Thursday, September 20, 2012


** "I swear it to you on my common woman's head, the common woman is as common as a common loaf of bread--and will rise."  Judy Grahn from The Common Woman


At Real Toads,  Kenia introduces us to the landai form and invites us to “write a bunch” of them.

Kenia's Wednesday Challenge

image credit: Drew Harron via Compfight

Only five out of 100 women in Afghanistan graduate from high school; most are married by the age of 16.  For many, poetry allows them to express themselves. It's the only voice they have, but women writing poetry is seen as shameful and could result in a beating or even death, reason why they have to rely on pen names.

Women write and recite landai, two-line folk poems that can often be humorous, sexy, raging, tragic and  also deal with love, grief,  war, exile and Afghan independence. The success of the poetry form is attributed to it being easy to memorize, which is really important in a culture where women are poorly schooled and forbidden to write or read.
The word landai means “short, poisonous snake” in Pashto. The poems are collective — no single person writes a landai; a woman repeats one, shares one. It is hers and not hers.

“Landai belong to women,” Safia Siddiqi, a renowned Pashtun poet and former Afghan parliamentarian, said. In Afghanistan, poetry is the women’s movement from the inside."
Please go to this New York Times article to learn more about lanai, the eloquent poetry of resistance of the Afghan women:

*for Zarmina

Cut out my tongue,  my voice
becomes a slender insect’s song.
Now the night is ripe with music
Is there anyone who can still sleep?

In the hills my sisters are waking.
the sky swells to contain their grief.

A storm gathers, women open their throats
a cloud passes in front of the sun.

Under this burqa, I am invisible.  Nobody sees
the brown leg of sorrow or the contour of my wings. 

My secret wish.  Simply this.  That my daughters
find these shards of my heart and can make no sense of them!

Written for  Imaginary Gardens with Real Toads , “landai”.

* Rahila was the name used by a young poet, Zarmina, who committed suicide two years ago. Zarmina was reading her love poems over the phone when her sister-in-law caught her. “How many lovers do you have?” she teased. Zarmina’s family assumed there was a boy on the other end of the line. As a punishment, her brothers beat her and ripped up her notebooks, Amail said. Two weeks later, Zarmina set herself on fire. 

**  "The Common Woman" by Judy Grahn - A classic of the second wave feminist movement, published in the form of a pamphlet.  I bought my copy at Old Wives Tales bookstore in San Francisco and it was passed from friend to friend.


Green Speck said...

The 1st one is truly powerful !!!

Grace said...

This is a lovely..specially the sky swelling to contain their grief and burqa ~

Ella said...

Wow, you did an amazing job...these are moving and so strong n' fragile!

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Gabrielle, you have COMPLETELY captured the soul of the landai. These pierce straight to the heart. I am sad for the young poet who committed suicide, and for all of her sisters, who struggle to survive in a place where oppression rules. You write so beautifully - and soulfully.

sreeja harikrishnan said...

lovely and powerful....

Susie Clevenger said...

Each one of these is a jewel. The sing a song of the strength and power within women.

Laura Maria said...

These are so poignant. You capture the heart of landai well.

Helen said...

... 'My secret wish. Simply this. That my daughters find these shards of my heart and can make no sense of them!' This resonated with me in a most powerful way.

Mary Mansfield said...

Spot on in your interpretation of landai. The one about being invisible under the burqa is just heartbreaking.

Anonymous said...

this is the fourth blog i've visited tonight where women wrote about other women being at the least repressed if not outright abused. an all too common occurence!

gabrielle said...

Thank you so much for your heartfelt comments. I am not writing regularly these days, but felt so moved by Kenia’s challenge that the landai insisted on being conceived. Although I have not experienced the degree of cultural repression that Afghan women do, I know what it feels like to be silenced.

With these landai, let us celebrate the courage, resilience and imagination of women everywhere who are oppressed, exploited, abused.

I apologize for not having commented on your offerings. Life has been full of demands. I do plan to visit as soon as I am able.