Friday, July 06, 2012

Your Life for a Love Poem

Learn about landai, a two line poetic form (perfect for Twitter!) practiced by the women of Afghanistan and about the risks they take for the right to self-expression. Eliza Griswold (The Tenth Parallel, Wideawake Field) has a great piece about Afghan women's poetry in The New York Times Magazine, Why Afghan Women Risk Death to Write Poetry,
Like most folk literature, landai can be sorrowful or bawdy. Imagine the Wife of Bath riding through the Himalayan foothills and uttering landai so ribald that they curled the toes of her fellow travelers. She might tease her rival: “Say hello to my sweetheart/If you are a farter [tizan, one who farts a lot], then I can fart louder than you.” She might make a cutting political joke: “Your black eyelashes are Israel/and my heart is Palestine under your attack.” She might utter an elegiac couplet: “My beloved gave his head for our country/I will sew his shroud with my hair.”
“A poem is a sword,” Saheera Sharif, Mirman Baheer’s founder, said. Sharif is not a poet but a member of Parliament from the province of Khost. Literature, she says, is a more effective battle for women’s rights than shouting at political rallies. “This is a different kind of struggle.”
There's more, including a slideshow, at the Pulitzer Center website. More in this form can be found collected in Songs of Love and War: Afghan Women's Poetry. Samples from the book here. Also of interest, there is a new collection of poetry by Taliban authors, Poetry of the Taliban. The editors were interviewed in The Atlantic recently, 
The average reader in the West probably regards the Taliban as being profoundly hostile to culture. How do we reconcile incidents like the destruction of the Buddha statues at Bamiyan with the outpouring of poetic sentiment documented in your book?
There is a difference between the formal pronouncements or edicts of the Taliban's leadership and the fighters on the ground. That is as true for the Taliban as it is true for the British Army. In our introduction we also note the contradiction between the formal edicts issued by Mullah  Mohammad Omar (banning most kinds of music) and his private consumption of those same songs that he had banned. This is to be expected. The Taliban are not a monolithic movement, with fixed and unchanging attitudes. In many ways, our difficulties understanding the movement say more about us than it does about the Taliban.
Sounds like what we need is an Afghan poetry slam.
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