Big news in publishing. How big? Big enough to merit the front page of today’s Los Angeles Times with a feature story about the imminent publication of a new book.
No, not one whose previously untold story reveals some disturbing social history that L.A.’s city fathers had chosen to hide. On that book the LA Times spilled not a pixel or drop.
What merits all the attention is a slim volume of verse from not so nearby Afghanistan: Poetry of the Taliban.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, Kindle or hard copy? But maybe I should wait for the boxed set with Sonnets from Portuguese Nazis and Love Songs of the KKK.
Here’s how the Times’s Laura King summarizes the Taliban’s artistic efforts:
Denounced by some as propaganda by the enemy in America’s longest war, hailed by others as a rare window on a largely hidden world, the verse assembled in “Poetry of the Taliban” is by turns bombastic and introspective, dark and mirthful, ugly and lyrical — and perhaps above all, surprising in its unabashedly emotional tone.
Why we need a “rare window” when for a decade we’ve had a front-row seat is unexplained, but King cites an example:
“I stoned him with the stones of light tears / then I hung my sorrow on the gallows.… / It might have been the wine of your memory / that made my heart drunk five times.”
So is that bombastic, introspective, dark, mirthful, ugly, or lyrical? And was its tone surprisingly emotional?
Let’s clarify with a light edit:
I stoned him with stones the size of my nine-year-old bride/and watched his brains ooze onto the sand where the Christian’s home once stood. / Next time I will heave smaller stones to prolong his agony / which is my joy.
Inexplicably, at least one masterpiece was excluded from the collection:
A millimeter of ankle showed beneath her burka. / This was unwise of her. / I sharpened my scimitar. / And now she has no ankle. / Let that be a lesson.
Though it was obviously written early in the Taliban’s reign, this one was uncovered too late for publication:
O Buddhas of Bamiyan. / For fifteen centuries you stood tall on the mountain / until I pushed the dynamite plunger / Now, you are dust / Boo hoo / Ha ha / Bye bye
And finally, how’s this for a rare window:
Strapping the Semtex to my ribs, / I think of you for the last time. / How you did this yesterday / And I place your toes and eyes and fingers into my pockets for good luck / Just as Khalid will do with my nose tomorrow. / I only hope the 72 virgins don’t look like my sister Khalida.
UPDATE: This latest act should inspire a whole volume of poems. Too bad we can’t close the rare window.