Landays by Afghan Women

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Mirman Baheer, the Ladies’ Literary Society, in Kabul. Image by Seamus Murphy

The Landay is a twenty-two syllable two line poem – in Pashto, Landai means ‘short, poisonous snake’ and these short bursts of poetry certain reflect the definition. Academic, Nada Rajan explains, “Afghan women poetry occupies a unique place in literature. It is one of the strongest forces of Afghan culture. The major themes dwelt in it are displacement, healing, and rebuilding. Consequently the poetry is fragmented. Pashtun poetry, a variant of Afghan poetry has long been a form of rebellion for Afghan women, belying the notion that they are submissive or defeated.”

Examples of landays by Afghan women:

“When sisters sit together, they always praise their brothers.
When brothers sit together, they sell their sisters to others.”

“Bright moon, for the love of God,
Don’t blind two lovers with such naked light.”

“Your eyes aren’t eyes. They’re bees.
I can find no cure for their sting.”

“Is there not one man here brave enough to see
how my untouched thighs burn the trousers off me?”

Its recognition in the US and Europe comes from research carried out by journalist and poet Eliza Griswold and war photographer Seamus Murphy, who in 2012 reported a story of a young girl in Afghanistan who regularly phoned a radio hotline to share her landays. When her brothers found out they beat her badly and in response she set herself on fire only to die later in hospital in Kandahar. The following landay was written in her memory by the leaders of Mirman Baheer:

“Her memory will be a flower tucked into literature’s turban.
In her loneliness, every sister cries for her.”

Griswold and Murphy saw that the landays were being used as a form of resistance, “We came up with the idea of using contemporary landays to look at not only Afghan life, but also the impact of the last decade of war on the lives Afghan women, especially at this very delicate moment when the international pullout could leave those voices most vulnerable.”

Here is a fascinating film of Griswold and Murphy’s work:

i am a beggarThe end result was a photographic and poetry collection called, “I am the beggar of the world: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan.” There is also another publication, “Songs of Love and War: Afghan Women’s Poetry,” by Sayd Majrouh and Marjolijn de Jager.

A whole issue of Poetry magazine was dedicated to the Landay.

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