Poetry by Shakila Azizzada

With thanks to Sarah Maguire director of The Poetry Translation Centre for facilitating my selection of poems by Shakila Azizzada.
 
The poems were translated by Mimi Khalvati and Zuzanna Olszewska for the Poetry Translation Centre

Once Upon A Time

 
in memory of Leila Sarahat Roshani
 
Granny used to say
always keep your magic sack
tucked inside your ribcage.
 
Don’t say the sun’s worn out,
don’t say it’s gone astray.
Say, I’m coming back.
 
May the White Demon
protect and watch over you.
Oh, daughter of the dawn,
 
perhaps this sorry tale,
stuck in the mud,
was of your doing.
 
Take the comb from the sack,
throw it in the Black Demon’s path:
seven jungles will grow at his feet.
 
Don’t say heaven’s too far,
earth’s too hard. Don’t throw the mirror
if you fear the sea and her nymphs.
 
Don’t say there was, don’t say there wasn’t,
trust in the god of fairytales.
May Granny’s soul rest in peace.
 
Give the mirror to Golnar’s mother
who, down by the charred vineyards,
dreams of birds and fish.
 
Don’t say the rooftop’s sun’s too brief.
Say, I’m coming and this time,
forget love’s foolish griefs.
 
Shake out the sack.
In the name of the White Demon,
burn that strand of hair.
 
Wasn’t there,
once upon a time …?
Once upon a time there was
 
a girl in whose long, endless dreams,
an old woman with white braids,
forever telling beads, would pray:
 
‘May the Shomali Plain still fill with song
and through the ceilings
of its ruined homes, let light pour in.’
 
Once Upon A Time is © Shakila Azizzada.

The literal translation of this poem was made by Zuzanna Olszewska.The final translated version of the poem is by Mimi Khalvati

Once Upon A Time: this poem refers to a fairytale in which the hero sets off to fight the Black Demon, aided by the White Demon and the magic powers of a sack with a mirror, a comb and a strand of hair. Fairytales traditionally start with the refrain, ‘There was one, there wasn’t one, apart from God, there was no one.’

View from Afar

 
I’m left again with no one standing behind me,
ground pulled from under my feet.
Even the sun’s shoulders are beyond my reach.
 
My navel chord was tied
to the apron strings of custom,
my hair first cut over a basin of edicts.
In my ear, a prayer was whispered:
‘May the earth behind and beneath you
be forever empty’.
 
However, just a little higher,
there’ll always be a land
purer than any land Satan could wish on me.
 
With the sun’s hand on my shoulder,
I tear my feet away, a thousand and one times,
from the things I leave behind me.
 

View From Afar is © Shakila Azizzada
Translated by Zuzanna Olszewska and Mimi Khalvati.
 

Haft Seen

 
If it weren’t for the clouds,
I could
pick the stars
one by one
from this brief sky,
hang them
in your ever ruffled hair
and hear
you saying:
 
‘I’m like a silk rug -
the older it gets,
the lovelier it grows,
even if
two or three naughty kids
did pee on it.’
 
Am I finally here?
 
Then let me spread
the Haft Seen tablecloth
in the middle of Dam Platz.
 
Even if it rains,
The Unknown Soldier
and a flock of pigeons
will be my guests.
 
Haft Seen is © Shakila Azizzada.
The literal translation of this poem was made by Zuzanna Olszewska.
The final translated version of the poem is by Mimi Khalvati.


from The Poetry Translation Centre

.

shakilaShakila Azizzada is a poet from Afghanistan who writes in Dari.

Shakila Azizzada was born in Kabul in Afghanistan in 1964. During her middle school and university years in Kabul, she started writing stories and poems, many of which were published in magazines. Her poems are unusual in their frankness and delicacy, particularly in the way she approaches intimacy and female desire, subjects which are rarely adressed by women poets writing in Dari.

After studying Law at Kabul University, Shakila read Oriental Languages and Cultures at Utrecht University in The Netherlands, where she now lives. She regularly publishes tales, short stories, plays and poems. Her first collection of poems, Herinnering aan niets (Memories About Nothing), was published in Dutch and Dari and her second collection will be published in 2012. Several of her plays have been both published and performed, including De geur van verlangen (The Scent of Desire). She frequently performs her poems at well-established forums in The Netherlands and abroad.

 

25th Ezra Pound International Conference

Sheets_of_toilet_paper_on_which_Pound_started_The_Pisan_Cantos“The conference’s main host will be Trinity College Dublin, Ireland’s oldest university institution, founded in 1592 and located in the city centre. Our second host and other conference site on Thursday, July 11, will be Mater Dei Institute, the college close to what was Leopold Bloom’s residence at 7 Eccles Street.
 
The 2013 EPIC will open at Trinity College Dublin on 10 July with a Welcoming Address by the Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney. Individual plenary talks by distinguished scholars throughout the week will be on such topics as Pound and Irish Poetry, Pound and other writers (Beckett, Coleridge, Joyce, and Yeats), The Cantos Project, New Translations of Pound’s poetry into German and Italian, the Drafts & Fragments Notebooks, and Doing Justice to Pound. There will also be four days of paper sessions and discussions on a wide range of topics related to Pound’s works, life, and influence.”

 

Transverse threads, two women poets and Homer

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The weft of  Margaret Atwoods The Penelopiad is contained in and revealed through the chorus-line voiced by the twelve maids who were hung by Telemachus on Odysseus’ orders after they returned. Margaret Atwood runs the chorus-line throughout her Penelopiad,  the maids sing their songs at ten intervals in the book. I was struck by a comment that Atwood makes in her notes about the maids. She states that :

‘The Chorus of Maids is a tribute to such uses of choruses in Greek Drama. The convention of burlesquing the main action was present in the satyr plays before the main drama.’ (Margaret Atwood, Author Notes for The Penelopiad pp. 197-198)

I am always interested in how women writers burlesque the heroic perception of the classics through use of device and structural under-pinning. In this instance I have been reading Atwood’s The Penelopiad and Alice Oswald‘s Memorial. Atwood and Oswald approach Homeric themes in a sidelong fashion to get to the meat of the oral-tradition. Their poetic focus is decidedly on the lament. Atwood gives voice to the subversive and unquiet maids of The Odyssey. Oswald creates a dirge through interweaving the names of  fallen warriors of The Iliad. Both Atwood and Oswald use the lament as the kernel for their thematic variations from and approaches to Homeric mythos. The poets use repetition to add texture to their laments thereby shaping and focusing the small forgotten voice  toward expressing a universal grief.  This is a not heroic poetry, it is a poetry of keening and loss.

Oswald’s Memorial has drawn quite divided critique. I mention in particular Jason Guriel‘s  reductionistic approach to the book in which he refers to it as ‘a rose-fingered yawn’. This slighting throwaway remark does little to evoke interest in how women poets actually write, nor does it sufficiently disguise Guriel’s critical-ennui. I would point the general poetic-reader to Michael Lista’s critique of Memorial in order to garner a more balanced view of the work.

Atwood’s twelve maids defiantly do not not burlesque the main action of The Penelopiad. They are the main action of the book. Penelope reveals herself to be a tedious bore whose lack of wit and guile are vaguely repellent. I wanted Atwood to get her toe out of the water and focus on the maids who enliven the text with their songs and shanties.  The central pivot of The Penelopiad revolves round the nasty relation between Penelope and Helen rather than on the texturing of the maid’s burlesquing. In this, Atwood’s approach to Homer is a bit of a missed opportunity. The strength of the book is in its sub-theme which Atwood had not developed into a  fuller rendering. 

Oswald did not make a similar mistake in her approach to Homer’s The Iliad.  She has broken-down the book and re-made it a powerful dirge. The fact that this has led to an inability by her critics to get to what she is doing only strengthens the work in my view. The index for Memorial comprises an unnumbered litany of names from The Iliad. Oswald weaves their names into the text whilst interspersing their histories with individual laments for the warrior-groupings. These laments vary in length , they are devices to allow the mourning voice through. They are not separate to the main action of the book but are organically interleaved into and caught up in the theme and direction of this epic poem-dirge.

‘Like a man put a wand of olive in the earth
And watered it and that wand became a wave
It became a whip a spine a crown
it became a wind-dictionary
It could speak in tongues
It became a wobbling wagon-load of flowers
And then a storm came spinning by
And it became a broken tree uprooted
It became a wood pile in a lonely field.

Like a man put a wand of olive in the earth
And watered it and that wand became a wave
It became a whip a spine a crown
it became a wind-dictionary
It could speak in tongues
It became a wobbling wagon-load of flowers
And then a storm came spinning by
And it became a broken tree uprooted
It became a wood pile in a lonely field.’

Page 31, Memorial, by Alice Oswald

It interests me that contemporary women poets are approaching Homer through the use of the lament. They are voicing the silent mourning that occurs when the glory of battle is over. Atwood is giving voice to the abused girls whose life-experience is of enslavement and of misuse. Oswald does not state that the mourning voice in Memorial is that of a woman, but the cadence of the mourning poems that intersperse her text suggests the chorus, the lament.

In terms of contrast in poetic approaches to direct  engagement with classical literature, one could point to how Ted Hughes re-told the twenty-four Tales From Ovid (Metamorphosis) or look at Heaney’s Beowulf. The fact that critique ignores the poetic engagement of women with the classics of literature only points to critical-disengagement, or at best to a narrow conservatism. It is time that The Chorus (that most pertinent part of Epic) is re-read, and given its place in the overall texturing of great poetic works. What would T.S Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral be without the integrity of the women’s voices?

images
‘…he took a cable which had seen service on a
blue-bowed ship, made one end fast to a high
column in the portico, and threw the other over the
round-house, high-up, so that their feet would not
touch the ground. As when the long-winged thrushes
or doves get tangled in a snare…so the women’s
heads were held fast in a row, with nooses round
their necks, to bring them to the most pitiable end.
For a little while their feet twitched, but not for very long.’ The Odyssey, Book 22 (470473) 


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Transverse threads, women poets and Homer by C. Murray is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


‘In The Hug of Arms’; An anthology by Mariela Baeva

Thanks to Mariela Baeva for her legacy project In The Hug Of Arms , an anthology of writing dedicated to the child victims of conflict. I am honoured to be a part of this work with a poem that was initially published in a group called Two Songs of War and a Lyric, by the SouthWord Journal at the Munster Literature Centre. The Poem Gernika was written to be read out at the 75th commemoration of the Guernica Massacre in 2012.


About Angelita

The image Mariela Baeva chose for her cover is  of a small girl from Anzio called Angelita who died from shrapnel wounds at the end of World War II. The contributors to the Anthology are from,  Uganda, Somalia, Ireland, Russia, Belgium, Angola, the municipality of Anzio (Italy), Pakistan, Lebanon and Bulgaria. The texts are in English, French, Urdu, Somali, Russian (with translations into English).

  • There’s more information about the Anthology at this link.
  • PEN International newsletter is here , PEN

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On ‘Two Songs of War and a Lyric’, an update.

This year I wrote a cycle of poems relating to war and to women. I titled part of it Two Songs of War and a Lyric for the SouthWord Journal, although it is intimately related to an earlier sequence of art poems, and to the 75th anniversary of Guernica which was marked in 2012. 

The second poem in the art series , Gernika, was written for Euskal PEN and was read during the 75th anniversary commemoration of Guernica this summer of 2012. The first and last poem of the sequence, A Lament, was written some time ago and had been put in a folder. A Lament is too awkward a piece to submit to most journals as it is written for three voices and does not slip easily into the submission guidelines of many reviews. A Lament was written firstly as a poem and then as a chorus. It was conceived to weave in and out of the sequence which was published initially in SouthWord Magazine. Lament is an inherent part of the sequence because it involves the voices of the women who inhabit the poems in Two Songs of War and a Lyric.

As if, Sabine, Gernika , A Lament, and Through the Blossom-Gate are meant to work together, and are about loss and recovery. Here is what has happened to the original cycle, the Lament, and the unpublished cycle of seven poems since I sent them out.

Gernika

A Lament

The 7 cycle is provisionally entitled Eamon Ceannt Park Cycle , after the park that the dream-sequence was written in. I had planned to send it out, as it is ready. However, in all the entire sequence including the lament amounts to thirteen inter-related poems written over the period of a year or two. They inherently form one piece. There is also an emergent coda for the entire. (Completed)

I am glad the poems have found homes and that they resonate with people. I hope to publish the  thirteen poems  together at some point, but I see that I will have to make my own arrangement for them, as they hardly fall into a traditional submission-shape. The most important thing for me is that they maintain their integral unity and coherence. I am editing them into a folder and deciding how I will eventually publish them in their integrity as a whole piece.

I included the list where the poems appear separately beneath this post.