Poetry News

Poetry of Afghanistan's Women

By Harriet Staff
Seamus Murphy, Landays poem

Worldcrunch reports on the danger and secrecy involved in the writing of poetry by women in Afghanistan. Mudassar Shah reminds readers: "Under Taliban rule, from 1996 to 2001, public life was completely closed to Afghan women. They were confined to the home, and punished for minor indiscretions. After the fall of the Taliban, women began to make their way back into society, though serious limitations remain. Still, a few female poets have gained acceptance — and even have the backing of their families." Shah briefly profiles three poets and highlights the risks they take to practice their art. At the top, we'll take a look at Mursal:

Mursal, 22, reads her poetry. It's a patriotic verse, dedicated to young people who have made sacrifices in war for Afghanistan. But even with that subject, she is taking a risk: As a woman in Afghanistan, writing is dangerous.

"I never share my poetry with my family because they disapprove," says Mursal, clutching her notebook as if she's holding something stolen and dangerous, her eyes furtive and fearful.

Mursal — whose name means "messenger" — has been writing poetry for four years, but it's a closely guarded secret. And she says some subjects are completely off-limits. "I avoid writing romantic poetry because society does not encourage women to express love, even in the form of poetry," she explains. "Some female poets have been tortured for writing romantic poetry."

When Afghan women write about love, they are often accused of adultery, and of compromising the honor of the entire family. In 2005, Afghan poet Nadia Anjuman was killed by her husband after a book of her romantic poetry was published. Mention of her death still strikes fear among women. But it hasn't stopped them from putting pen to paper.

Continue on at Worldcrunch. After heading there, it's worth more than a gander to read our own coverage of women poets in Afghanistan from the June 2013 issue of Poetry, with Eliza Griswold's essay "Landays."

Originally Published: January 12th, 2018