Before I met Tahir, I knew his poems. I encountered them soon after I began working as a translator in Xinjiang, the Uyghur region in western China. A close friend there kept telling me that if I really wanted to understand Uyghur culture, I had to read the poetry. Like many Americans, I rarely felt drawn to poetry, but one day, another friend put a sheaf of Tahir’s verses in my hand. Poetry had never affected me so deeply.
For Uyghurs, poetry is not merely the province of writers and intellectuals. It is woven into daily life—dropped into conversation, shared on social media, written between lovers. Through poetry, Uyghurs confront issues as a community, whether debating gender roles or defying state repression. I wake up many mornings to an inbox full of fresh verse, sent by the far-flung poets of the Uyghur diaspora for me to translate.