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Bob Holman & Margery Snyder

Poetry Crossing the Cultural Divide Between Afghanistan and the West

By May 16, 2012

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Afghanistan has a long tradition of poetry, both Persian and Pashto—you can read selections from Afghan poets translated into English at these Web sites:

Since the Western invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, US and UK media have paid some attention to poetry’s place in contemporary Afghan society: Right now, poetry is crossing the cultural divide in both directions—from west to east, with the travels of an American poet in Afghanistan:

from the Detroit MetroTimes:
Detroit Poet in the War Zone,” by M.L. Liebler
M.L. Liebler is a Detroit performance poet, literary arts activist and Wayne State University professor who has travelled the world teaching poetry. This month he ventured halfway around the world, to Afghanistan, and he has come back with inspiring stories of poetry as the vehicle for intercultural connections: he met with the poets of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project for a workshop in a secret location in Kabul, he used Langston Hughes’s “A Dream Deferred” poem and Eminem’s hip hop lyrics to get Afghan kids writing poems, and he taught the poets of Kandahar “to click their fingers after poems and say ‘dig that!’” He’s posted from Kabul, Jalabad and Kandahar so far—after Kabul, he was forced to suspend blogging for security reasons, but now that he has left Afghanistan his backlogged posts are going up, and readers can keep an eye on the Liebler archive page linked above to catch future installments.

And, not without disjuncture and controversy, poetry is also flowing from east to west, with the UK publication of a book collection, Poetry of the Taliban, in English:

from The Independent (UK):
Controversial Taliban poetry anthology to be published,” by Andrew Buncombe
“Controversy has erupted over the publication later this week of an anthology of Taliban poetry designed to ‘shed light on who these people actually are.’... Confronted by a barrage of criticism, including condemnation from a former British military commander in Afghanistan, the editors of the volume of 235 poems have defended their project as a way to challenge people’s assumptions.”

from The Guardian (UK):
Taliban poetry: the gentle, flowery side of the story?,” by Robin Yassin-Kassab
Poetry of the Taliban, therefore, is a brave and useful project. Published this week, and already denounced in some quarters as ‘self-justifying propaganda,’ it offers a perspective on the conflict through the Other’s eyes, something worth more than a library full of cold analysis.”

from The Huffington Post:
Taliban Poetry Collection Sparks Controversy,” by John Lundberg
“The book’s editors—two scholars—acknowledged that one strongly voiced complaint they hear is that their book will be giving voice to terrorists.... The poems themselves support both sides of the debate. Some of them rail against the U.S. and its allies, conveying a predictable fanaticism.... Others celebrate love and landscapes, and even convey doubt....”

What are your thoughts on these sorts of poetic conversations between distant and often opposing cultures, dear Readers? We welcome your comments below.

Previous Postings on Poetry as a Medium for Cultural Exchange:
Poetry is a Peace Bridge Across Divided Societies (December 2007)
The Language of Poetry Bridges the Gulf of Cultural Conflict (November 2006)
Poetry Connecting Civilizations in Conflict (Coleman Barks, Rumi and Iran, May 2006)
Britain Chooses a Poem to Represent Earth to Aliens (October 2005)


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