Choman Hardi is the seventh and youngest child of Kurdish poet Ahmed Hardi. She was born in Suleimanya in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1974, but her family fled to Iran a year later after the Algiers Accord. The amnesty of 1979 enabled them to return home, only to be driven away nine years later during Anfal, when Saddam's forces attacked the Kurds with chemical weapons. In 1993, Hardi was granted refugee status in England where she went on to study Psychology and Philosophy and completed doctoral research at the University of Kent in Canterbury, on the mental health of Kurdish women refugees. Her post-doctorial research has seen her return to Kurdistan to document the plight of women survivors of Anfal.
Hardi began writing poetry when she was 20 and had published two collections of poetry in her mother tongue before Life for Us appeared from Bloodaxe in 2004; it was reprinted 18 months later. She has said in interview that her early poems are much more "flowery" because she "belonged to the Kurdish tradition and engaged with [her] poems in an intensely emotional way." Learning to write poems in English, she says, has given her a measure of detachment "which is essential when writing about painful, personal and sensitive subjects. Time and displacement can provide the required distance and so does writing in a second language. Only in English was I able to write about statelessness, genocide, oppression and Kurdishness." Hardi also sees English as a language of power and feels a deep-rooted sense of responsibility to be a channel for the Kurdish people to the English-speaking world, leading Moniza Alvi to comment: "This is compelling poetry of international significance."
The effect of Hardi's English poetic voice is a calmness of tone and plain-spoken language, which act as containers for the kind of civilized sadness felt by one who has seen too much of man's inhumanity to man. George Szirtes writes of the poems' gentle music and their personal telling of war and persecution, saying: "[they] are far more than simple summoning of facts. The grace and rhythm of the telling - the singing of it - moves the poems beyond reportage."
"Grace and rhythm" are also in attendance in Choman Hardi's reading of her poems in this Archive recording. And there is the same warmth and patience in her speaking voice as in the poetry. Hardi's introductions inform the listener of the occasions for the poems and demonstrate how large the task has been to create such poised poetry.
Some of her poems
My mother’s kitchen
I will inherit my mother’s kitchen,
her glasses, some tall and lean others short and fat
her plates, an ugly collection from various sets,
cups bought in a rush on different occasions
rusty pots she doesn’t throw away.
“Don’t buy anything just yet”, she says,
“soon all of this will be yours”.
My mother is planning another escape
for the first time home is her destination,
the rebuilt house which she will furnish.
At 69 she is excited about starting from a scratch.
It is her ninth time.
She never talks about her lost furniture
when she kept leaving her homes behind.
She never feels regret for things
only her vine in the front garden
which spread over the trellis on the porch.
She used to sing for the grapes to ripen,
sew cotton bags to protect them from the bees.
I will never inherit my mother’s trees.
Soon they will come. First we will hear
the sound of their boots approaching at dawn
then they’ll appear through the mist.
In their death-bringing uniforms
they will march towards our homes
their guns and tanks pointing forward.
They will be confronted by young men
with rusty guns and boiling blood.
These are our young men
who took their short-lived freedom for granted.
We will lose this war, and blood
will cover our roads, mix with our
drinking water, it will creep into our dreams.
Keep your head down and stay in doors –
we’ve lost this war before it has begun.
Two Pages (2004)
1. Delivering a message
I was asleep in the middle of a pad
when he started writing on the first page.
The tip of his pen pressed down
forcing pale words into the pages below.
He wrote many versions that night
some very lengthy, others brief.
When my turn came he paused,
palmed his temples, squeezed his eyes,
made himself a calming tea.
She received me early one morning
in a rush, leaving her flat.
She ripped the envelope. Then, gradually,
her steps slowed down,
her fingers tightened around me.
2. Not delivering a message
All my life I waited for words –
a poem, a letter, a mathematical puzzle.
On March 16th 1988
thousands of us were taken on board –
you can’t imagine our anticipation.
When they threw us out from high above
we were confused, lost in blankness.
All those clean white pages
parachuting into town…..
Puzzled faces looked up
expecting a message, but we were blank.
Two hours later they dropped the real thing.
We had been testing the wind direction.
Thousands of people were gassed that day.
The Penelopes of my homeland
(for the 50,000 widows of Anfal)
Years and years of silent labour
the Penelopes of my homeland
wove their own and their children’s shrouds
without a sign of Odysseus returning.
Years and years of widowhood they lived
without realising, without ever thinking
that their dream was dead the day it was dreamt,
that their colourful future was all in the past,
that they had lived their destinies
and there was nothing else to live through.
Years and years of avoiding despair, not giving up,
holding on to hopes raised by palm-readers,
holding on to the wishful dreams of the nights
and to the just God
who does not allow such nightmares to continue.
Years and years of raising more Penelopes and Odysseuses
the waiting mothers of my homeland grew old and older
without ever knowing that they were waiting,
without ever knowing that they should stop waiting.
Years and years of youth that was there and went unnoticed
of passionate love that wasn’t made
of no knocking on the door after midnight
returning from a very long journey.
The Penelopes of my homeland died slowly
carrying their dreams to their graves,
leaving more Penelopes to take their place.