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What is Landay? Pure Poetry

March 6, 2015 , ,

The book I am the Beggar of the World is a collaborative effort by Eliza Griswold and Seamus Murphy.  Last night at the U of A Poetry Center Seamus was present for the opening of an exhibit on the book.  He spoke to the audience about the process they had followed to find the landays in the book. He explained the cultural significance and historical tradition of these spoken couplets specific to Pashtun women in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  The two journalists had served in the region as reporters.  They wanted to bring a deeper insight into culture and life than they could offer in a news story.  Their investigative trip involved finding women who know the poems and convincing them to share them.  Ms. Griswold handled the interview tasks while Mr Murphy shot photos and video footage of the region.  They did not attempt to shoot the women reciting themselves for various reasons. This poetry is spoken, forbidden, and often critical.  Any image of the women identified with landay might cause them great danger.

There are about 40,000 landays in use at any given time.  They are 22 syllables, 9 in the first line, and 13 in the second.  They are general statements on life from a woman’s point of view.  They remind me of the Mexican dicho, a short philosophical statement that explains the situation at hand.  My favorite dicho (saying) is, “Cuando hay dinero baila el perro.”  When there is money the dog dances (anything is possible).  Landays do sometimes contain great humor, but in general I think they are more haunting and pithy than  dichos.  Here is one example translated into English: “When sisters sit together, they always praise their brothers.  When brothers sit together they sell their sisters to others.”  The repression of women is a theme, since this real problem plagues family life.  The landay is a way to express emotions as well as outrage at the political systems that are unfair to women.

One of my favorite poets, Piet Hein, wrote short works like these called Grooks.  He started in Danish, and worked his way into English.  The reception last night was catered with beautiful food and wine for the guests.  They had outrageously  ripe strawberries and chunks of fresh  pineapple, which I enjoyed immensely while standing in line to purchase a copy of the book.  I was reminded of what may be my favorite poem of all time, a Grook. “Love is like a pineapple, sweet and undefinable.”  I had amazing dreams in my sleep last night.  I was wandering around in some other ethnic zone searching for poets, just like in the book.  I found some and there was great dreamy party about saving the poems and being anthropologically correct.  I was in a fancy tent with a spread that look suspiciously like the food at the reception.  I woke up with no pineapple, but a distinct taste of liberation in my mouth.  I have my copy of the book to savor and enjoy.  I would recommend it to anyone.  This is a story of inspiration from history and daily life.  The most important thing to remember about them is that their authors are illiterate. This sentiment is shot straight from the heart with no filter, publisher, or even permission.  This is the birthplace of all poetry.  Edited over centuries, these couplets reflect an accurate and poignant view of Pashtun women and their culture.  I believe any reader would enjoy the book.

book cover

book cover



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Wow.. this sounds really interesting, powerful and worth reading & seeing the film


Stevie Wilson (@LAStory)

March 7, 2015

1 notes

  1. #ROW80 Subject Matters | mermaidcamp reblogged this and added:

    […] themselves is frequently withdrawn if the males in a family learn about it. The book I am reading, I am the Beggar of the World, was inspired by a young girl’s suicide when she was forbidden to create landays and share […]


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