# 368: BOOK OF THE WEEK — “Load Poems Like Guns”


Marie, Farzana. Load Poems Like Guns: Women’s Poetry from Herat, Afghanistan, 2014.

Story behind the Book Choice

Well, this time, the reason why I have chosen THIS book is quite obvious, right? Or is it not? Afghanistan is very much on our hearts and minds these days. Or is it not? It seems like the topic has already disappeared from the public news agenda. Or has it not? Only those who are fighting alongside the people who are left behind in the country, the large majority whom Germany and the other countries have not rescued, are thinking of the country and its people. And I am thinking of them because I will be teaching a class about life writing from Afghanistan. Once again, I am causing headaches to my colleagues in American Studies because I am also reading texts which are not strictly related to the U.S. But poetry speaks to the heart of everyone and to me it does not matter which texts exactly touch my students as long as they are touched by any books.

I hope, this is what will happen.

The chances are good because the story behind the collection of poetry is a sad one. Many of the poems are by a talented young poet from Herat, who is not alive anymore. She became the victim not of the Taliban but of her own husband. Domestic violence is the technical term we all know for this kind death that so many women go through on a daily basis around the world, even in the year 2021 in a supposedly “developed” world. To make this very clear, this fate does not only strike women in Afghanistan and other supposedly “backward” countries, it also happens to women who live amongst us. No matter where on this planet women live, they still suffer from the violence of men. I am not saying women cannot commit violence but there still is a mismatch that is hard to ignore. And, of course, we could get rid of all violence and thus solve the problem but that will never happen as long as human beings live on this planet. So, the only weapon we have that is not “deadly” but powerful in a peaceful way is writing. This is what Nadia Anjuman, the tragic heroine, did. It could not save her, but it saved her voice which will live forever in the lines she wrote.

1. Poets and Storytellers

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I will be quoting two passages from the introduction of the book because it tells a lot about how poetry functions in a society. To be honest, I am not that much into poetry at all but I also know that prose has its limits. In a country ruled by violence and suppression, you need poetry more than anything else. I have no idea why poetry has this power of expressing “pain and joy” in moments when other forms of writing fail. But the story of Nadia says it all. She became a poet because she had to, she had to write what she was feeling. And she found a community in her fellow writers and intellectuals. Unfortunately, this community could not save her. She died at age 25. Her “husband” is from a family with no education. This is why education makes all the difference.

Does anybody still understand this in the “Western” world?

2. Poetic Inspiration

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This passage about Nadia’s inspiration to write touched me deeply because I share this experience. I never planned on writing poetry but I started in one of the bleakest moments of my life — the bleakest moment of my life so far. I had no intention to write poetry, I did not “know” how to do it. Still, I did. And my blogging adventure from the past twelve months gives testimony to this. I only “used” poetry whenever I felt I had no other words and means. It is always strong emotion that drives poetry. At least, this is my experience. And I also share this experience of fighting injustice. Injustice and the urge to fight on behalf of those who experience it is the strongest driver of people with my personality. It makes me mad when people just talk about injustice but do not act. But I accept it. And I am not judging them despite the momentary anger. We all have different strengths. Not everyone is doomed to be Jeanne D’Arc. And if we were, it would not help the world to only have martyrs around.

But some martyrs have turned into heroines, no doubt.

3. No Sense

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This poem is the first one that Marie shows from the collection of Nadia’s poems. And I am choosing it because it says so much about the present state of affairs in this country — Afghanistan. Actually, when I went to church today, the pastor talked about “getting old and fragile and life supposedly making NO SENSE.” Of course, she came to a different conclusion after explaining a Bible passage. Unfortunately, many people sitting in Kabul now do not have much reason to believe that life actually makes sense. And I cannot blame them. I cannot “prove them wrong.” I cannot even tell them to just “trust in God.” What I can do, however, is tell them to read and write. That is all one can do to find comfort. No matter if there is food or electricity around. If you have a pen and a sheet of paper –


P.S.: This post is dedicated to I. N. because I keep thinking of you.

Reflection questions

1) How do you think about the statement that societies need “poets and storytellers” in the present age of social media?

2) Do you feel that observing or experiencing injustice is a motivation for you or a cause of depression? How do you respond to either feeling?

3) Did you ever think that “life makes no sense?” What/who helped you get over this situation?