LAHORE: Spoken Word – a poetry performance narrating political and social life in South Asia and the US – was arranged at The Last Word on Friday.
Zainab Syed captivated the audience with her reading of several poems touching upon various subjects.
Winner of the College Unions Qualifying Slam (CUPSI) at Brown University in 2012, Syed was nominated for Best Poem at 2012 CUPSI in La Verne, California.
She started with Purcham, a poem about a dream about a country that came true. Another poem, Holy, was about migration and struggle for a new land.
They shook the pillars of night
The day they journeyed from Delhi to Lahore
And never made it
Syed has performed at poetry events in New York, Boston, Washington DC and Australia. Mostly recently, she had read in New England with poet Paul Train.
The poem A Year After Partition highlighted the events surrounding the partition of subcontinent.
Syed says her poetry is influenced by her personal life, family and friends. Her poem Bloodline is about the courage of Syeda Zaynab, the granddaughter of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him), in speaking at the Damascus court.
She bows only before God
Proving to any who should ever doubt
A veiled woman
Is not a silenced woman
Syed says her mother had named her after Syeda Zaynab.
You, meri jaan are made to speak
Speak in the voice of your ancestor
Speak of your bloodline has no history of being unhinged
She says much of her poetry is about Lahore; it is grounded and related to her childhood. She says her mother had tried to stop her from writing fearing that her daughter could get into trouble for writing about controversial issues.
“My mother called me and asked me to stop writing. I told her I would reply to this in a poem.” She wrote Defiance.
That night I take up my pen and write odes to a buried nation.
I use my voice to unearth its corpse and learn it anew.
Syed said that after US President Barack Obama had shown sympathy for the victims of gun violence in his speech in 2013, she had decided to write a poem about it. She said she was in Yemen at that time and prisoners in Guantanamo were on a hunger strike. She said nobody was writing about it.
She said her poem was a letter to Obama written by a 15-year-old girl whose father was imprisoned in Guantanamo. “The girl misses her father and tells Obama what it feels like to be at home without her father.”
If you do not believe me, ask Sasha or Malia how empty the dining table feels when you are not home.
How your big house will be the smallest cage they have ever known if anyone should take you away.
Syed also talked about her work for the victims of a terrorist attack in Peshawar.
She read and dedicated a poem, Searching for Lady Bugs, to her friend Amina Saigol.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 1st, 2015.