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.
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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.
Saba Zahoor’s poem on Kashmir presents her place of origin as existing outside of a human-made time. Through her verses, the poet traverses multiple histories and addresses Kashmir as a being, an entity that has endured the heavy burdens of history. In that, Kashmir is a woman, an old woman who does not break, but withers slowly into inexistence or unbeing.
Yashasvi Gaur presents four of her poems under the title of “Unposted Narratives.” Each of the poems, although unique and specific, maintain a common thread in what the poet calls “an attempt to trace some fragments that could allude to aspects of Homelands.” The poet writes in a versified response at “times of distress” when “art transcends as a voice of dissent, dirge, and rebellion.” Here she offers solidarity through the poetic voice, while recognizing that “the continued imposition of the Indian government and its people on the Valley is ruthless and forceful.”
Originally published in The Prose Poem: An International Journal (Volume 5) in 1996, here is Agha Shahid Ali’s prose poem entitled “Dear Shahid,”.
All the way from the Great Lakes State, Glen Armstrong brings our readers three poems that dig deep into the quotidian to retrieve a depth that often times goes unnoticed. Armstrong employs the power of the verse to unveil the magic of the everyday. In his own words, the poet introduces his work as “selections from a series of poems that attempt to mine magic from the mundane. They take place in the here and now, but search for primal human experiences in the bric-a-brac of pop culture and modern life.” Our Kashmiri and international readers will be delighted to know that Glen Armstrong was the late poet Agha Shahid Ali’s student at one point and now teaches writing at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. His book of prose poems, “Invisible Histories,” is forthcoming.
After a self-imposed suspension in our regular publication cycle, in solidarity with the silenced avenues of Kashmiri expression, Inverse Journal presents three timely poems by Ashaq Hussain Parray that meditate on the quality of being Kashmiri (and human) at the present and within a greater continuum of disproportionate and unresolved histories. As a doctoral candidate in Translation Studies specializing in the translation of Urdu poetry into English, Parray brings us these three poems that exhibit the grace of the Ghazal and the couplet, while crafting out the poetic formulations rooted in the Kashmiri language as it ventures out into the world of English literature, maintaining intact a poetic sensibility that is identifiably Kashmiri.
Azhar Wani introduces a timely poem that takes a famous couplet known to every Kashmiri and inverts its meaning through the poetic verse. Such inversion confronts the idealization of Kashmir as a paradisaical site that over the ages has become a well of horrors, pain and trauma for its residents, particularly in contemporary times. In his own words, the poet explains, “the poem traverses distance and time as Emperor Jahangir’s words about Kashmir are echoed as a lacerated cry. Set in sometime that appears to be a looming catastrophe, one that hasn’t stopped prophesying itself for decades in Kashmir, the poem seeks a moment of recognition of the growing ‘otherness’ and forced identities. In that, all it seeks from the reader is a moment of wide thought.”
All the way from the White Rose City of Pennsylvania, Heath Brougher brings us this poem that drifts between transience and transcendence to awaken a new understanding of what it means to be in the world and of the world.
A poem by Omair Bhat for the times, that is for all the times where war, love, separation, longing, struggle, death, life and resilience have marked human existence. A poem such that it flows from other such poems by the greats celebrated in verses that are alluded to herein, perhaps by compulsion or concealed despair camouflaging as hope, also as a tribute, for the tribulations of the past are carried in the tribulations of the present and the future.
In the contemporary Kashmir of the artist and the poet, a counter-aesthetic has been developed to resist against the glamorous and synthetically beautified portrayal of the land as an idyllic Bollywood destination for tourists. One of the precursors has been a series of works (“There is more to…[‘paradise’ than meets the eye]”) produced by artist, designer and political cartoonist Suhail H. Naqshbandi. There are other examples to such artistic productions in circulation, with paintings and contemporary artworks depicting the rural environs and the cityscape being obstructed from their usual serenity by excrescent imagery of militaristic objects invading the frame from a particular angle or corner.
In the case of Omair Bhat’s poem “Growing tulips…”, we find a “match made in heaven” when it comes to the evident dialogical manner in which the poem reads in perfect metaphorical and allusive harmony with Naqshbandi’s ‘image as response’ to the ‘touristification’ of Kashmir’s tulip garden. Needless to say, Naqshbandi’s series merits deeper critical commentary of its own. Meanwhile, Bhat’s poem reinvigorates through the power of the verse that counter-aesthetic employed by Naqshbandi in his image-making. The two works, the textual and the visual, complement each other ad infinitum et ultra or at least till a touristic aesthetic continues to be employed to cover up the traces of a structural violence that runs deep within the land, far away from the superficial glamour and paradisaical allure that Kashmir accumulates from the oblivious and willfully oblivious tourist and visitor.
As an added bonus, Bhat (re)innovates on the idea of the title of the poem as its first verse, requiring the suspension of certain editorial conventions and demanding more attention from readers, from the uneven cadence of the first line to the last. Naqshbandi’s work does something similar, running vertically and in opposition to the horizontally placed billboard ads that run freely throughout Kashmir’s roads and highways. For this reason, the poem and the image are displayed side by side in vertical opposition to the horizontally aligned landscape depictions that Kashmiris are all too familiar with, especially in ads. As both works show, in this particular case, their parallel vertical scale allows for a greater depth required for the process of excavation, whether that entails the retrieval of a greater meaning or the uncovering of an interred truth.
Andrew Shields brings us three poems all the way from Basel, Switzerland. “Hearsay” contains within its unorthodox verses a meta and self-referential device that affirms and negates the existence of the subject of its verses. “Pick a Card” reflects the musicality of the poet, who is a member of the band Human Shields. As such, the poem could easily be read as a song or adapted into one given its evident lyrical style. “Pit Bull on the Twelfth Floor” is a tender tribute to a companion versifying a brief moment that suspends time to observe a majestic being.