Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Shadab Hashmi's poetry mines the treasures of medieval Spain.
Illustration by Azfar Naimi from the cover of "Baker of Tarifa"
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Shadab Zeest Hashmi grew up in Pakistan, where ancient tongues mingle with modern languages in a living linguistic symphony.
Urdu was the language of her grandmother’s poems. British English was taught in school. Pashto, Arabic and Farsi were part of her experience growing up in Peshawar and she still feels tethered to hybrid cultural traditions.
In essays, Hashmi has written about the experience of living with this cultural bounty. But her first book of poetry took readers a step farther—into the cosmopolitan melange of Al Andalus (medieval Spain): the time of the legendary convivencia.
In “Baker of Tarifa,” winner of the 2011 San Diego Book Award for Poetry, Hashmi has written what she calls “a historical narrative covering a period of 800 years when Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together, sharing a great civilization.”
This notion of cultural interplay also features large in the graduate level poetry writing class Hashmi teaches at SDSU this semester. It focuses on poetic forms, such as the sonnet and the ghazal, and how they are enriched through traveling across time and cultures.
Later this year, Hashmi will publish a second book of verse, “Kohl and Chalk.” Kohl, she explained, is an ancient cosmetic used in South Asia, the Middle East and Africa to darken the eyes.
Although the poems in “Kohl and Chalk” were written during the same period as “Baker of Tarifa,” they are more intimate, she said. Some explore the daily balancing act of being a poet and mother (Hashmi has three children); others are meditations on history, a personal response to war and religious extremism.
“In the arts, we want to keep finding ways to revive the human spirit,” Hashmi said. “We want to be open to a multiplicity of truths, to discovering a new truth every day.”
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