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.




A black feather from her black feather tree


A black feather
From her
Black feather tree

Sways down

She has spread
Her red and blacks out
For carrion lovers

Lace their moons with trawling nets

Bird-pecked crabbed and sweet apple

Roll them into grass
Bamboo worms a curve into flared ground

Black feather sways down

Through dream
To this waking place
Of stones

A black feather from her black feather tree is the opening poem of SHE, published 12th March 2013.
© C. Murray

she-painting“I do not expect anyone will believe me, but I know that my dreaming life is as real as my waking life. Indeed, I have learnt not to call these sleeping narratives anything other than a different part of my reality.

When I first encountered the entity that appears on the towpath I was afraid for She seemed hardly human to me. I had gone little by little into this dreaming place over the course of twenty years, and I had explored it almost wholly. I do not know what my encounter with this lady means, I intend to find out.”

With She Christine Murray explores the spaces between waking and dreaming, that we all inhabit yet are so rarely revealed to us in this day and age. Part shaman part Sybil,she takes us on a Jungian odyssey to meet the archetype that stands at the crossroads of birth and death, one whom we are all destined to encounter sooner or later.

Thanks to Dave Mitchell at Oneiros Books, To Michael McAloran, and to Anastasia Kashian who painted her beautiful cover.

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Impress by Candi V. Auchterlonie

candiImpress by C.V Auchterlonie. Published Punk Hostage Press 2012


I see us
as if we’re not us at all
as if we’ve let our body suits already
slipped off and skinny dipped under some glass blown
one in /one out
we walk the same /we drown the same.’
 nest is © Candi V. Auchterlonie from Impress (Amazon)

Impress is Candi V. Auchterlonie’s second poetry collection, published by Punk Hostage Press 2012.

Candi V. Auchterlonie  is a woman of the landscape. She is a poet of the open vista and of the outdoors. One feels that the house and the hearth are an alien skin that somehow do not fit her. The house functions as doors and windows that lead to water and wide open spaces. There is an obsidian thread running as a deep cleft through and under her expression. She mines this vein revealing a controlled sure craftsmanship in her approach to poetic form.

Auchterlonie’s writing approach to her poetry is singular. Whilst she takes on themes of motherhood, alienation, beauty and violence, the aforementioned obsidian vein reveals a  linguistic nomadism inherent in her expression and it runs through the whole of Impress.  Sometimes the words she seeks to communicate the depth of her experience are lost to her pen. This does not give her pause, nor does it reveal a desperate clutch for the right image or symbol. In fact, Auchterlonie shows herself prepared to wait for her poetic imagery to develop.

Auchterlonie handles poetic series and inter-related themes with extreme care and she will extend them without losing control of the symbols she has assembled to voice her poetry. There are series of poems with interlinked themes throughout Impressterrarium, chambers, walnut, woman without a landscape, and ghost hands the ultimate poem of the collection are in series.

The pivotal part of Impress occurs in the series woman without a landscape:

woman without a landscape

it still startles her
the way old pain does.
she remembers it well, every hurt that tamed her
it hits her like a thousand paper cuts
to her fragile vellum skin.’
woman without a landscape is © Candi V. Auchterlonie

The tropes and symbols Auchterlonie has assembled for herself are dominated by water, rock, ocean, blue,and metallurgy. The home represented by the house sometimes feels imprisoning or unsafe in the poems of Impress :

terrarium 1.

should you remember
in retrospect
the gossamer, or
the ghostly silence
of her
the glass house in the hills
tiny crystal knobs over brass
secret kept,
unbroken stave, marble smooth
terrarium 1. is © Candi V. Auchterlonie

House is not a place of safety from storm and almost exists alone to provide metaphor or symbol. Houses have cellars and doorways that are like a magic kingdom into well-guarded memory


middle of the night storm
so very turbulent
that this house of mine
began to caw and creak like a flock/
like antique brass hinges flittering off like fairies.
the old house rattled right
down to its foundation.
I could hear its old belly aching
discomfort and some superficial seething pain.
3 am.
only to be woken
by the violent husbandry
of the shaking of my walls/my bed.
I began conversations
with the trees outside.
from rock-a-bye by Candi V. Auchterlonie
 Objects and Auchterlonie’s perception of them are made new when she observes her child in his world. In her poems about motherhood there is a tsunami of tenderness and of self- recognition, and of her own engagement with the small and miraculous world of her son.
 The experience of birthing reflects the sex that created the small boy  _whose silence /goldfish gasp _  are the poet’s own. The child in Impress is the keystone of the arch that supports her epic structure. He is  a window to the world and his visual language and gesture is a learning curve for the poet.

once upon a time ago

his tiny peach hands
distorted blur under lemon white
the glow of animate life
his, the digits of newness still
over worthless relics broken
ever storyless, he carefully cleans and collects them
from around the yard, ‘
from once upon a time ago by Candi V. Auchterlonie

Often there is a sense of total alienation from the domestic world, and that nomadism or will to unfold the world is of the utmost importance. Domestic ties and a tying to objects is secondary to unravelling a feeling of her place in the world.
 The importance of place and one’s relation to it through the observation and study of talismanic objects, natural objects which speak of mystery are always subject to the poet’s minute investigation, as if the huge is presently too much to handle. She holds in her own hands small symbols of the enormity of place, these are shards of wonder and not remnants or leavings from. There is a questing curiousity about Auchterlonie which bodes well for her future work , as it is allied with a subtle craftsmanship in her approach to form.
 Alienation from is a still evolving in Auchterlonie’s forms and tropes. Stone (or crystals) / the walnut/ water, and sub-total immersion provide useful tools for a sense of powerlessness or littleness in the utter vastness of nature.

That  thread of obsidian running through the book which belies the poet’s statement of beauty as encompassing all and everything. There is a determined desire to find her place in a world which is hers – an almost childlike beligerence and desirousness to make sense of it all. This may be a linguistic disconnectedness, a nomadic inherence , or an endless wanting that is eternally restless. Restive even.

feast of figs

ravens are rare here
I find when I fumble stumble across one
should I be so lucky
I fall onto my knees searching for
the stars, Corvus!
I think of the greeks and Babylonians
the hydras tail, the raven and adad
the story of apollo’s raven
and the feast of figs, the punishment
of being stuck in the sky, thirsty for all time.
the cost was high, I recoil.
I immediately search for headstones
marble carved eyes
that’s where the stars live these days
onyx forms
perched and crooning over
named and muted pale stones
under storms of rusty steel wool.’
feast of figs is © Candi V. Auchterlonie


Transverse threads, two women poets and Homer


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?

‘…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.

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.


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.