Women and Literature: A Feminist Reading of Kurdish Women’s Poetry
Scholars’ Press 2014
Review by Pippa Little
Published in issue 39 of The Ofi Press
There is something moving and poignant about reading this comprehensive, thoroughly-researched and sympathetic overview of Kurdish women’s poetry.
That’s because most of the poets and their work remain unable to speak for themselves directly, untranslated for the most part into more widely-used languages such as Spanish and English and ignored by their own literary establishment (and those of other countries).
This book attempts to bring this work into a wider arena and to provide the serious critical attention it has lacked so far. It’s the result of a PhD thesis which the Kurdish scholar Saman Balaky completed at
The theoretical structure is, as it states, specifically feminist, drawing on Anglo-American scholarship and gynocritics, particularly influenced by Elaine Showalter. Balaky also compares the different experiences and influences of the two different groups and reflects on how these impact on themes of gender and nationalism.
His analysis then is predominantly thematic, concentrating on how the poets express their struggles against patriarchy, misogynistic laws and tribalism depending on whether they write from home or from the Diaspora. While those in
Balaky writes that the work of a Kurdish woman poet ‘literally holds the exact features of her life and the real stories she has experienced since her childhood’. From the initial and important ‘airing of grievances’, as he puts it, the search for a ‘female writing’ comes into being, separate from that of masculine-dominated society and culture. In many ways he mirrors this progression with the feminist wave of Western poetry which rose in the 1960/1970s, attributing to it similar triggers.
My knowledge of Kurdish history, politics and women’s poetry is slight: the only familiar names here are Choman Hardi and Nazand Begikhani. I am wary of accepting too easily the apparent similarities set out here between what I know of the Western rise of feminist poetry with that in
Since then like a tree
How without any leaves on
Resists the harshness of winter
I too without weapon, barehandedly
Stand in the face of the law of tribal ism and submission
This is a most welcome and important book which brings a new and wider readership to these ignored and undervalued poets. If the theoretical structure is a bit too US and Eurocentric, there will hopefully be further studies to unravel more complex patterns and comparisons in the future. In the meantime, this poetry needs
translation into other languages – Spanish, German, Italian, Swedish, English, Portugese, Japanese, Chinese and more - by other poets so their voices can be heard to the best advantage, less mediated and arranged as specimens.