Landay – NaPoWriMo Day 19

This is what I love about National Poetry Writing Month: I always learn something new.

Today’s poetry prompt is to write a landay–a couplet of 22 syllables, 9 in the first line and 13 in the second. This is a form of poetry originating in Afghanistan. It sometimes rhymes, sometimes not.

Landays are spoken or sung by women as part of folk songs, often to the beat of a drum. They are anonymous and are never written down. In this way, Afghan women can compose poetry that expresses thoughts on men, marriage, societal norms and treatment of women, thoughts that if attributed to a specific author or written down by a living woman, could be considered disrespectful, illegal or worse.

Maureen Thorson, the poet who administers, linked us to a great resource on landays. I learned that there are twenty million Pashtun women on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border who practice this form of poetry. Some landays are ancient and some are new. Some complain about ancient customs still in practice today. They can be dark, sarcastic and painful expressions of opinions that are otherwise kept buried.  And some are poems of love or lust, expressing longing for a boyfriend or husband.

So if you assume that these beautiful, burka-wearing women are always demure, you’d be wrong! Here are a few examples of their landays:

You sold me to an old man, father.
May God destroy your home, I was your daughter.
Making love to an old man
is like fucking a shriveled cornstalk blackened by mold.
Slide your hand inside my bra.
Stroke a red and ripening pomegranate of Kandahar.
How much simpler can love be?
Let’s get engaged now. Text me.

I can’t pretend to write their joy or pain, so my landay simply celebrates this unique form of poetry:

We tell our truth, we sing our bold song.
Can twenty million women with biting wit be wrong?

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