Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Poem: Kamran Mir Hazar

The US has occupied Afghanistan for a decade. The war, or something approximating one, grinds on; drones ply the skies over Khost; Afghan people, like the coalition soldiers, are still dying and suffering serious psychological and physical injuries; the government there teeters on...the brink? I would venture that most Americans know as little about Afghanistan today, save for the names of a few cities--Kabul, Kandahar, Mazari Sharif--and politicians--Hamid Karzai--than we did before the war began. About Afghan literature, I would imagine our knowledge remains as minimal as ever. I am not excepting myself. Today, then, I am posting a poem--about writing and so much more--by an Afghan poet [کامران میرهزار], Kamran Mir Hazar (1976-), who has garnered internatioal praise for his poetry, his journalism, and his political efforts to promote human rights and civil society in Afghanistan.

A member of the Hazara people, and poet and journalist in Dari and Hazaragi, Kamran Mir Hazar founded and has edited the websites Kabul Press and Refugee Face, the former of which the governments of Afghanistan and Iran block access to. Hazar also has served as a radio journalist and editor. For his journalistic and human rights projects he has won the 2006 Hellman/Hammett Grant from Human Rights Watch, and a 2007 Freedom Award from the Afghanistan Civil Society Forum. He has published two collections of poetry, Ketâb e Mehr (The Book of Mehr) and làhn-e tond-e àsbi dàr ezlâ'-e parvân-e sjodan (The Cry of a Mare about to become a Butterfly), as well as a literary critical book on Afghan literature. Of his most recent book, Johnny Cheung's translated introduction on the Poetry International Website says:

Mir Hazar’s most recent book, Censorship in Afghanistan, has recently been published by Norway’s IP Plans e-Books. It is the first book to explore the systematic suppression of free speech in Afghanistan, which has been a feature of its ruling authorities for hundreds of years.
Hazar now lives and works in Hønefoss, Norway. You can click here to read several Guardian articles on him. He also has a threadbare, multilingual website (including one English-language links) at

I obviously cannot speak or read Dari or Hazaragi, so I cannot comment on the original poem, posted below, nor can I comment on the quality of the translation (though I did slightly change two things, transposing one nominal phrase ("crashed computer"), and changing a preposition ("on" for "behind" the "diesel-powered laptop," to make the language more idiomatic), but the story it tells is significant, and the questions provoked by the speaker--who is the lyric speaker here? where is s/he at the moment of this poem? how can our understanding of the poem's multiple ironies, its shifting discourses, its satire, aid us in locating her or him?--are ones that made me sit up and think, ask questions, reread the poem several times. That the medium cited is the net is also significant for this blog, which serves as one my means for connecting with people all over the world.  Too many viruses, of imperialism and militarism, authoritarianism and orthodoxy, of sexism and homophobia, of ignorance and indifference, mark humanity at this moment in time; this poem calls attention to them, at the local and the global level. "Just what is mankind up to?" someone asks a "Kabul sparrow," a term that has multiple meanings, and Hazar tells us the sparrow's answer. Whether a boom accompanies it and it's blown to smithereens is another question.

Nevertheless, we still have this poem, this poet, his and others' poetry. There is hope yet.


Writing viruses
And electronic labyrinths
With a blackout and no computer
In a rented house, at seven thousand a month;
Kabul, the Afghan capital!
What silly poem is this?

You ask yourself, is poetry the same lonely words
    that wander in electronic corridors,
Cut off from their existence,
Thrown away, with no choice but to become a poem?
You watch imagination wandering through paths, over
    the paths,
You throw the leash at yet another word,
Trying to subdue this wild one,
And if you fail,
You stop functioning,
Like a crashed computer.

There was someone, someone who wrote viruses
On a diesel-powered laptop
Looking for URLs and
An anonymous mail would be sent
Connecting you to a site, infected;
“I am from Florida, the USA, and 23 years of age,
Looking for someone to follow the link, and
    make happy”;
To open the mail and to make someone happy?
First, stop the programs;
Passing through security, typing 97, 98, 99,
Approaching the death of romance between zero
    and one.

A virus-writer drank half a beer bottle at once;
Then, computer deaths;
First to the east of Paris, a house,
Australia, three minutes more,
A man is waiting out the last minutes of
    an office shift
Needs to get home;
A party is starting in half an hour;
The Philippines, minutes later,
A 19-year-old girl
In a chat room,
Showing off a used body;
In Egypt, more or less the same time,
And the next morning, Kabul.

You, and you, also you,
Yes, you and also you,
You are all arrested!

They tell me, stop writing!
You write and we’ll show you Guantanamo
    at home,
You write, we’ll kill you.
Kabul, summer of ’07
Hands in handcuffs, feet tied up;
This is Afghanistan, and this here where it is
Dead bodies over dead bodies.
The poem has no choice but to stop writing
This is prison.

They asked a Kabul sparrow
Just what is mankind up to?
The sparrow considered this and died!

© Translation: 2010, Nushin Arbabzadah (with slight modifications)
Publisher: First published on PIW, 2010

And the original, in Hazara:

Copyright © 2010, Kamran Mir Hazar, Publisher: First published on PIW, 2010

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