A Poem For Saturday

by Alice Quinn

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The poet and journalist Eliza Griswold is the editor and translator of the forthcoming volume I Am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan, with photographs by Seamus Murphy, to be published in April by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

In her introduction to the collection, Griswold writes, “In Afghan culture, poetry is revered…. A folk couplet—a landay—[is] an oral and often anonymous scrap of song created by and for mostly illiterate people: the more than twenty million Pashtun women who span the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. . . . Sometimes landays rhyme, but more often not. In Pashto, they lilt internally from word to word in a kind of two-line lullaby that belies the sharpness of their content, which is distinctive not only for its beauty, bawdiness, and wit, but also for its piercing ability to articulate a common truth about love, grief, separation, homeland, and war.”

Today and over the weekend, we’ll post sets of these landays, which Edward Hirsch, award-winning poet and President of the Guggenheim Foundation, praises for the way in which they enlarge “our sense of the work that poetry does in the world.”

On Thursday, April 3rd at 7PM, Eliza will be appearing at McNally-Jackson Books at 52 Prince Street in New York in conversation with the New York Times’ writer Elizabeth Rubin and Sonia Nassery Cole, and I will be on hand to introduce the event. Here’s the first selection from the book:

When sisters sit together, they always praise their brothers.
When brothers sit together, they sell their sisters to others.

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My body belongs to me;
to others its mastery.

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Don’t shout, my love, my father isn’t giving me to you.
Don’t shame me in the busy street by crying out, “I’ll die for you.”

(From I Am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan, translated and presented by Eliza Griswold, photographs by Seamus Murphy, to be published in April 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. LLC. Text copyright © 2014 by Eliza Griswold. Photographs copyright © 2014 by Seamus Murphy. All rights reserved.)