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Swift Outrage from Pakistani Poets at Shooting of Unarmed Man by Security Forces

By Harriet Staff

The Huffington Post reports that Pakistani poets are outraged by the death of an unarmed man at the hands of security forces in the southern city of Karachi, “an incident caught on videotape and broadcast widely”:

Editorial writers demanded justice. Television talking heads decried the brutality of the men in uniform.

And then, a few poets got to work.

“No regard of life! No fear of Allah! Animals in jungle are better than you,” one English-language poem posted on YouTube rails at the culprits in the June incident. Another, in Urdu and circulated on Facebook, mourned victim Sarfraz Shah, who had “told his mom he will return home early.”

Pakistan is a country that reveres poetry, gently weaving it into daily life, and the last decade has provided no shortage of material. The rise and fall of a military ruler, the demands of a foreign superpower, the devastation of Taliban bombs – these themes and more have crept into Pakistani poems.

Some of the resulting verses carry overt messages about specific events. Often, though, the approach is more subtle, and occasionally, it’s tinged with humor.

“Of course, everything which is happening around a poet, it has an effect,” said Shahzad Nayyar, a published poet based in the eastern city of Lahore. “Such … events, which are causing destruction, which are causing loss to man, material and property, they are affecting poets a lot.”

Huffington Post also elaborates on the history and current significances of poetry in Pakistan:

Although Pakistan is just 64 years old, its people’s poetic tradition is centuries old and is intertwined with that of the rest of South Asia, while also influenced by the Persians. Urdu is the most widely used language, but even regional languages, such as Pashto and Sindhi, have notable poetic histories.

Today in Pakistan, one can find poetic verses on the back windows of taxis, on the sides of delivery trucks and atop gravestones. Newspapers regularly publish poetry, while Pakistani politicians, such as the country’s ambassador to the U.S., post verses on their Twitter feeds or use them in speeches.

Poetry recitals – known as “mushairas” – can draw thousands of spectators and last deep into the night, with audiences shouting encouragement to the men and women onstage. Sometimes, mushairas are part of larger gatherings, such as weddings or trade conferences; others are intimate affairs.

The country even has a national holiday dedicated to a poet-philosopher, Allama Muhammad Iqbal. Iqbal’s writings were seen as an inspirational force toward the creation of Pakistan as a Muslim homeland in 1947, though he died in 1938.

Of the 1,000 books published each year in Pakistan, there are some 50 books of poetry, said Saleem Malik, vice chairman of the Pakistan Publishers and Booksellers Association. While a handful of poets may earn enough to live on writing alone, at least for a while, most are engaged in other professions.

Many of the poetry books are self-published and distributed for free among friends. Still, that doesn’t account for the poetry that appears in other forums, such as magazines or websites such as Facebook, a popular setting for younger poets who can’t afford to publish their own books.

We’re familiar with that one. Read the entire piece here.


Posted in Poetry News on Friday, August 12th, 2011 by Harriet Staff.