Kishwar Naheed’s Poem, ‘Talking to Myself’

Pictured is Kishwar Naheed.

Yesterday, in my poem analysis, I mentioned how it’s impossible to separate art from the milieu in which it manifests. That is, even art that is not ostensibly about saying something is still saying something. While that may sound obvious, I think some take it as a given rather than an exception that most art shouldn’t be saying something. People tend to see art as escapism, and that’s perfectly legitimate, and some of my favorite art is that. Heck, some of my favorite poetry is that! I grew up on Shel Silverstein after all. Today’s poem exemplifies this point of “saying something,” however. And in this case, unambiguously. Some poetry tends to use language to hide what it’s trying to say, and in some cases, like Anne Bradstreet, she had to write in that way as a feminist (before that was even a word) poet in the 1600s because it wouldn’t have been possible to write more directly back then.

The famous feminist Pakistani poet, Kishwar Naheed’s, is someone I feel like I could and probably should do an entire blog post just about her. Naheed was actually born in Bulandshahr, a city in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India, and then moved to Pakistan about seven years after her birth in the 1940s. For those not familiar (I do this for myself as much as I do it for others since I’m not a geography guy, but I find it fun to see where countries are, ha), Pakistan is is in South Asia, and is the fifth most populous country in the world at 212 million (off the top of my head, my first guess was that it’s probably behind China, the United States, India and Russia, but Russia is actually ninth, and Indonesia is in the top five). To orient you, Pakistan is sandwiched between Afghanistan and India.

The “move” happened because in 1947, Pakistan and India were partitioned, and the violence and displacement that resulted because of an arbitrary border from colonialists remains a source of consternation today (again, another topic I could do a whole blog post on). Naheed’s biography is of particular importance for fomenting her feminism. As a result of the violence from the partition, she was a witness to the rape and violence that occurred.

“Women and girls anywhere have their feet soaked in blood. Very little has changed over the decades. This must end.”

Kishwar Naheed to Herald Magazine

Then growing up, she had to fight to receive an education at a time when women did not go to school, according to Poetry Translation. She went on to receive her masters degree in economics at Punjab University.

So her 1991 poem, “Talking to Myself,” I read as a feminist anthem, but in poetry from. The poem comes from her collection, We Sinful Women: Contemporary Urdu Feminist Poetry and was published by The Women’s Press Ltd., London, and translated by Rukhsana Ahmad.

As I mentioned, the collection is an overtly political one, inasmuch as being a feminist overlaps with being political.

Here is the poem in full, and here is an excerpt:

Punish me for I have been the challenger of the crucifix of hatred
I’m the glow of torches which burn against the wind
Punish me for I have freed womanhood from the insanity of the deluded night
Punish me for if I live you might lose face

I mean, folks, if that sort of writing doesn’t you get fired up, I question if you’re working with wet logs. As an anthem, “I’m the glow of torches which burn again the wind.” Mhmm, that’s the good stuff.

She’s talking to herself, meaning, through writing, through poetry, and through the the free rein of her brain. But there’s also the juxtaposition here. That in so doing, people will try to punish her, fighting her pen with their swords, and such, but they do so because her act of existence and of defiance means “you might lose face.” Vanity and status. That’s all it is, ultimately. Power. And Naheed is challenging that power structure.

Apologies I didn’t go longer on the actual poem on this one, I went down the biography rabbit hole, and ran out of steam.

What do you make of this poem?

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