An Interview with Pamela Hart
by Amir Shefayee
It is an honor that I was introduced to an excellent American poet, Pamela Hart. She has been a very kind, patient, and useful person to me. She has helped many people with their writings and their poetry talents, including me.
Recently, she published a book titled: Mothers Over Nangarhar, which is about families with soldiers who have been in Afghanistan and Iraq. This book is special and new. It describes feelings and the perspectives of parents toward their sons in war in Afghanistan that is quite different than other books and movies which are about the perspectives of soldiers about war. This is like a piece of a puzzle in poetry which was lacking and Pamela fixed it. Reading this extraordinary book gives you a vision of the home front view of war. It is loved and highly recommended.
Amir: Please give us a little information about you to start.
Pamela: I am a poet and teacher of poetry. I actually work in a small art museum that is in a town north of New York City, close to where I live. I teach poetry writing at this museum. Formerly, I was a newspaper reporter but I have not done that work in years. Also I am married. I have three grown children –two sons and my daughter. I love to read and write of course. Also I am a runner and a few years ago I participated in two half-marathons! My husband and I also really like to travel. Last year we traveled all the way to Mongolia. We went fishing there! We toured the Gobi desert. I was lucky enough to meet an important Mongolian poet too and learn about their poetry.
Amir: What inspired you to start writing poems?
Pamela: I love words and ideas, but I am not so good with plots and making things up. Poetry I feel is closer to journalism. It’s not like fiction writing or novels. I think poetry helps me look closely at the world and my life, to pay attention, to notice carefully, and to think and write with imagination and empathy about what is around me.
Amir: How do you define “Mothers over Nangarhar?”
Pamela:My book, Mothers Over Nangarhar, is my attempt to make sense of the experience of my son enlisting in the US Army, which was an unusual thing he did after he graduated from college. The book also depicts the voices of other people with family members in the military and how difficult that can be.
Amir: How did you come up the idea of writing about Soldiers in Afghanistan?
Pamela: I started writing my poems for this book when my son joined the Army. I was writing every morning. Plus, I read many history books and other books about war. Also, I read poetry about war. I studied war and war poetry. I noticed there were not many books from the point of view of familes who had children or spouses or parents who were soldiers.
Amir: When does the feeling of writing come to you?
Pamela: The feeling of writing is always with me. I think about words all the time. I try to write every day, even if it is just writing down a dream from the night or a description of a book I am reading. Sometimes I take walks and talk into my smartphone, which turns my speech into text. I call this walking writing. Sometimes, these long passages can turn into a poem.
Amir: The poems are so deep, has anyone close to you ever been to Afghanistan?
Pamela: My son has been to Afghanistan as a soldier in the Army but I have never been there. I would very much like to visit your country, which looks beautiful and complicated.
Amir: How did you get to know Afghan Women’s Writing Project and begin editing their writings?
Pamela: When my son joined the US Army, I thought he might be deployed to Afghanistan. And so, to keep a balance of good energy in the universe, I looked for ways to work with women writers from Afghanistan. I did a Google search and learned about the Afghan Womens Writing Project. I contacted the editors there and asked to work with poets. The AWWP had on-line writing workshops. I became a mentor and offered suggestions for writing topics. The Afghan women in my group sent their poems and essays to me and we did revisions and editing together.
Amir: Since you like travel, has traveling and visiting other cities and countries had a noticeable effect on your writing?
Pamela: I had a very emotional experience traveling to the country of Vietnam several years ago. This was another country where the United States had been engaged in a war. It was very impactful for me to really see how the people of Vietnam experienced the war, which ended more than 40 years ago. I have written some poems about this.
Amir: What do you think of your students’ writings? And the Afghan poets you are helping with their poetry?
Pamela: My students write with energy and enthusiasm. The students I teach in America at the museum where I work are young. Their imaginations are filled with ideas. I very much enjoy showing them how to access their imaginations through words and poetry. For the poets I work with from Afghanistan, I am so impressed with their knowledge of English. And their skills as writers and poets are powerful and strong. I wish I knew how to speak or read Farsi or Dari. I wish I knew more about the poetry of Afghanistan.
Amir: You said that you would like to visit Afghanistan, besides visiting this country do you have any other plans since you are an excellent poet!?
Pamela: If I were to travel to Afghanistan, I would like to meet some of the writers and poets I have been helping and editing. I would like to see where the beautiful Buddhist statues used to be. And to see some of the lovely landscapes of the country of Afghanistan.
For my plans of poetry writing, I am already working on poems for my next book. This is a book of poems exploring the neuroscience of the brain and traumatic brain injury.
Amir: As a poet what is your message to the readers?
Pamela: My hope is that when readers finish my book, or read some of my poems, they are moved to look at the world around them closely and with empathy for others. I hope readers are inspired use their imaginations whether at work or walking along a city street. To be fully alive each day, alert to the moments of beauty as well as the moments of despair.
Thank you for asking me these wonderful questions. I have enjoyed the chance to discuss my book with you and others in Afghanistan. I’m honored you read my book. One day perhaps we will meet!
I am sending this poem Jalalabad. It is a kind of poem known as a ‘prose poem,”because it looks like prose more than poetry.
By Pamela Hart
Falling asleep I say the word Jalalabad. My tongue rolling over the syllables of the name of the city. The aaas and lllls like bedtime prayers. The word a secret in my mouth that streams across lake through the night. Jalalabad says a coyote. I am late for everything because Jalalabad. I find it difficult to talk. In meetings, other words seem dissonant. Hours later I lose track in the canned goods aisle. By dinner, Jalalabad is an ancient desert city at the foot of the Khyber Pass, fed by rivers, with a highway from Kabul to Peshawar. It’s a centerpiece on the kitchen table. It is orange and pomegranate. And soldiers near helicopters. I clean the sink. A sense of place is important to a reader. Jalalabad, sing my hands.
About the Interviewer: Amir Shefayee lives in Afghanistan and is an instructor at Star Educational Society. He is also a German tutor and a network marketer.