I first encountered a landay in Poetry magazine‘s June 2013 issue. Landays are two-line poems, which have been written and recited by Afghan women for centuries. Split This Rock is awarding Eliza Griswold the inaugural FREEDOM PLOW AWARD for Poetry & Activism, for her work with this form– and with the Afghan women who still use it. Griswold traveled to Afghanistan in 2012, with photographer Seamus Murphy, collecting and exploring this poetic form. In the introduction to the landays in Poetry, she writes that a landay “…is a folk couplet…an oral and often anonymous scrap of song created by and for a mostly illiterate people: the more than 20 million Pashtun women who span the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.” She goes on to say they are often recited or sung with the accompaniment of a hand drum. The landay contains 22 syllables, nine in the first line and thirteen in the second line. Each landay ends with the sound “ma” or “na.” Landays are sometimes reflective, sometimes bawdy. A tight, interesting, tough form.
Eliza Griswold will receive the FREEDOM PLOW AWARD for introducing us all to this little known form and to these women– whose voices are often silenced. The award will be given at a reception on November 1st at 6:00pm at the Goethe Institute, 812 7th Street, NW, Washington, D.C. Tickets are $25 and it will surely be a beautiful reception, award, and reading. The FREEDOM PLOW AWARD was judged this year by poets Martha Collins, Carlos Andres Gomez, and E. Ethelbert Miller. It carries a cash award of $3500. More of the landays will be published in Eliza Griswold’s forthcoming 2014 book, I Am the Beggar of the World. The award is made possible by the CrossCurrents Foundation.
Split This Rock is a national organization of poets, based in Washington, D.C., urging a greater role for poetry in public life. Its founder, poet Sarah Browning, has brought poetry of provocation and witness into the forefront of American poetry. Through Sarah’s leadership, Split This Rock offers workshops, advocacy events, and a magnificent biennial poetry festival in Washington, D.C. “Split This Rock is dedicated to revitalizing poetry as a living, breathing art form with profound relevance in our daily lives and struggles. Our programs integrate poetry of provocation and witness into movements for social justice and support the poets of all ages who write and perform this vital work.” My friend, Sarah Browning gives life and leadership to this important work and we’re all better poets and citizens because of it. This award will surely help to further Split This Rock’s important work in American letters.