The Landay

This post is a little different. I haven’t been this excited about a poetry form in, well, ever.

The landay is a type of Afghan folk poetry with a rich oral tradition and an important place
in the education and expression of Afghan women of the Pashtun region. I stumbled upon
it from this article in June’s Poetry Magazine. I was so inspired by the story, we even held
a workshop on landays this past Monday night. The poems are couplets, with the two lines
broken into nine and thirteen syllables, respectively. There are other guidelines to the form
(see my workshop page here), but more important to me was to capture the sense of
personal bitterness and profound social truth so often found in these poems. Here are a few
attempts of my own, some adhering more strictly to syllable count and endings than others:

What can a woman know of war?
Only how to weep angry tears and bury her dead.


I sing even under my blue hood.
My mother says I am a most determined songbird.


He says at home I am a flower
but to the world I should be as plain as a weed.


Pop stars and text messages, how sad:
small girls dream no longer of being warrior princesses.


My love is as a tattoo in blood.
Your love is as the brown ink of a bride’s henna.


Now I carry a sword when I dance*;
cut to shreds are the dreams of being a ballerina.


Your kiss is like whiskey on a cold night.
Your indifference is the cold night that kills my buzz.

25 thoughts on “The Landay

  1. My love is as a tattoo in blood.
    Your love is as the brown ink of a brideโ€™s henna.

    the contrast in that really drives the emotions home, each of these is like a facet that builds the picture.
    it is sad on the watered down dreams we’ve sold our kids as well…pop stars…oh joy.

    • there seemed to be a lot of anger/sadness/bitterness in the ones I read… expected, given the situations many of these women face daily. I tried to put my own spin on those emotions, and still keep the tartness. thanks for dropping by, b!

  2. Holy cow, each one better than its predecessor. I loved the starkness of the imagery, they juxtaposition. Bravo, this is brilliant.

    Most powerful:
    “He says at home I am a flower
    but to the world I should be as plain as a weed.”

    Love love loved these. – Moskowitz, Inspired

    • thanks, slp. I’m usually not one big on form, but I’m enjoying these, too. They are somehow darkness and hope contained in two little lines…

  3. Thanks so much, Joanna… I definitely want to look further into this form. I especially like the first and last one.

    • Thank you, Laurie. I was experimenting from some of the more traditional themes to ones closer to home for me. I do certainly recommend trying these!

  4. I love the history and simplicity of the Landay poems (as I have written some based on the same article) ~

    I thought yours are sharp and brings the woman’s dreams & reality to the forefront ~ This is my favorite as the contrast is done so well:

    He says at home I am a flower
    but to the world I should be as plain as a weed.


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