aside from a noteworthy tribute, is also a poetic manifestation of the solidarity shared between Palestine and Kashmir in their similar struggles for justice, equality and freedom.
On a gloomy day such as this one, Aadil Hussain Bhat brings us this poem like a postcard from heartbreak, all the way from Oointpoar, Pulwoam (known as Awantipora, Pulwama in the books by those who control the letters).
Relying on the subtlety of the verse, Salik Basharat introduces three poems for six months of silence in Kashmir to amplify the depth of meaning found in Kashmiri life and its everyday experience. “A Postcard from Gulmarg Dated 27th April 2019” carelessly signs itself off to the reader through the precise verses of the young poet. “Six Haikus from Kashmir (August 2019 – January 2020)” oscillates in poetic form, between the plurality of six haikus for six months and the partitioned structure of one poem, depending on how readers engage with its verses. وہ مہکار غل اور وہ دانا بلبل (translated “The Garden and the Nightingale”) balances despair and hope on the thin fine line of everyday life trapped between grief and uncertainty.
Poet, writer and editor Dustin Pickering presents his poem “Ode to a Concrete Shoe Statue.”
This special issue entitled “Verses of Lament and Dissent” brings together the first batch of poetry by eight poets from multiple cultures, from Kashmir to India, Nigeria and the US. Each poem in its unique way evokes feelings and reflections that resonate with people all across the planet in one way or another. In the context of Kashmir, the current environment of toxicity that has seeped out from all ends in several places has led to an absurd claim that what is happening in India is its “Kashmirization.”
This claim, flawed as it is dangerous, entails a collective admittance (attached to a collective conscience) that what has transpired in Kashmir (and what Kashmiris have been subjected to throughout) has been widely acceptable in the Indian imagination (for decades). It is only now an issue because the patterns of abuse manifest in various locations across India revealing that collective admittance that what Kashmiris have faced (was and) is acceptable as long as it happens there, and not in a close proximity. That sort of normalization is extremely disturbing especially when coming from (liberal and/or Leftist) Indians who at times have shown solidarity for the difficult conditions imposed on the Kashmiri population.
As this special issue in our poetry section is aptly titled “Verses of Lament and Dissent,” the poems emerge from a place of solidarity, a quality that the poets unfold through their versified expression of grief, despondency, lament and dissent from within their respective cultures. In some cases, the poets broaden their poetic gaze to express solidarity towards people unrelated to them by origin or background.
Young Nigerian poet Michael Akuchie presents two of his poems. “Interrogation With a Note About Identity” explores the inaccessibility that can be felt with the inability to speak one’s native language, rendering one an outsider. The poet is Igbo-Esan and produces these verses from that duality and the hybrid space that he inhabits in his quest for expression in both African languages. Akuchie adds that through his own experiences, he employs the poetic verse to show just how much he endures in the struggle to “belong” while also depicting the type of bias people like him face. “With So Much Silence” explores the theme of a domestic dispute and separation through a silence that speaks.
The ritualistic habituation of a holiday celebrated around the world is broken and disrupted in order to revive its significance in this poem by Lauren Scharhag. Time, as memory and its evocation would have it, is the poet’s accomplice.
Romanian-born poet Clara Burghelea presents three poems that “speak of identity and how loss reshapes and maps out the body.” “The Clarian Realm,” “My Daddy,” and “Human shortcomings” are (according to the poet) “part of a collection on the journey, the exploration and the structuring of a woman of two cultures, languages and geographies.” The three explore deeper questions of life, human relationships, familial ties, and the limitations that mark being human, at different stages of life and of course, from different points of view.