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.
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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.
From the present time and within the terrain of scattered memory, artist Jagdeep Raina presents a poem that digs into a history of Kashmir beyond epochs, eras, regimes, rules, governorates, kingdoms and states. It is past all these that Raina retrieves a poetic voice, one that eludes fragmented human-made time and the constructs of its history, to give way to a Kashmiri being still on an unending quest. Fragmented time, fragmented geographies, fragmented histories, and the burdens they unleash on the present are in direct contrast with the continuity that these verses lend to the poetic voice of such a Kashmiri being as it traverses centuries and generations.
Qaiser Bashir brings us a poem reminiscent of the style of 18th century Romantic English poetry. The poem entitled “A Nightmare” encapsulates a basic fear that many Kashmiris grow up with in the most heavily militarized zone on the planet. The poem carries itself lightly with uncomplicated verses that at first transmit the serenity and safety of one’s home and then plummets into expressing that basic fear and paranoia that has never left Kashmiris since war and conflict broke out at the end of the 80s.
Dustin Pickering brings us two poems inspired by his readings of Martin Heidegger’s classic work “Being and Time.” The poet has also provided a note to contextualize the two poems motivated by his philosophical engagement with Heidegger’s text. The result is a unique literary instance where philosophical inquiry and poetic engagement converge in verse.
A a poem by Muhammad Nadeem about the tragic unfolding of time that brings about forgetting and is symbolic of life in Kashmir. The creative use of imagery places the reader in a series of moments, which can be compacted into one, to reflect on the larger questions of life and death.
Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal brings us five poems, each with a theme and a message of their own. The five presented reflect (or reflect upon) a state of mind that is individual or collective, singular or plural, depending on how each poem is read and in some cases reveal undercurrents of resistance in many forms. Beyond this limited observation, the poems contain the precision of simple language used to unveil greater meaning and depth to evoke experience.
Through the simplicity of poetic language that conveys a complexity of unaddressed emotions, Ann Christine Tabaka brings us four poems centered on the theme of rupture and dissolution of relationships. These verses do not exact on particular feelings and resound with an inward silence attempting to break through towards a catharsis never fully attained. The last poem entitled “Reaching for Dawn” ends on a somewhat optimistic note and marks along with the other three the struggle of overcoming the absence of an ever-evasive other. These verses by the Pushcart Prize for Poetry nominee share a common thread of grief and tell of struggling, overcoming and heading towards new beginnings.
All the way from New England, poet and literature professor John L. Stanizzi brings us five poems from his ongoing book project entitled “POND.” The poet explains, “Every day, for one year, I will walk to our pond [here in Connecticut], jot down a few notes, and take a photo or two. Then I’ll write a 4-line acrostic poem using P, O, N, D as my first letters, with the extra caveat of never using the same first-word twice. I began the book on November 9, 2018 – will finish November 9, 2019.” Stanizzi carries forward the centuries-old tradition of poetry motivated by the human encounter with nature and more precisely with winter (especially since the 16th century). In these poems an original application of poetic language, coupled with a distinctive use of imagery, reveals that such a tradition is alive and necessary to further articulate experiences that many times are difficult to capture with words. Stanizzi’s innovation is the challenge of doing so in an acrostic format while retaining the vastness of the subject at hand. The brevity of each poem limited to the four verses set by their acrostic form conveys that such brevity suffices to contain the magnitude of experience made communicable so exceptionally well in each of these five poems.
Malik Aabid’s poem offers a profound meditation on the changing landscape of Kashmir with the advent of modernity and its consumerist ecosystem. These verses provide a musing of sorts about the changes from the last few decades with uneven yet constant construction that has sidelined the poetry that inherently exists in the land and in its natural beauty. The poem inspired by a rainy day reflects nostalgia and a melancholic awareness of a passing and the resulting loss that it brings with it. The poet invokes the late Agha Shahid Ali to trail back to a time when the simplicity of life in Kashmir was not so conditioned and suffocated by constant acceleration and movement. A rainy day certainly seems to create a pause that the poet employs to recover a poetic depth from rain, one that is lost to the mundane and to those preoccupied with routine. In fact, this poem itself is that pause, manifest in verse.
UK-based writer, photographer and occasional musician Oz Hardwick brings us five prose poems inspired by the theme of dislocation. These five pieces featured here reflect an inherent desire to transform or rather re-envision everyday life through the poetic craft. The five prose poems published here project the poet’s ability to revisit situations and infuse symbolic value into seemingly ordinary moments to retrieve the hidden profundity from the everyday. The quotidian appears not only as a conduit but also as a catalyst of literary expression, one that the poet explores with greater range by employing his distinctive prose poem style. Hardwick states that these five prose poems are from a “current work on the small dislocations which fissure the surface of everyday interactions.”
Lauren Scharhag presents four of her poems, each with a distinctive poetic voice, with verses that transmit silence and subjective experience in the first person. The four maintain an equilibrium between silence, survival, and strength, where a sense of self prevails and maintains its permanence despite the transient nature of a life confronted by multiple challenges and struggles. “Rorschach” is inspired by “acid attack victims around the world” with such attacks “perpetrated usually against women by jealous or spurned men.” “Evacuation” communicates the experience of the poet in “evacuating from Florida to Mississippi during Hurricane Michael, a category 4 major hurricane, which struck in October 2018.” “Tiny Effigies” is inspired by “a visit to the Native American temple mound in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, and the artifacts that have been retrieved from it on display at its museum, particularly the small effigy masks believed to be funerary art.” Finally, “Sunday” reflects “a small, intimate portrait of middle-class life in America, in which preparations are being made for the coming work week.”