Arise Out of the Lock: Celebrating 50 Years of Poetry by Woman Poets of Bangladesh

The poems in this ambitious collection are by women poets writing in Bangla, who have emerged from the land that is now Bangladesh—having lived, or are still living here, or are now part of the first-generation diaspora.

What beautifully comes through in this thoughtfully curated and faithfully translated volume, is Bangladesh emerging as a country on its own terms, with this collage of writing from women, rooted in a rich eclectic cultural history, and yet with a contemporary and cosmopolitan sensibility.

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Much has been written about the economic success and social progress of Bangladesh, especially highlighting women’s empowerment. However, the creative spaces in Bangladesh, especially in poetry, have been largely dominated by men. Dipping into this book will be like the delicious potential discovery of a treasure trove of work by women who bring out varied aspects of the collective Bangladeshi experience.

. . . .

The inferences to the culture, the land and nature form the backdrop to women navigating their reality. With echoes of Rabindranath Tagore, Jibanananda Das, and Kazi Nazrul Islam, they get strength from the familiar, symbolic and concrete, to express themselves, and frame and voice their resistance. The historic influence of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Animism, Tantric, and other practices, as well as the sheer potency and beauty of the fertile land and mother nature, are drawn on, interpreted and used as they see fit.

Fearless, confident, defying expectations, and covering age-old emotions like anger, love, and dissonance with the status quo, many of the poems display a boldness of material and direction that is able to capture the essence of what could represent the modern Bangladeshi women.

. . . .

Most importantly, the women in this collection come across as the multi-dimensional beings we are; beyond binary caricatures. Historically, ‘ma,’ the mother, has been put on a ‘pedestal,’ given the ‘highest’ position; the one who gives and sacrifices, is devoted to her family de ella, but ella rarely is expected to have dreams or thoughts of her own de ella. The counter to this is the lack of rights and social acceptance for women actually demanding their voices be heard and their rights to be respected, and their potential to be met. Throughout the ages we have demonized or glorified women with a ‘bad’ woman/’good’ woman narrative. Women have been used as cultural markers to represent the horrors of the war with a ‘loss of honor’ as women who were raped, or vilified for the violation of their bodies being their fault.

. . . .

The poems capture women as I have known many to be in all my years here—passionate in love and purpose, compassionate, courageous, unconventional, not taking no for an answer, full of rage against the unfair structures that be, and wanting to tackle the world at large on their own terms, along with expressing vulnerabilities and acknowledging the tribulations of fighting deep-rooted patriarchy and prejudice. There is a feeling that perhaps the elegance and cadence of their words can only be fully appreciated in the original Bangla. However, this translated collection does convey the philosophical and the practical, and I believe will entice and inspire lovers of poetry to dig deeper and further explore their works, and those of other Bangladeshi women poets (those who write in Bangla, English and the myriad of other local languages) too.

Excerpts from Arise out of the Lock:

“Arise out of the Lock”

By SUFIA KAMAL

No time to braid that lock, to arise is the order!
Whether or not the sari has a graceful border,
the beauty mark on the forehead, kajal in eyes, time
to redden your lips is up, it’s over. It’s life or death rings the chime.
No more just smiling teenagers, young women, and wives:
defined chin, mouth and lips firm, to pledge and strive,
forever alert. Just as the bright sharp saber
wide eyes raised quick to the moment, not lowered any more.
No longer frightened like the doe, those glances, hark,
show a mind in search, a falcon looking for its mark.
Their hearts sans mercy, hardened like solid stone
to wield revenge against the invaders of our home.
The woman’s shy soft form has gone for a change,
all her dear ones, kin, and comrades she will now avenge.
Slim waist and her bosom full of the lion’s might
the brave-heart holds boundless strength, no love songs in voice bright.
Hail Motherland, hail the people! Glory be to the Muktisena, hail!
Her aanchal soaked in martyrs’ blood, the woman too is ready to sail.

“To the Flower and the Moon”

By MEHERUN NESA

1.

I don’t have a garden, I hanker for flowers
the sapling in the pot only flowers in ones or twos—
that barely quenches the core of my desire.
Then do not bloom this way, flowers,
do not make my flower-soul restless
tell me how do I fulfill this garden-desire
of mine planting only saplings in pots?

two.

Whatever others say, you are my moon
atop the bamboo grove, in any such manner
when I sorely miss Kajla Didi, grieved her.
How do I say how much I need you?
Not a burnt roti to me, you are not,
even if the earth is harsher than ever–
in speckless metaphors may you thrive
like the half-veiled face in the chamber, Bengal’s bride.

“What’s a Woman Gotta Do in Heaven”

BY SHANTA MARIA

Heaven has no poet

so what’s a woman gotta do in Heaven.

Wide-eyed hoors

keep dancing nonstop

along the corridors of Heaven.

No lovers in Heaven

no enchanting flirtations

the ambiance of Heaven? remove boring

spic and span, all severely arranged in a neat row.

Where’s forest in Heaven?

Sea or rivers?

Mandakini, Al-Kawthar, Lethe?

If it doesn’t mean wild

breaking banks in frenzied ecstasy

how is it even a river?

In the Heaven-corridor you see pious men and women

praying day and night

no desire or lust in Heaven

aspiration or disappointment

sorrow and all that enticing tamasha

where are the wild reckless men

in the heart of Heaven?

Neither there’s death written anywhere—

what’s a woman gotta do in heaven anyway

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