Sunday, December 08, 2013
I Am The Beggar Of The World Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan Translated by Eliza Griswold
I Am The Beggar Of The World
Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan
Translated by Eliza Griswold
Copyright © 2014 by Eliza Griswold
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
New York, New York
Hardbound, $24 (tentative),147 pages
Review by Zvi A. Sesling
I call. You’re stone.
One day you’ll look and find I’m gone.
The teenage poet who uttered this folk poem called herself Rahila Muska. She lived in Helmand, a Taliban stronghold and one of the most restive of Afghanistan’s thirty-four provinces since the U.S. invasion began on October 7, 2001. Muska, like many young and rural Afghan women, wasn’t allowed to leave her home. Fearing that she’d be kidnapped or raped by warlords, her father pulled her out of school after the fifth grade. In her community, as in others, educating girls was seen as dishonorable as well as dangerous. Poetry, which she learned from women and on the radio became her only continuing education.
Thus begins the introduction to this most compelling book of two line poems called “landays.” A landay, according to Ms. Griswold, “has only a few formal properties. Each has twenty-two syllables: nine in the first lines; thirteen in the second. The poem ends with the sound of ma or na. Sometimes landays rhyme, but more often not.”
And with these two explanations begins an astounding volume of poetry with two line poems which while are often jokes or insults, reflect the heart as in:
Unlucky you who didn’t come last night,
I took the hardwood bedpost for a man.
Embrace me in your suicide vest
but don’t say I won’t give you a kiss.
My love is a suicide bomber who stalks
the home of my heart and waits to attack.
These poems show the insight of women as in the first poem where the woman taunts the man for not making love. The second poem explains that the woman would rather be blown up than lies told that she won’t kiss her lover. While the third says the man cannot confront her directly.
Two landays regarding American forces in Afghanistan show that race can be a factor:
My lover is fair as an American soldier can be.
To him I looked dark as a Talib, so he martyred me.
Because my love’s American,
blister blossom on my heart.
In the first the obvious is that the white American soldier cannot distinguish his Afghan girlfriend from the Taliban and so she expects to be killed by him during a battle. Griswold notes that in this landay American replaced British when England controlled Afghanistan in the 1800s. In the second landay Griswold points out that American replaced the word liar. And so you see, even American lovers are viewed poorly by Afghan women.
There are many more landays in this compilation. They deal with war often in a fantasy such as the ones which put down Russia and America or which hope to destroy President George W. Bush even if they know it will not be accomplished, though they consider themselves victorious over Russia and see the same for America.
This is an exciting, thought provoking collection of two line poems, with commentary by Griswold and photographs by Seamus Murphy that put faces and places to the Afghanistan battlefields. A highly recommended volume for those interested not only in the events, but the people—especially the women—of this far off battleground.
Zvi A. Sesling
Author, King of the Jungle and Across Stones of Bad Dreams
Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review
Publisher, Muddy River Books, Brookline, MA
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 7
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 8