Washing the Dust from Our Hearts: Poetry and Prose from Writers of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project is, as far as I can tell, the second volume published by the organization named in its title. The first, The Sky is a Nest of Swallows, appeared in 2012, while Washing the Dust from Our Hearts is out just this year. The Afghan Women’s Writing Project (AWWP), formed in 2009 by journalist and novelist Masha Hamilton, is a collective comprised of interested American writers and publishing world friends who facilitate via the Internet writing by women in Afghanistan. Most of the collective’s work is online, but Washing the Dust from Our Hearts and The Sky is a Nest of Swallows represent efforts–pretty substantial ones–to place in print female voices from a land often described as the worst place in the world to be a woman. Afghanistan is also said to be a land thick with poets, with a tradition dating back to the great 13th-century mystic Rumi, but it has been a male tradition never hospitable to women writers and now even less so under the pressure of the Taliban.
The Afghan poets who participate in AWWP do so at great risk—the hardship and danger of writing publicly, especially for Western audiences, is writ large in many Washing the Dust from Our Hearts poems. Women participate, they tell us, because they feel empowered by doing so and because they want the world to know their plight. They use the artistry of poetry to give shape to the suffering of women and the nation at large at the hands of the Taliban during an extended period of war. The beauty of poetry comes in the expression of loss, mixed with pride in their defiant survivors’ strength, and their ability to imagine a better Afghanistan that was and which might be again.
My favorite poem in Washing the Dust from Our Hearts is “My Beautiful and Lovely Kandahar” by a woman named Shogofa, the link to which is at the Afghan Women’s Writing Project website. Another favorite, a stanza from which I will quote here, is “My Wild Imagination” by “M”:
I am one of those women with a wild imagination
who yearns to see equality of Afghan men and women
in action and law. I want lovers to walk
in the streets of Kabul, Herat, Mazar,
holding hands, sharing hugs,
free of harassment and harsh looks aimed at them like bullets.
An interesting aspect of AWWP is that the women write in English; the poems in Washing the Dust from Our Hearts appear in their English original version and also in versions translated into Dari, the Afghan version of Persian, and then transcribed into Arabic script by a woman named Pari. This remarkable alchemy of poetic production and reproduction is made possible by the care and let us not forget resources of the American (and other international) members of the collective. I salute AWWP for their effort and achievement and encourage you to support them.
Afghan Women’s Writing Project homepage here.
Washing the Dust from Our Hearts: Poetry and Prose from Writers of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. Edited by Lori J.O. Noack; translated by Pari. Grayson Books, 2015.