THE POETRY OF AFGHAN WOMEN: Landay, A Twenty-two Syllable Two-Line Poem

پاس په كمر ولاړه ګله!
 نصيب دچايي اوبه زه درخيژومه 
O Flower that you grow on the mountain side;
The duty to water you belongs to me, but to whom would you belong?

ستا به د ګلو دوران تير شۍ
زما به پاته شۍ دزړه سوۍ داغونه
The blooming season of your beauty will pass;
But the scorched patches on my heart will always remain fresh.

Zarmina's parents at her grave. She was an poet who died after setting herself on fire. Photo by Seasmus Murphy, 2012, Courtesy  of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
Zarmina’s parents at her grave. She was a poet who died after setting herself on fire. Photo by Seasmus Murphy, 2012, Courtesy of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

Last week The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, announced the publication of the June 2013 issue, Landays. The issue is dedicated entirely to poetry composed by and circulated among Afghan women.

After learning the story of a teenage girl, Zarmina, who was forbidden to write poems and burned herself in protest, poet and journalist Eliza Griswold and photographer and filmmaker Seamus Murphy journeyed to Afghanistan to investigate the impact of the girl’s death, as well as the role that poetry plays in the lives of contemporary Pashtuns. A year later, Griswold and Murphy returned to Afghanistan to study the effects of more than a decade of U.S. military involvement on the culture and lives of Afghan women. In the course of this work, Griswold collected a selection of landays, or two-line poems. These poems are accompanied by Murphy’s photographs from the same period and are presented in the June 2013 issue of Poetry.

My pains grow as my life dwindles,
I will die with a heart full of hope.

A report on death and love by Eliza Grizwold and Seamus Murphy, a project of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

Griswold describes the characteristics of a landay in her introduction:

“Twenty-two syllables: nine in the first line, thirteen in the second. The poem ends with the sound “ma” or “na.” Sometimes they rhyme, but more often not. In Pashto, they lilt internally from word to word in a kind of two-line lullaby that belies the sharpness of their content, which is distinctive not only for its beauty, bawdiness, and wit, but also for the piercing ability to articulate a common truth about war, separation, homeland, grief, or love.

Landays are centuries-old custom among Afghans, traditionally passed along in the oral tradition, and passed down through generations. The topics of the landays included in the June 2013 issue run the gamut—love, marriage, war, the status of women, drones, politics, courage, nature, and the Internet. Sometimes humorous, sometimes heartbreaking, these captivating two-line poems offer unique insight into the contemporary life of the more than twenty million Pashtun women who span the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

*****

About Poetry
Founded in Chicago by Harriet Monroe in 1912, Poetry is the oldest monthly devoted to verse in the English-speaking world. Monroe’s “Open Door” policy, set forth in Volume 1 of the magazine, remains the most succinct statement of Poetry’s mission: to print the best poetry written today, in whatever style, genre, or approach. The magazine established its reputation early by publishing the first important poems of T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, H.D., William Carlos Williams, Carl Sandburg, and other now-classic authors. In succeeding decades it has presented—often for the first time—works by virtually every major contemporary poet.

The entire June 2013 issue will be available online as of June 3 at http://www.poetrymagazine.org.Digital copies of the June issue of Poetry magazine, as well as a digital subscription, are also available.

The June 2013 issue of Poetry is accompanied by an exhibition at the Poetry Foundation gallery in Chicago, Shame Every Rose: Images of Afghanistan, which will feature a selection of Seamus Murphy’s photographs. The exhibition will run from June through August 2013 and is free and open to the public.

About the Poetry Foundation
The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, is an independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. It exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience. The Poetry Foundation seeks to be a leader in shaping a receptive climate for poetry by developing new audiences, creating new avenues for delivery, and encouraging new kinds of poetry through innovative literary prizes and programs. For more information, please visit http://www.poetryfoundation.org.

About Everything Afghanistan
“Afghanistan’s recent history is a story of war and civil unrest. A country once prosperous now suffers from enormous poverty, a lack of skilled and educated workers, a crumbling infrastructure, and widespread land mines. It’s being heard about in the news every day but the media approaches this country from its dark side only. Here at Everything Afghanistan we try to show the world the other side of this war torn country. Despite years of bloodshed and destruction, there is still so much beauty that remains unseen.

Here we post about Afghan related things, from politics and events to its culture and traditions. This blog is against the US invasion of Afghanistan.” Amina jalalzei, a.k.a. Vicoden

About Mirman Baheer, the Ladies Literary Society
“Over 300 members of Mirman Baheer, the Ladies Literary Society, stretch across the provinces of Afghanistan. Women write and recite landai, two-line folk poems that can be funny, sexy, raging or tragic and have traditionally dealt with love and grief. For many women, these poems allow them to express themselves free of social constraints and obligations. 5 out of 100 women in Afghanistan graduate from high school, and most are married by the age of 16. This kind of expression is looked down upon in society, forcing the women writing to keep their craft a secret.” The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

Meetings of the poetry society are held in Kabul, but with 8 out of 10 Afghanistan women residing in rural areas, many women call in to the meetings. Zarmina Shehadi was one of those callers. She lit herself on fire two years ago. Her family denies her suicide, claiming that she lit herself on fire to get warm after a bath. “She was a good girl, an uneducated girl. Our girls don’t want to go to school,” her mother said. Zarmina is the most recent of Afghanistan’s poet-martyrs.

About the Pultizer Center on Crisis Reporting
The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting is an innovative award-winning non-profit journalism organization dedicated to supporting the independent international journalism that U.S. media organizations are increasingly less able to undertake. The Center focuses on under-reported topics, promoting high-quality international reporting and creating platforms that reach broad and diverse audiences. MORE

The Pulitzer Center will present I Am the Begger of the World, a reading and film screening event, on July 30, 2013, at Culture Project in New York City and on Wednesday, July 31, 2013, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Farrar, Straus and Giroux will release I Am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan in spring 2014.

The primary narrative content for this post is courtesy of The Poetry Foundation.
Examples of Pashto Landay, A form of Afghan poetry courtesy of Everything Afghanistan
“I will die …” Landay courtesy of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
Photo credit ~ Seamus Murphy for The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
Video by Seamus Murphy for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

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19 thoughts on “THE POETRY OF AFGHAN WOMEN: Landay, A Twenty-two Syllable Two-Line Poem

  1. […] girl who when  forbidden to write poetry burned herself in protest.    I found her story through Jaime Dedes who wrote about Afghan poetry, specifically those of Afghan women in her  blog, The Poet by Day. […]

    • It is extraordinary and I am grateful that the Poetry Foundation and the Pultizer Center went to such lengths to bring this story and these poems to us. Also makes me so grateful that we all have a voice. Not something to take for granted in this world.

      Liz, did so appreciate your Vietnam post. Will write, probably over the weekend.
      Later –
      and love, Be well …

  2. we lose a precious piece of life’s journey each time a voice is silenced….
    so sad….her lesson she taught those who listened….thoughts are the flow of life each has a place
    one cannot live without personal expression…or so i feel
    very good post Jamie….Take Care…
    )0(

  3. By communicating about this, and by action by those who can help, this must change. Freedom should be easily obtained, but it is nearly impossible.

    • I hope that the more of us who know about this, the better … and let us work so it doesn’t happen elsewhere.

      Thanks, Carl, for your many visits and for your comment.

  4. Those 22 syllables are very powerful ones. I cannot imagine a life where one is not even allowed to express herself in poetry. It is like killing one’s voice, and to Zarmina, it was, figuratively and literally, a denial of life.
    I am glad that these words have been published. Thank you for this post – it not only informs about other people’s lives, it teaches a new kind of poetry too. :-)A glorious week ahead to you, Jamie. :-)

    • Thanks, Imelda, for your visits and comment. I think the Landays are lovely and maybe some of us can start doing them as homage and in solidarity.
      Warmest regards on for a very good week ahead,
      Jamie

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