Monday, 16 May 2016

The Right to Write in a Small, Still Voice

imageCharles Adès Fishman is a Pulitzer Prize nominated Jewish poet who lives in the United States. Smita Sahay, young enough to be his daughter, is an Indian English-language writer based in Mumbai.

The chances of their coming into contact, let alone enjoying  a  shared professional  commitment would once have been laughably small. But they’ve been somehow  conjoined by a terrible incident that  occurred in Delhi during December 2012.

Indeed, Sahay became only one of thousands of horrified citizens who marched the streets in protest at the gang-rape and murder of Jyoti ‘Damini' Singh Pandey.image 

It was then, she told The Indian Express, that she first developed the idea of an anthology of Indian-US verse that would address the huge array of social ills affecting women from everyday sexism and discrimination to heinous crimes like rape and murder.

She contacted Fishman after seeing his work at a poetry-writing workshop.

“His writing had a particular quality,” she says. “It was celebratory about women. It demands justice for social evils, and fits right in with the book I was envisioning.”

Then just as social networkers had first given Singh Pandey anonymity, so social media itself made it easy for the joint editors to get in touch with their contributors. Both say that one of their biggest challenges was a glut of material.

But nothing daunted, the completed work, **Veils, Halos & Shackles: International Poetry on the Oppression and Empowerment of Women, was first released in India earlier this spring and includes 250 poems from more than two dozen countries. Many contributors are victims of gender crimes, others have witnessed them, first-hand.

Several men – including Fishman – are included in the collection. But, as Fishman  took pains to point out when he gave an extensive reading in Tzfat, northern Israel yesterday, the back story to the project has a wicked sting in its tail.

The rear jacket ‘blurb’ of the fine edition published by Kasva Press  insists that the collection “speaks to a global audience and gives a voice to the millions whose outcries have been silenced.”

That’s every woman bar one.

Fishman and Sahay have been actively prevented from using the work of the late Afghani poet, Nadia Anjuman, who it is generally believed, was murdered by her husband in an ‘honour killing’ for daring to write against his express command. Instead, Anjuman’s name is published, along with the title The Silenced, on a blank page in the book.


I have chosen the following poet and her piece as random illustration of the book’s contents.

Rita Malhotra is a mathematician and poet who believes women have been marginalised for too long. “Their bitterness at being exploited, day in and day out, naturally arouses the woman in me. Poetry is my medium, and I use it to reach out to others and awaken them to a woman’s sensibility. So one aspect of my writing is an emotional response to my social thought.”


we were brought up
by the rule book
that spelt love for us daughters
as immoral, infidel,
masked, contagious
dreams were cached
within constrained confines
the self remained dwarfed —
bonsai like —
unable to reach beyond its grasp
but a moment of wild defiance
unleashed a tempestuous will
to self-expression
i followed love’s trail
scanning the horizon of darkness
to arrive at the moonlit patch
of a perplexed night —
a night that witnessed
love’s intimate dance
in the sensual celebration of
intimacy between
soul, mind and body
with the first footfall of dawn
i tore all pages
of the book of norms
made paper-flowers out of them
this morning they have metamorphosed
into golden-orange chrysanthemums


image** Veils, Halos & Shackles, edited by Charles Fishman & Smita Sahay, is published by the Kasva Press @ US $24.95 (£17.50; ₪120 approx).


© Natalie Wood (16 May 2016)

Sunday, 8 May 2016

The DNA Election, 2016

With apologies to the Israeli poet, Zelda (Shneurson Mishkowsky)


Digital Camera



Everyone has a name for it.

They imbibe it from their mum,

who absorbed it from her mum,

dad and the great-great dodo,


Digital Camera

Everyone has a name for it.

They utter it in praise to their

favourite household god.

The one with ears that sling

a deaf ‘un; a nose that can’t

smell a rat and eyes so dim

they deny the very stumbling

block that trips him up.

Everyone has a name.

Too many to recite here.




They hurt like hell -

those wordy sticks, stones

chucked by thugs in streets;

yobs on soccer stands,

snobs at posh dinners;

tramps in parks, fellow-

travellers on trams; preachers

on pulpits; delegates at

talk-shops where a little

lingering fug clouds judgment,

distorts reason, snaps minds

most superior quite severely shut.



But for Jews, the first to

grasp there’s an unknowable,

ineffable Name, the ancient

profanities are forever

the blindingly obvious,

name-shaming same.

© Natalie Wood (08 May 2016)