In 2012 journalist/poet Eliza Griswold and photographer Seamus Murphy traveled to Afghanistan with the sole aim of collecting landays – anonymous and spoken, two-line Pashtun poems that have served for centuries as a means of self-expression for Afghan women.
Now in a special issue of Poetry magazine published on June 3 by the Poetry Foundation, Griswold explains the motivation behind her project, "Afghanistan: On Love and Suicide," supported in part by the Pulitzer Center. She also provides new details on her reporting on landays and the women who write them. You can see the issue here.
Some she met; others, like the teenage poet who called herself Rahila Muska, died years earlier. Rahila burned herself in protest because her brothers badly beat her after discovering her writing poems, which is forbidden to many of Afghanistan's women. The landays in Poetry also reflect how the language in the poems has changed over time to reflect current situations. For example, some poems now use "American" as a shorthand to mean all foreigners, instead of Angrez, or English, which started in the 1800s when Britain occupied Afghanistan.
Murphy's photographs illustrate Griswold's words and the poems themselves. Read the Poetry Foundation's press release on the significance of this special June 2013 issue of Poetry.
The Poetry special issue is part of a broader outreach and educational program to bring these Afghan women's poems to American audiences through reading and film screening events in partnership with the Pulitzer Center in New York and Washington, DC. A Poetry Foundation exhibit featuring additional photographs by Murphy is set for Chicago in summer 2013.
In describing how the Pulitzer Center came to support the landay reporting project by Griswold and Murphy, Managing Director Nathalie Applewhite said the organization knew the "topic and approach were a great fit" given the Center's dedication to raising awareness of underreported international crises, with a special interest in women's issues.
"We were familiar with Eliza and Seamus' work and were confident that it would be of the highest quality," Applewhite said. "The intersection of journalism and poetry had been a focus for us already – as was the case in our collaboration with Kwame Dawes on LiveHopeLove and Voices of Haiti.
"The Landay project has been a wonderful opportunity to build on that tradition, especially seeing it develop from a news story into a film, the special issue of Poetry, live readings/screenings and a book. We're honored to be part of this wonderful initiative."
To broaden the reach of the reporting, the Pulitzer Center is partnering with several organizations to present "I AM THE BEGGAR OF THE WORLD: Folk Poems by the Pashtun Women of Afghanistan."
Join Griswold and Murphy for readings of Landay: Afghan folk poems by women about drones, war, sex, rage, love – an ancient form with modern content. Readings of the poems by Afghan women will be followed by a screening of Murphy's short film "Snake" and a moderated Q&A.
Tuesday, July 30
Culture Project's Women Center Stage 2013 Festival
New York, NY
Presented in partnership with Poetry Magazine, the Pulitzer Center, and the Afghan Women’s Writing Project.
Tickets on sale June 15. For more information visit: http://wcs.cultureproject.org/2013-schedule/
Wednesday, July 31
Corcoran Gallery of Art
Presented in partnership with the Corcoran and the Pulitzer Center.
Free, but seating is limited and reservations recommended. RSVP for the July 31, Washington, DC, event at: http://afghan-women-poetry.eventbrite.com/