Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

My Love Is like a Corruption

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

My Love Is like a Corruption

Article excerpt

Chris Jones is discomfited by the extraordinary fruits of a troubled and troubling literature.

Poetry of the Taliban

Edited by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn

Hurst, 160pp, Pounds 14.99

ISBN 9781849041119

Published 24 May 2012

"When the soul does not leave the body it shakes.

Like a flower withering in the autumn,

Autumn has now come to my love."

What do "we Westerners" (I am one) know of the cultural traditions of the Taliban and of their inner lives and those of other Afghans? This extraordinary collection of startling Pashto poetry has been translated into English, with a preface by Faisal Devji and an introductory essay that addresses members of the English-speaking world with little specialist knowledge of the Taliban, or of Afghanistan more generally, other than the impression we receive from our media. This volume, then, aims to deepen and complicate understanding of the cultural dimensions of the Taliban movement for readers such as myself.

To that extent it succeeds: writers of "Taliban poetry" are certainly humanised by the kind of sentiment Shahzeb Faquir expresses above. Indeed, to foreground "the humanity" of members of the Taliban is one of Devji's preoccupations in the prefatory essay. There is an oddly old-fashioned liberal-humanist attitude towards poetry at play here: that to be engaged in acts of violence is somehow tempered or even mitigated by the "delicate feelings of humanity" (Devji's phrase) that are presumed in the composition of poetry. Whether or not poetry's business is the expression of "fine emotions" is another matter, but it certainly is true that the non-specialist reader will have some of her preconceptions shocked by this body of work.

More than 200 poems are translated here, mostly collected from those published on the Taliban's website between 2006 and 2009 (although a "Before September 11" subsection includes some Afghan poetry not officially sanctioned by the party). It is a pity that a more detailed account of the forms and genres employed was not given by the editors (who make general remarks about "rhyme and rhythm"), especially as the translations stand alone and not in facing-page versions with their originals. Nevertheless, it is abundantly clear that Taliban-aligned poets have drawn on a rich legacy of oral and written traditional poetry, including forms such as the ghazal love-lyric and the sung tarana (loosely equated here to the Western ballad). Their work circulates commonly in MP3 format on mobile phones and is popular among the Afghan people, as well as serving party political interests. …

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