Posts Tagged ‘news’

The last thing we need is one more national themed day or month that no one cares about or notices.  But after reading the New York Times magazine this past Sunday, I’m going to suggest a new one.  As I noted last week, April 26 is “Put a Poem in Your Pocket Day.”  The following day should be designated “Smuggle a Poem in Your Pocket Day” in honor of poets who risk their lives to write.


Sunday’s Times features “’Record My Voice, So That When I Get Killed, at Least You’ll Have Something of Me,’” a profile of an Afghani women’s literary collective.  That the article was published during National Poetry Month suggests an irony too bitter to savor:  while the Academy of American Poets tries to charm, challenge and otherwise cajole Americans into reading poetry, women in Afghanistan face grave danger for writing it.

The Silhouette of The Hijab by firoze shakir photographerno1


Women in rural, Taliban-controlled areas must compose poetry in their heads– putting poems to paper could lead to beatings—and “publish” by calling in their work to a hotline.  Poems are then transcribed and shared with other women poets.  One young poet was beaten by her brothers when she was overheard reciting her poems on the telephone.  She later set herself on fire and died.


Sad and angry as the article left me, some of the poems made me smile.  I’ll share two I especially enjoyed.


The first is a biting four-line poem addressed to the Taliban.  The poet is all of fifteen years old:


You won’t allow me to go to school.

I won’t become a doctor.

Remember this:

One day you will be sick.


The second is from a 22 year-old woman whose father married her to an old man when she was a young teen:


Making love to an old man is like

Making love to a limp cornstalk blackened by fungus.


Take that, you old goat.



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The brutal assault on journalist Lara Logan during the Tahrir Square celebration of the Egyptian revolution shocks and repulses. (Surrounded by a mob of 200 men, Logan was separated from her crew, stripped and beaten.  A group of Egyptian women and soldiers came to her rescue.)   Some shocking and repulsive reactions to her ordeal (cruel posts from certain bloggers and the fact the Washington Post originally reported the story in its Style section) caused me to examine my own reaction.  Would I feel as upset to read of the similar treatment of an Egyptian female journalist?

It’s not that I wouldn’t be outraged if this happened to someone veiled and not blond, but I wouldn’t be as shocked.  I’m not saying that Egyptian men are running around  raping women left and right—-in fact there’s now a Facebook page for Egyptian men to apologize to Logan—but the oppression and suppression of women in Arab countries isn’t news.  It’s everyday life.

We can only hope the revolutions sweeping across Arab countries begin a women’s revolution the likes of which the world has never seen. Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn, who together wrote a book on women in third world countries called Half the Sky, consider improving the rights of women in poor nations to be THE moral imperative of our time.  They write, “In the 19th century, the paramount moral challenge was slavery. In the 20th century, it was totalitarianism. In this century, it is the brutality inflicted on so many women and girls around the globe: sex trafficking, acid attacks, bride burnings and mass rape.”

To celebrate the Egyptian revolution and to show solidarity with Arab women who hope for a better life, I’m posting poetry written by Arabic women.  It wasn’t easy to find. There’s not much published on the internet and a lot of what I did find wasn’t translated. I don’t make any claim that these poems are representative of Arab poetry written by women. I just liked each one very, very much.


The first is by Andree Chedid, considered a French-Arabic poet, who only just died Feb. 6, at age 90. She missed Mubarek’s resignation by days.  Born in Egypt of Syrian and Lebanese descent, educated in Europe, she moved to Paris after WWII.  In a sense she isn’t a “pure” Arabic writer, but her work focuses on life in her home, not adopted, country.


From the small sampling of Arabic women’s poetry I encountered, I was enchanted with the sensuality.  The poem below is no exception. Chedid paints the ever-patient woman as a locust-like creature, emerging from a shell to begin her life.



The Ever-Patient Woman

by Andree Chedid


In the flowing sap

In her growing fever

Parting her veils

Cracking out of her shells

Sliding out of her skins


The ever-patient woman


gives herself



In her volcanoes

In her orchards

Seeking solidity and measure

Clasping her most tender flesh

Straining every fine-honed fiber


The ever-patient woman


gives herself




The next poem is by Iranian poet Nahid Kabiri.  Even though it’s long, take time to read it.  The translation may not be the best, but the message is still powerful, the images haunting.  I love the part where she imagines the freedom of sitting in a far-off field perched in a “lonely tree.”  The longing for freedom is so intense that she describes it with sexual language—surrender, love-whisper, warmth of my body. Reading “Authorized Demand” reminds me of the everyday freedoms and rights we western women take for granted.

Authorized Demand

by Nahid Kabiri


May I Sir?

May I open the windows of my heart

to the tender affections of light?

And at least from distance far,

look at the beauties of life?

May I Sir?

May I be myself- a woman…

And from the three hundred sixty five days of the year,

for only one day be

from all your “must”s and “must not’s free?


May I Sir?

May I just have my natural liberty

of lying on the green grass…

And even more generous than the Sun

give the expectant soil

the warmth of my body and soul?

Or, in the fields yonder,

perch on a lonely tree

to sing in wilderness

seeking unity with birds

and harmony with rivers ,

wh! erein swarms of fish in ecstasy swim,

and in rememberance

of all my love-whispers with the rain,

surrender to a long – sought liberty?


May I Sir?

May I for only a while in your prescribed society

be spared the pangs of


“Don’t! “s,


and “Never! “s?

May I, if you graciously give me the right,

dream of Love?

And in fascination of the bold verses of Mutiny,

the gripping enchantment of a kiss ,

and the absorbing radiance of Freedom,

detach myself

from the hardships of housework,

exclusively imposed on the feminine?


May I Sir?

May I, for some moments of relief, leave

the needle and the thread,

the clothes and the iron,

the kettle and the stove,

And under the endless skies of romance,

merge my being

with those lovely moments of sense and intelligence,

which your “CODE” has ever denied me?


May I Sir?

May I Sir?

May I say “hello” to a neighbor one day?

Or knit a muffler for a passerby

from the strings of my suppressed tears?

And may I migrate without a “permit”

to the altar of roses

yonder there – in the scented fields of spring?


May I Sir?

May I?

May I then laugh in ridicule at whatever here ?

Yes, laugh in ridicule Sir!

And tell in your face :

Your “YASA”* is a shame ‘

And the justice you believe in,

is indeed a disgrace !


*YASA: ancient Mongolian strict code



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Great news today in the New York Times:  astronomers announced there may be at least three times as many stars as previously estimated.  One astronomer with the knock-knock-joke-ready name of Pieter van Dokkum (this is a challenge I throw out to my husband) says this finding is “problematic,” calling into question current theories about how big other galaxies are and how quickly they formed.  (My favorite part of this article is reading that galaxies other than the Milky Way can have a “blobby” shape.  Let those of us with blobby parts take heart.)


More stars may be problematic for Dr. van Dokkum, but not for me.  I say, more light!  Three times as many stars means three times the light in the universe, and how beautiful a thought is that?


Another astronomer, perhaps more schooled in humility, is quoted as saying, “It’s very important that papers like this are published so that we are reminded how fragile our knowledge of the universe is.”  Amen, brother.  Pass the mystery, please.  In a world where love can be reduced to hormonal urges and evolutionary drives, where life can be cloned, where poets are not read, where magazine articles every month delineate the same formula for happiness—aerobic exercise plus meditation plus gratitude plus a handful of almonds and a pile of blueberries—in such a world more mystery and more awe and more wonder are a cause for celebration.  I hope tonight’s skies are clear (not likely on this gray day, but there’s always tomorrow) so I can look up and be transported.


I’m reminded suddenly of my father.  He was a man intimate with the stars.  He grew up and camped and hiked in the mountains of Colorado, closer to the stars than I’ve ever lived.  Aboard ship in the Navy he studied the stars for years, knew their formations, loved their beauty. As a physicist he studied the stars in a different way, and many a dinner table conversation was dominated by his attempts to explain theories of light and energy in terms of stars.  I don’t remember much of those lectures, but I do remember how often he would expound on why the sky was so full of stars.   “God is profligate!”  he would say.  Today’s announcement would have made him happy.


To celebrate, I turn to the great American poet of celebration, Walt Whitman.  Over 100 years old, his poem “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” seems to have been written just for today’s announcement.





When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer

by Walt Whitman

WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer;

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;

When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;

When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the


How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;

Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

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