2017 Voices Beneath the Veil
For as long as anyone knows, Afghan women have written poetry. Not the high sounding literature of an elite but folk poetry, poetry of a nomadic or semi-nomadic people.
Much has changed over the centuries but some things never change. In spite of a repression unimaginable in the West, Afghan women continue to write and to share their poetry via radio and internet. They are schooled, some, in writing – again, via the anonymity of the internet. And, some, fully covered while out, unable to go anywhere without a male escort, have found a voice which rings with intense personal truth.
Black Mirror Theatre held two events in 2017 featuring the performance (reading by actresses, Michelle Rebollo, London Reynolds, Casey Renee Richards, Michelle Zielinski and Madeline Finn) of poetry by Afghani women and girls. A few years ago, there was a similar reading in Los Angeles. That reading was filmed and the film sent back to Afghanistan. One of the poets saw it and was stunned. That someone, in the world, would hear her words. But, even more, at the end, an audience applauded. She vowed to never lay down her pen again.
With that as inspiration, Black Mirror filmed the readings and transmitted those films back to Afghanistan in the hope others of these brave writers would have a chance to hear their words performed and to hear an audience, sincerely appreciative, applaud those words.
And the words? Some, beautiful love stories, or ‘pictures’ of familial ties, of a life of little comfort but rich in relationship. Some spoke of pain, loss – the wages of war which seems endless. Some spoke of writing itself, the power and freedom it can bestow on those who take up the pen. And some spoke of aspiration, a future, personal and national, in which all are free – to learn, to study, to work, to marry, to have a family, a future of peace, persimmons, and, yes, poetry.
The first event was held in February, a cold winter day, at Blank Space on Cherokee Street. The next event was held in April at Foam, another Cherokee street venue. The first event was poorly attended. Perhaps it was the cold, a post-election / inauguration malaise, an uncertainty about Afghan women’s poetry.
The second event was much better attended. An Viet Namese immigrant family came – they wanted to hear what Afghan women had to say. They wanted to learn more about Afghanistan from a personal perspective. Others, poetry lovers, came to judge for themselves what sort of art these writers produced. They were impressed.
Voices Beneath the Veil will continue. The women of Afghanistan, young and old, urban and rural, restrained or free, continue to express themselves in an honesty, a personal color depicting a world sometimes seen only from beneath the veil.
They use pseudonyms, lest there be retribution for their daring to write. But we can hear them loudly and clearly.
You can read more about the women poets of Afghanistan and read some of their work here. We think you’ll be touched.