Poetry, Life and Death

I don’t have a poem for you this week.  I have only my reflections on a feature in the ‘BBC 100  Women’  series about poets in Afghanistan which captured my imagination , roused my admiration and humbled me in a single heartbeat.

You see, my confession is that I too like to dabble with poetry.  I have a complex relationship with poetry.  I have little control over my reaction to it. In various moods, at different times, I can love it, be indifferent to it, or even mock it.  I have actually been afraid of poems (particularly during literature exams) and nursed a shameful fear of not interpreting poems intelligently.   But I have never, EVER, questioned my right to attempt to write poetry, short stories or anything else.  I have never questioned my right to education or even to literacy itself. But as an aspiring writer and poet in Scotland I can afford the luxury of ambivalence. For me poetry has never been a matter of life and death.

Not so for the women in Kabul, the surrounding villages and other Afghan cities who risk their lives to meet and share poetry. For them, poetry is their sword.  A form of resistance and,  therefore, highly dangerous.   

As a result of editing poetry for Cafe Aphra for the last few months I have had the opportunity to read a huge number of poems sent to us from many countries in the world.  I have lived in an intense poetry bubble thanks to your wide-ranging contributions.  It has been a great privilege. But consider this. The biggest danger any contributor faced was having a poem edited, being asked to re-submit, or, at worst ,having a poem rejected.  Imagine how it would be if the act of writing, speaking or sharing a poem was more terrifying than having your poem accepted or published.  Imagine how it would be to share your life in words knowing that you could be hurt, forced to leave your home, or killed?  Imagine the courage it would take. Imagine the need to express which drives these utterances? I stand in awe of the women of Afghanistan who risk their lives for poetry, for the right to express themselves.

Hundreds of women write poems against overwhelming odds in Afghanistan.  A few attend weekly meetings in secret or share poems via telephone. We all know that poetry flourishes in emotionally charged situations, people turn to it almost by instinct. So, it is little wonder that women who have struggled through 30 years of war will be driven to express their experiences, truths or thoughts in this way. But would I risk injury to myself or my family for an imperfect string of words?  Would I risk exile or death for one beautiful line?  One perfect stanza?  I suspect not.  Would you?
For inspiration follow this link http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-24608666.

Yvonne Stevenson-Robb


  1. Dear Yvonne. Thank you so much for sharing this - it's part of the world of which I know very little. Your post has inspired me to read more, to follow your links, and to value my freedoms even more.

  2. Thank you so much Yvonne for this post, it has opened my eyes and even inspired me to write a poem! Not a very good poem, perhaps, but a poem nevertheless, for all those women who are just like me but living in a place where, unlike me, they are not free to live and express themselves without fear of retribution. All my love and admiration goes out to these incredible women, everywhere.

  3. Reminds me of a similar situation in Iran that I read about in Azar Nafisi's book Reading Lolita in Tehran, which I reviewed years ago for Affaire de Coeur magazine. My review is reprinted her at http://www.jansteckel.com/WritingReading.html.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Jester & King by Salia Jansen

Waiting to meet Dylan Thomas

Interview with Mary-Jane Holmes, of Fish Publishing