4 Poems to Keep QPOC Writing in April

“All the parrots of India will turn to sugar crunching

From this Persian candy that goes [as far as] Bengal.” -Hafez

By ena ganguly

Since time immemorial, poetry has been used as a device to criticize unfair regimes, advocate for justice and make apparent what is undoing us and what continues to hold us up. The power of poetry is derived from not only the writer who pens it but the audience who receives and reacts to it. Both reader and writer are part of how and why poetry remains, to this day, an impactful creative outlet for communities around the world.

To celebrate National Poetry Month, I wanted to remind us of some important works of art that ought to keep us writing this month and continue to fuel our fire as we work to dismantle those systems that oppress us and our siblings while creating new and loving ways to rest, express ourselves and celebrate one another.

1. Hum Dekhenge (We Will See) by Faiz Ahmad Faiz

In the late 70s, Pakistan underwent a major political shift which led to the rise in power of General Zia Ul-Huq who created a politically conservative environment to the point of repressing the people’s rights to express their beliefs.

Enter Faiz Ahmad Faiz, a poet and political activist, who penned ‘Hum Dekhenge’, a nazm (a form of descriptive, rythmic poem), as a means to critique the dictatorial power trip of Ul-Huq’s administration while still remaining loyal to his own truths as a Muslim.

He writes:

“Hum dekhenge

Lazim hai ke hum bhi dekhenge

Wo din ke jis ka wada hai

Jo lauh-e-azl mein likha hai…

Jab arz-e-Khuda ke kaabe se

Sab but uthwae jaenge…

Bas naam rahega Allah ka

Jo ghayab bhi hai hazir bhi

Jo manzar bhi hai nazir bhi

Utthega an-al-haq ka nara

Jo mai bhi hoon tum bhi ho

Aur raaj karegi Khalq-e-Khuda

Jo mai bhi hoon aur tum bhi ho”


“We shall Witness

It is certain that we too, shall witness

the day that has been promised

of which has been written on the slate of eternity…

From the abode of God (ka’aba)

When icons of falsehood will be taken out…

Only The name (Allah) will survive

Who cannot be seen but is also present

Who is the spectacle and the beholder, both

I am the Truth! – the cry will rise,

Which is I, as well as you

And then God’s creation will rule

Which is I, as well as you”

In 1985, Iqbal Bano, a well known singer in Pakistan, donned a black sari (a garment that was banned at the time), as a symbol of protest, to sing this poem in front of 50,000 people in Karachi Stadium. Later, it’s reported, she was banned from singing anywhere in Pakistan.

Such a subversive act was so vital to make it known to the regime that the Pakistani masses did not support the imperialist regime of Zia Ul-Huq. Though Faiz had passed on by 1985, his words, his poetry, and his critiques for a better world continues to live on in our memories, music and hearts. Inquilab Zindabad (Long Live the Revolution)!

Here is Iqbal Bano singing the poem written by Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

Here is Coke Studios Pakistan remaking the song with features of artists from around the country, including two trans artists, Lucky & Sanghma. Press the ‘CC’ button on the bottom right to include english subtitles.

2. To Sing A Song of Palestine by June Jordan

Born to two Jamaican immigrant parents and raised in Brooklyn, New York, June Jordan speaks to the heart. Her poetry touches upon a range of emotions and experiences, including her own childhood as well as her thought provoking, almost visceral, descriptions of what was happening around the world.

The first poem I read by her was ‘To Sing A Song of Palestine’ on the carpeted floor of my living room when I was in the third year of my college education. Though I wasn’t able to find the full poem, here is a small but powerful excerpt:

“I was born a Black woman

and now

I am become a Palestinian

against the relentless laughter of evil

there is less and less living room

and where are my loved ones?

It is time to make our way home.”

From what I remember, the poem goes on to talk about, and describe in unflinching detail, the atrocities Palestinian people were made to go through. Jordan does so through placing herself in the place of a Palestinian while, at the same time, still engaging with the fact of her identity as an African American woman who negotiates, daily, with her own experiences under misogynoir.

Jordan writes about a myriad of global happenings, including the apartheid of Africa, the wars in Jordan and other places in the Middle East, the LGBT movements, and more. If you ever get the chance, please pick up any poetry book by her. It will change your life and influence your writings beyond what you can imagine.

3. A Litany for Survival by Audre Lorde

The first time I read Lorde’s work, I felt that everything I ever knew, everything I ever was, was speaking right back to me. I think I was in my third college year then as well. Her book, Zami: A New Spelling Of My Name, validated me so deeply that I have no words to really describe it.

Also a child of Caribbean parents, Lorde grew up in Harlem, New York. Her writing holds multiple stories, as her work contributes to the topics of sexuality, race, gender, class and so much more. As a cancer survivor, as a mother of Black children, as a poet and an academic, Lorde did so much through her writings. She gave a form to the experiences that humanized many communities and continues to do so.

If you’re ever having a bad day, whenever you feel like you can’t go on, read Lorde’s A Litany for Survival. I hope it renews you.

‘For those of us who live at the shoreline

standing upon the constant edges of decision

crucial and alone

for those of us who cannot indulge

the passing dreams of choice

who love in doorways coming and going

in the hours between dawns

looking inward and outward

at once before and after

seeking a now that can breed


like bread in our children’s mouths

so their dreams will not reflect

the death of ours:

For those of us

who were imprinted with fear

like a faint line in the center of our foreheads

learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk

for by this weapon

this illusion of some safety to be found

the heavy-footed hoped to silence us

For all of us

this instant and this triumph

We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid

it might not remain

when the sun sets we are afraid

it might not rise in the morning

when our stomachs are full we are afraid

of indigestion

when our stomachs are empty we are afraid

we may never eat again

when we are loved we are afraid

love will vanish

when we are alone we are afraid

love will never return

and when we speak we are afraid

our words will not be heard

nor welcomed

but when we are silent

we are still afraid

So it is better to speak


we were never meant to survive.”

4. Untitled Poem by Rumi

Rumi. He was one of those poets who just came to me through a deep wish to find guidance. I was wandering the aisles of books in my hometown’s library, thinking about the importance of having a mentor. I felt very sad at the time, because I didn’t really have such a figure. Someone who would guide me, advise me, show me the things that I can achieve and how to get there. Really, I wanted someone to support me in my career and through my spiritual endeavors as well.

I happened to land my finger on the spine of a book titled, “Rumi: The Big Red Book” translated by Coleman Barks. Having known that Rumi was a very popular poet amongst white liberals, I felt oddly disconnected and apathetic towards his writing, but once I opened that book, I couldn’t look back. I spent a good hour reading through each page, gently washing my eyes over every one of his words and all the meanings behind each one of his poems. And I cried my eyes out.

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi was born in present-day Afghanistan to Farsi speaking parents but had to move to Turkey at an early age because of the threat of war in his homeland. He comes from a lineage of mystics and scholars, but never met his match until he met Shams Tabriz, a mystic and a dervish. Their friendship enabled them to cross many physical and spiritual planes as they transcended into different realms together to create an understanding of the universe beyond themselves, their egoes and their limitations. One day, Shams dissappeared, no one knows if he just left (dervishes were known to migrate often) or if he was killed by some of Rumi’s own jealous disciples, including his own son.

Whatever the case was, Rumi spent a long time in search for his dear friend, until he realized that Shams lived on in him. And through this realization, and through the sorrow and love for his friend, Rumi wrote countless poems about love, spirituality, God, the afterlife, our own self-imposed limitations and about what he observed in nature and throughout his life.

Here is one of his many poetic forms:

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.

Don’t go back to sleep.

You must ask for what you really want.

Don’t go back to sleep.

People are going back and forth across the doorsill

where the two worlds touch.

The door is round and open.

Don’t go back to sleep.

From Essential Rumi

by Coleman Barks

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