#ReadWomen2014: Poetry witnessing historical trauma

Tarfia Faizullah

Interview with a Birangona
2. Where did the Pakistani military take you, and were there others there?

Past the apothecary shop, shut
down, burned flat. My heart

seized, I told it to hush. They saw
its shape and weight and wanted

it too. Past the red mosque
where I first learned to touch

my forehead low, to utter
the wet words blown from

my mouth again and again. Past
the school draped with banners

imploring Free Our Language,
a rope steady around my throat

as they pushed me toward the dark
room, the silence clotted thick

with a rotten smell, dense like pear
blossoms, long strands of jute

braided fast around our wrists.
Yes, there were others there.

I met this poet, Tarfia Faizullah, when she was a Fulbrighter embarking on her research among the Birongana — women who suffered from the mass rapes during the brutal 1971 war which split Bangladesh from Pakistan. The poems informed by that research form the body of this book, interspersed with poems from the point of view of the interviewer—a necessary and insightful intervention. The result is a stunning collection that won a first book award and honors the survivors’ stories with beauty Book cover of Seam: Poems by Tarfia Faizullahand restraint, never melodrama. Tarfia exercises skillful restraint, allowing the images to do most of the work, so that — as in the poem above — when the women’s actual words do come in, they land with tragic power.

Seam by Tarfia Faizullah.

Recommended for: Poetry lovers and other humans interested in stories of resilience. Writers whose material includes deep trauma, whether historical or personal or both. Nonfiction writers interested in structures that open up the narrative, creating a structure with emotional logic rather than a strictly linear or chronological telling.

Hey, what’s #ReadWomen2014?

In response to lots of disheartening statistics about the gender gap in literary publishing, zillions of people are posting their favorite women writers on Twitter.  I love getting so many great recommendations of what to read, so I’m joining the fun! You don’t have to have a Twitter account to browse what people are posting at the “year-long celebration of women’s writing.” 

Logo of #ReadWomen2014 with five women authors

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