Thursday, April 2, 2015

On Witnessing, Testing and Art: Want More

Tattoo of My Lover's Blood (M.A. Reilly, 2015)

“Every wall is a door."  - Ralph Waldo Emerson


When I first read the headline in the Times Magazine, Why Afghan Women Risk Death to Write Poetry, I was drawn in--moth to flame.  It's an older article, from 2012 written by Eliza Griswold and chronicles women poets who belong/ed to Mirman Baheer, a women’s literary society based in Kabul.  Many of the women belong in secret and others who cannot attend the meetings in person, phone in and sometimes read their poetry.  Griswold tells the story of one young woman, Zarmina, and it is this bearing witness that catches in my throat and I know I'll be putting paintbrush to paper if for no other reason than to try to honor this young woman in some modest way.

Griswold writes:
Rahila was the name used by a young poet, Zarmina, who committed suicide two years ago. Zarmina was reading her love poems over the phone when her sister-in-law caught her. “How many lovers do you have?” she teased. Zarmina’s family assumed there was a boy on the other end of the line. As a punishment, her brothers beat her and ripped up her notebooks, Amail said. Two weeks later, Zarmina set herself on fire.
We all create--some more dangerously than others.


Take away one's art and what is left?
A hollow shell?
A remembrance?
Stop one from creating and not even the shell remains.

There's an urgency to the telling--an urgency to express and poetry so often is a means unlike any other. These Afghan women, these sisters, risk life to put words to the page.  They create folk art by making Pahstoun poems.

I had not read, nor heard Pashtun poetry before reading the article.  Griswold explained:
Pashtun poetry has long been a form of rebellion for Afghan women, belying the notion that they are submissive or defeated. Landai means “short, poisonous snake” in Pashto, a language spoken on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The word also refers to two-line folk poems that can be just as lethal. Funny, sexy, raging, tragic, landai are safe because they are collective. No single person writes a landai; a woman repeats one, shares one. It is hers and not hers.

Is not all art part artist part not?

Later I found this video also about the women poets and Griswold & Murphy's work. Take a listen.

Such risk these women make in their desire to compose art--in their felt necessity. There's something so elemental for us to learn here. Something we need to privilege in our education of learners.

One only needs to think of Albert Camus (1957) or Edwidge Danticat (2011) to conjure an image of the artist creating dangerously.  Each wrote about such necessity and in our chase of cheap national literacy standards and higher PARCC and SBAC scores we have failed to privilege this, failed--perhaps to even understand the artist creating dangerously and how such acts are caught up alongside freedom and liberty. 

Sacrifice the artist creating dangerously, sacrifice the child learning the value of creating dangerously and we sacrifice our selves, our country, our freedoms.

Camus (1957) in writing about the artist said:
...If liberty has become dangerous, then it may cease to be prostituted. And I cannot agree, for example, with those who complain today of the decline of wisdom. Apparently they are right. Yet, to tell the truth, wisdom has never declined so much as when it involved no risks...
Standards are all about efficiency and teaching only what can be measured and scored easily. Standards and the tests that always accompany them are apt expressions of closed boxes that can be replicated over and over and over again.

We need to want more.

Danticat (2011) advised the writer to "[c]reate dangerously, for people who read dangerously." She tells us:
This is what I’ve always thought it meant to be a writer. Writing, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them. (Kindle Location, 181-182).
This is the gold these women in Afghan remind us is at stake.  Create something that someone would be willing to risk their life to read.

It's not the plethora of practice tests that the folks at Pearson and PARCC and Smarter Balance are hawking on their websites that are the apt measures of our creative selves. It's never been the single measure, corporate-produced, that tells such heart.

We need to want more.
We need to learn how to be hungry for the well said word and learn how to say no to the cheap fare we are offering to children daily.

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