Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn have lived and worked in
Afghanistan since 2006. Together they founded AfghanWire, a network for
researching and monitoring Afghan media. Poetry of the Taliban is on sale in
the United Kingdom and will be available in the United States on July 17, 2012.
Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn discussed their book over email from Kandahar.
Afghanistan has a rich tradition of oral storytelling, poetry
and music. Why do you think this aspect of Afghan culture has generally
been overlooked by the West when trying to understand the Taliban?
A certain narrative of the war in Afghanistan, or of the country
itself, has existed for a few years now. The groundwork was laid long
before the events of September 11, 2001, in part by journalists who
travelled in the country during the 1980s. But the main themes became
very clear from 2001 onwards. As part of this, the focus has been on the
foreign involvement in Afghanistan, rather than on Afghanistan itself
(i.e. on its own terms). Literature, or the cultural heritage of the
country, has always been a hard sell to editors back in the United
States or in Europe, especially when these more marginal stories have to
compete with events that strike closer to home such as dead or injured
servicemen and women. That said, there have been people working in this
field for many years, regardless of whether they've been covered in the
media or not. Their efforts are available online to browse through, from
Afghan women's short story writing and poetry to paintings and music.
What kind of experiences do these poems speak about?
As you might expect from a collection of over 250 songs, there is a
diversity of themes covered. We split it into five individual sections,
covering love and pastoral themes, religion, politics and social
discontent, the battlefield, and the costs of war in human terms. You
will probably find all the things you might expect to be here, but
sometimes not in the form you had imagined. In "Hunter," for example,
the poet imagines that he is a deer in a forest, and thinks of the
relationship between the foreign soldiers trying to kill him as if they
are hunters trying to bag a deer. Or there is a poem written by a woman
chastising the men around her for failing to fight properly.
What were your criteria for selecting the poems in the
anthology? Were you trying to encompass a certain range of subject
matter and styles, as well as a historical span?
We had two separate selection methods for this volume. The poems
written pre-2001 were chosen to represent the thematic and authorial
diversity of the period. The poems written post-2001 are an almost
complete collection of everything published on the Taliban's website
between December 2006 and February 2009. In this respect, it's a
representative sample for that time period. We felt it was important to
include the earlier (pre-2001) examples to show some of the context out
of which this emerged; we could have gone back even further to examples
of talibs writing poems in the 19th century, of course.