Feeds:
Posts
Comments

“Landai belong to women,” Safia Siddiqi, a renowned Pashtun poet and former Afghan parliamentarian, said. “In Afghanistan, poetry is the women’s movement from the inside.”

“A poem is a sword,” Saheera Sharif, Mirman Baheer’s founder, said. Literature, she says, is a more effective battle for women’s rights than shouting at political rallies. “This is a different kind of struggle.”

On this last day of National Poetry Month, a testament to the power of verse from the women of Afghanistan. The following couplets are called landays (or landai), an oral and often anonymous song, each with 22 syllables, created by and for the more than twenty million Pashtun women who span the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Whether sung to the beat of a hand drum in a rural village centuries ago or whispered furtively into a phone hotline run by Mirman Baheer (Afghan’s largest women literary society), each landay is a stunning reflection of a layered life–a life in which singing and writing these poems does not come without grave risks.

As I wrap up my month of daily posts, I beseech you to read this article from the New York Times, Why Afghan Women Risk Death to Write Poetryand explore more landays online from this beautiful issue of Poetry magazine. Thank you for following along for another 30 days of verse.

Members of Mirman Baheer, Afghanistan’s largest women’s literary society

If you couldn’t love me from the start,
then why did you awake my sleeping heart?

_

I call. You’re stone.
One day you’ll look and find I’m gone.

_

May God make you into a riverbank flower
so I may smell you when I go to gather water.

_

You sold me to an old man, father.
May God destroy your home; I was your daughter.

_

Today I spilled spinach on the floor.
Now the old goat stands in the corner, swinging a two-by-four.

_

O darling, you’re American in my eyes.
You are guilty; I apologize.
_

In my dream, I am the president.
When I awake, I am the beggar of the world.

Translated and presented by Eliza Griswold in
I Am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan

To all my lovely readers, friends, and random stumblers-upon,

Have you mostly been sitting behind a screen this month, scrolling through poems in isolation and then moving on with your day? Do your friends not know you actually like poetry? Has one line of verse been haunting, confusing, or delighting you for weeks?

How about you invite others to share in that experience with you for a day? Please join me tomorrow, Thursday April 30th, in celebrating one of my favorite not-actual-but-should-be-official holidays, Poem in Your Pocket Day.

The “rules” of celebrating this day, which falls on the last day of National Poetry Month this year, are pretty simple. Put a poem in your pocket. You got that part already. Now you can’t just let it fester there all day. Read it to a friend over lunch, startle your coworkers at a meeting, recite one to somebody before bed. Or if you’d rather share quietly, slip some verse into the pocket of a loved one, leave one at a cafe table, or print out dozens of poems, as I did many years ago, and plaster them all over your dorm walls. Disrupt the ritual of people’s days with beautiful words.

And, if you are so inclined, please comment with the poems you decide to share. My pockets are ready to be filled.*

(* This is the same text I’ve used the past few years. Apologies for taking this blogging shortcut, but I figured there was no point reinventing the wheel on this!)

The great Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali (1949-2001) gifted this paper-filled world with beautiful, crushing words.

“Stationery”

The moon did not become the sun.
It just fell on the desert
in great sheets, reams
of silver handmade by you.
The night is your cottage industry now,
the day is your brisk emporium.
The world is full of paper.

Write to me.

A few different short pieces from the mystically spare Fanny Howe (1940-) to begin the wrap-up of National Poetry Month.

I’d speak if I wasn’t afraid of inhaling
A memory I want to forget
Like I trusted the world which wasn’t mine
The hollyhock in the tall vase is wide awake
And feelings are only overcome by fleeing
To their opposite. Moisture and dirt
Have entered the space between threshold and floor
A lot is my estimate when I step on it
Sorry can be a home to stand on so
And see far to: another earth, a place I might know

~

Come, tinkers, among droves of acorn trees
Be only one third needful, O
Name the things whereby we hope
Before the story scatters. A cardinal is red for fever where you passed
The suffering world’s faith
Is a scandal. Tests of facts
Bring dread to aptitude
You who loved the people and the world
Tell us our failings and if we’re home

~

I won’t be able to write from the grave
so let me tell you what I love:
oil, vinegar, salt, lettuce, brown bread, butter,
cheese and wine, a windy day, a fireplace,
the children nearby, poems and songs,
a friend sleeping in my bed–

and the short northern lights.

These gorgeous incantatory love poems from the one and only Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) render me speechless. Totally and utterly speechless.

“Two English Poems”

I.

The useless dawn finds me in a deserted street-
corner; I have outlived the night.
Nights are proud waves; darkblue topheavy waves
laden with all the hues of deep spoil, laden with
things unlikely and desirable.
Nights have a habit of mysterious gifts and refusals,
of things half given away, half withheld,
of joys with a dark hemisphere. Nights act
that way, I tell you.
The surge, that night, left me the customary shreds
and odd ends: some hated friends to chat
with, music for dreams, and the smoking of
bitter ashes. The things my hungry heart
has no use for.
The big wave brought you.
Words, any words, your laughter; and you so lazily
and incessantly beautiful. We talked and you
have forgotten the words.
The shattering dawn finds me in a deserted street
of my city.
Your profile turned away, the sounds that go to
make your name, the lilt of your laughter:
these are the illustrious toys you have left me.
I turn them over in the dawn, I lose them, I find
them; I tell them to the few stray dogs and
to the few stray stars of the dawn.
Your dark rich life …
I must get at you, somehow; I put away those
illustrious toys you have left me, I want your
hidden look, your real smile — that lonely,
mocking smile your cool mirror knows.

II

What can I hold you with?
I offer you lean streets, desperate sunsets, the
moon of the jagged suburbs.
I offer you the bitterness of a man who has looked
long and long at the lonely moon.
I offer you my ancestors, my dead men, the ghosts
that living men have honoured in bronze:
my father’s father killed in the frontier of
Buenos Aires, two bullets through his lungs,
bearded and dead, wrapped by his soldiers in
the hide of a cow; my mother’s grandfather
–just twentyfour– heading a charge of
three hundred men in Peru, now ghosts on
vanished horses.
I offer you whatever insight my books may hold,
whatever manliness or humour my life.
I offer you the loyalty of a man who has never
been loyal.
I offer you that kernel of myself that I have saved,
somehow –the central heart that deals not
in words, traffics not with dreams, and is
untouched by time, by joy, by adversities.
I offer you the memory of a yellow rose seen at
sunset, years before you were born.
I offer you explanations of yourself, theories about
yourself, authentic and surprising news of
yourself.
I can give you my loneliness, my darkness, the
hunger of my heart; I am trying to bribe you
with uncertainty, with danger, with defeat.

I wasn’t too familiar with Ellen Bryant Voigt (1943-) until I saw her read a few months ago, and she completely won me over with her wit and candor, her rich imagery, and her beautiful, startling lines.


“Practice”

To weep unbidden, to wake
at night in order to weep, to wait
for the whisker on the face of the clock
to twitch again, moving
the dumb day forward—

is this merely practice?
Some believe in heaven,
some in rest. We’ll float,
you said. Afterward
we’ll float between two worlds—

five bronze beetles
stacked like spoons in one
peony blossom, drugged by lust:
if I came back as a bird
I’d remember that—

until everyone we love
is safe is what you said.

The Syrian poet, translator, and essayist Adonis (1930-) was born to a small family of farmers in the Al Qassabin village and taught to read and memorize poems by his father. He is now one of the most celebrated living Arab poets–check out this fascinating article about his life.

“Motion”

I travel outside my body, and inside me there are continents
that I do not know. My body
is an eternal motion outside itself.
I don’t ask: From where? Or where were you? I ask, where do I go?
The sand looks at me and turns me into sand,
and the water looks at me and brothers me.

Truly, there is nothing to dusk but memory.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 330 other followers