I Am the Beggar of the World

Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan

Women in Afghanistan have been tweeting for centuries.

“My darling you’re just like America;
You’re guilty; I apologize.”

Mouth to mouth, ear to ear, illiterate rural women have traded these biting, two-line poems called landays since 3500 B.C. In a new book, I am the Beggar of the World, filmmaker and photographer Seamus Murphy and poet and journalist Eliza Griswold, set out for Afghanistan to collect a contemporary collection of these more than thousand year old poems.

They were following the story of a young Afghan poet set herself on fire because she wasn't allowed to write poetry. She called herself Muska which means smile. She wrote in secret and called in to a poetry hotline to read her poems aloud each week...until her brothers found her poems, ripped up her notebooks and beat her badly. When they forbid her from writing, Muska determined to kill herself. Suicide, like writing poetry, became a horrific form of self expression.

The one poem to survive her was a landay:

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

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Dispatches From America

Eliza Griswold on PBS NewsHour “Ancient Afghan Poetry Form Adapts to Tell Story of Modern Life and Conflict”

For centuries, Pashtun women have traded stories, feelings and life wisdom in the form of two-line oral poems called landays. Eliza Griswold, a journalist and poet herself, traveled to Afghanistan to learn more about daily life there through the modern exchange of poetry. Jeffrey Brown takes a closer look at Griswold’s project.

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Eliza Griswold and Seamus Murphy discuss landays written by anonymous Pashtun women.

The Poetry Foundation Podcast featuring Eliza Griswold and Seamus Murphy

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