Load Poems Like Guns – A Poem by the Afghani Woman Poet Somaia Ramish – Its Heart Cry Against War

The  Gripping 2015 Poetry Anthology “Load Poems Like Guns” by Women Poets from Herat, Afganistan

Load Poems Like Guns

Load poems like guns —
war’s geography calls you
to arms.
The enemy has no signs,
Load poems like guns —
each moment is loaded
with bombs
death-sounds —
death and war
don’t follow rules
you can make your pages into white flags
a thousand times
but swallow your words, say no more.
Load your poems —
your body —
your thoughts —
like guns.
The schoolhouses of war rise up
within you.
Maybe you
are next.

Somaia Ramish, translated by Farzana Marie from Load Poems Like Guns – Women’s Poetry  from Herat, Afghanistan, Holy Cow! Press, 2015

What a poem. What a call out by an Afghani woman of poetry against war, the war she has endured and now, the war are witnessing in Ukraine. But first, I want to directly connect this poem to a poet who understands more than most, as a former citizen of the Ukraine and now of the United States, the importance of using poetry to speak out against war in whatever form it takes.

In my recent blog posts of February 26th, and February 28th, the first posts in my continuing series on poetry in the face of war, I mention the Ukrainian American poet Ilya Kaminsky. In particular, I mentioned in the first post his critically important poem We Lived Happily during the War. My larger and more comprehensive discussion of Ilya and this poem can be found here from a blog post I wrote in 2019.

My 2019 post was written in advance of the publication of Ilya’s remarkable poetry collection, Deaf Republic, based on an imaginary invasion of an Eastern European country (prescient or what?!). We Lived Happily during the War opens that book and my blog post. Both this poem, that removes us in the West as mere observers of any kind of wars, and the book, are highly recommended reading for any of us here in the West as world history made a dramatic serve in the past nine days.

On Facebook and a few days ago on CNN Ilya referenced this plea by a friend of his in Ukraine: Putins come and go. If you want to help, send us some poems and essays. We are starting a new literary magazine. How about that! In the first days of the war this friend’s request is for poetry.

My response, not a poem of my own, but the searing poem above written by, Somaia Ramish, a forty-four year-old Afghani woman who knows what it is to live under fire. Under fire through the armed conflict in Afghanistan and under fire as a woman in her country. One of her fellow writers in the anthology named after her poem, Load Poems Like Guns, where her poem appears, was murdered, aged twenty-five, by her husband. To hear how Somaia’s poem has been made into a choral work with mixed voices that amplies its poignancy and urgency please click here.

There is an urgency in Somaia’s poem that sure calls out to me.  And I confess, it seems even more real, as I see celebrated right-wing commentators (agitators) and some Christian factions in the U.S.support Putin’s war partly because he stands for traditional family values against gays and lesbians and the trans community. Would these kind of folks one day try and make my gay daughter’s lifestyle illegal or, worse, bear arms against those who not agree with them? This where these slightly mysterious and alarming words of Somaia rivet me:

The schoolhouses of war rise up
within you.
Maybe you
are next.

Seamus Heaney says poems can’t stop tanks but dare I hope they might change the hearts of those who drive them! I feel as if I must now continue to share poems that open up hearts to the horror and futility of war. War on the ground and the cultural wars we see daily waged on-line. I want to share poems that lead to heartfelt discussion not one-sided screaming at the other. It seems to me the so-called cancel culture is alive and well on both sides of the left-right divide.  I want poems that try and bridge that divide.  Not through the mind but the heart. And I want to stand strong against verbal and physical violent of any kind but avoid hating and demonization. Not easy. Not easy. But utterly necessary!




  1. Somaia Ramish
    Posted March 16, 2022 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Hello Mr Osler:
    It was a pleasure to read your writing and insightful view on my poem “Load Poems Like Guns”. I never expected my poem could have such impact and relevance to current wars and unrest. I just hope and pray that one day we live in a world where there is no war, no conflict, no prejudice; and finally love and compassion rule!

  2. Richard Osler
    Posted March 18, 2022 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    Dear Ms Ramish. Please call me Richard! Thrilled to see your response to my blog!It was my honour to feature your poem!

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