The last session I was able to attend at last fall’s biennial Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival before starting the drive back to Ohio was “Poetry and the Lives of Women.” Poets onstage in that intimate tent on a crisp fall morning were Toi Derricotte, Linda Pastan, Anne Waldman, and Taslima Nasreen.
I wasn’t aware of Nasreen, her history, or her work before this panel, and I was awestruck at the courage and defiance this unassuming woman seated before me had shown in speaking out through her writing. The participants discussed many issues related to women and poetry, but at times the American poets seemed apologetic discussing their own personal and cultural hurdles as artists. Not that sexism, racism, or any personal challenge of any poet (of either sex) is negated by another poet’s persecution. However, in the presence of Nasreen–exiled, with a price on her head–it was difficult for poets and audience members not to say, “Of course, what I went through doesn’t even begin to compare, but…”
Last Thursday, Taslima Nasreen was attacked at a public appearance in Hyderabad, India (hat tip to The Poetry Hut for the information–and YouTube provides several videos of the disturbance). What’s more, Nasreen was booked by Hyderabad police “for promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, language–a charge that can get her two years in prison, if proven.”
Take some time to learn more about Taslima Nasreen and to read her poetry; and consider how intensely important poetry can be.
P.S. If you weren’t there, or simply want to relive the moment if you were lucky enough to be in the audience at the festival’s Friday afternoon “poetry sampler,” you can watch a video clip of Taha Muhammed Ali reading his poem “Revenge” thanks to the folks at Dodge.