Shifting seasons, empowering poems: Veils, Halos & Shackles

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September’s come to a close and the election cycle has moved into warp speed. There’s a recognizable chill in the air—a chill that’s hard to shrug off. So in the search for some better energy, I recently decided to take some time out with Veils, Halos & Shackles, a powerful international anthology edited by poets Charles Adés Fishman and Smita Sahay.

Conceived in the wake of the December 2012 rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey in Delhi (an event which sparked a wave of global activism), the anthology is a captivating literary contribution to women’s empowerment and the transformative power of art. Readers will find a compelling mix of familiar voices and enjoy the opportunity to encounter new favorites.

VHS is not a book for the faint of heart—the 250 poems in this globe- spanning collection speak frankly about rape and other gender-based violent crimes. The writers collected here represent a broad range of affecting perspectives from family members, teachers, counselors, to the victims of gender violence themselves; included are poems to mothers, daughters, fathers, and sons.

But the realities of trauma are always viewed through the polished lens of art, with an eye toward the healing possibilities of lyric and narrative. You’ll find familiar voices and encounter new favorites. (Full disclosure: I have work included, as does my spouse, and I’m honored to share space with poetry conference pals and other writers I hope I’ll one day meet in person.)

An added feature which makes this a perfect teaching tool for gender studies, peace studies, creative writing courses, or community workshops, is the inclusion of artistic statements from contributors. These range from brief reflections to amazing mini-festos; the overall effect is like eavesdropping on an essential conversation about artistic process and poetry’s social dimension—themes further contextualized by Laura Madeline Wiseman’s insightful introduction.

An accomplished anthologist herself, Wiseman reflects on the power of books to make something happen. “Make a book,” she says, “when you’re bored. Make a book when you despair. Make a book as an act of resistance. Open such a book when you need change.”

Here’s one of many powerful poems from a new book with lasting resonance:

 

View from a Niqab

 

These strands of light

and shadow

playful hidings

and sudden glimpses

withering and wavering

like old photographs

colors fading

and then the dark—

for a moment

no movement.

Then the trails

of light

and shadows

blending

breaking

binding

billowing

Sun filtered

through window shades

of my niqab

 

I am

Stunned.

Pushpa Naidu Parekh is a Professor of English and past Director of the Honors Program at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. She has published three scholarly books as well as articles on British, American, postcolonial, and diaspora literature. Her poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared widely in the U.S. and India.

 

 

 

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