Stacy recommends: Load Poems Like Guns (Women’s Poetry from Herat, Afghanistan)

Women’s poetry from Herat, Afghanistan, as translated by Farzana Marie

Title: Load Poems Like Guns (Subtitle: Women’s Poetry from Herat Afghanistan)

Year of publication: 2015

Authors: Translator Farzana Marie and eight Afghan women poets – Nadia Anjuman, Muzghan Faramanesh, Fariba Haidari, Nilufar Niksear, Fereshta Nilab Sahel Noorzayi, Somaia Ramish, Elaha Sahel, and Roya Sharifi

How to get it: Check your local library’s holdings or purchase it directly from the publisher Holy Cow! Press (

Interesting facts about the translator: Her birth name is Felisa Hervey and she is a poet herself. A U.S. Air Force Academy graduate, she spent two of her six active duty military years in Afghanistan.

Something else interesting: “Farzana” means intelligent or wise.

About that title:

As the translator explains, “The book’s title, Load Poems Like Guns, comes from a poem by Somaia Ramish, reminiscent of Emily Dickinson’s poem no. 754 which begins, ‘My Life has stood — a Loaded Gun –‘ While the intention behind Dickinson’s and Ramish’s poems are different, the general intent is similar: to invoke the violent image of a weapon, commonly associated with men, and appropriate it…as a means of inverting expectation” (p. 32).

The gist:

The book, which begins with an introduction about the history and rich literary culture of Herat, is a compilation of 37 poems written in Dari and translated into English. The English and the Dari versions of each poem appear side by side. Poems by each poet are grouped together in their own sections, with each section prefaced by a biography of the poet and a brief explanation of Marie’s approach to translating that particular poet’s poems.

The poets use traditional verse forms (such as the ghazal) and free verse to convey their feelings, frustrations, hopes,  dreams, and losses in a society and a world where women have to fight to be heard. A major theme of the work is blocked ambition; the writers, full of talent and creative fire, are up against people who find their voices threatening and who want to silence them. But these women are not having it. Using an impressive command of form and language, they bring their visions and dreamscapes into the light with determination and purpose. The brilliance of Nadia Anjuman, in spite of death, in spite of everything, rips through the surface in poems like “Makes No Sense” and “Smoke-Blossom.” The translator gives special attention to Anjuman in the book’s introduction, a fitting tribute given her mythic status among Herati poets. Anjuman’s work certainly resonated with me, as did that of all the other poets featured in the volume. Among my favorite pieces were “Ode to My Earrings” and “Protest” by Elaha Sahel; “Load Poems Like Guns” and “For Nadia Anjuman” by Somaia Ramish; “But I Couldn’t” by Fereshta Nilab Sahel Noorzayi; “At Night in This Empty Neighborhood” by Nilufar Niksear; “A Young Street-Vendor Thinks of Imported Goods” by Fariba Haidari; “Quatrain 1” by Muzhghan Faramanesh; and “Makes No Sense” by Nadia Anjuman.

The poetry in this book is inseparable from the political context and the violent circumstances within which it was birthed; however, these poems are more than political statements. Each one stands in the strength of its own beauty and power, like an intricate wood carving posing fearless amidst the rubble and the wreckage of war.

How this book affected me: It is ironic that I purchased this book during a time in my life when I am (once again) questioning my complicated relationship with male authority figures and looking to woman-centered literature for guidance. I was deeply moved and inspired by the words of these women poets who are, in many cases, risking their lives to speak their truth and resist female subjugation.

If you want more: Check out Farzana Marie’s other two books, Letters to War and Lethe and Hearts for Sale! A Buyer’s Guide to Winning in Afghanistan, and her TED Talk “A Vision for Healing.”

Herat, Afghanistan. Image by David Mark.

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