Aug. 25, 2014: from *Guernica* Magazine

Readers,

you may have heard on the radio or seen in the news (or received a text
from your sister) that esteemed Iranian poet Simin Behbahani died last
week. She was born in 1927, and was the voice of her country’s conscience
for a full generation. She wrote in Persian, and one of her projects for
several years was to transform the traditional ghazal. As we know from
prior readings, the ghazal is is a somewhat ancient form of linking
couplets, all of which feature a second line that ends with the same word,
phrase, or rhyme. Originally there were a limited number of moods and
themes a ghazal could undertake — unattainable love, the perfection of a
lover, the divine — but Behbahani set out to destroy those limitations. In
a period of relative decline of those classical forms, she brought to light
the lives of ordinary Iranians, in all their joys and struggles, amid the
din of war and suppression. Needless to say she was punished for her
humanity, and was under a travel ban when she died. She was also lauded
both at home and internationally for her work, and twice nominated for a
Nobel Prize.

You can find some poems of hers online. Instead, I’m printing two
paragraphs of her “statement of purpose,” from an interview. To me, it
reads like a poem anyway. -ed.

from *Guernica* Magazine
October 1, 2011

I have said again and again that my poetry is the poetry of the moments of
my life. I’ve experienced years when the sky over me was blackened with the
smoke of missiles and the ground on which I walked turned into ruins under
exploding bombs. I’ve seen convoys of war martyrs on their way to the
cemeteries. I’ve seen lorries carrying the bodies of executed prisoners,
dripping with blood, that were being taken for burial in Behesht-e Zahra.

I’ve stood in long lines, in the rain and under the sun, just to buy a pack
of butter or a box of paper napkins. I’ve seen mothers running after the
corpses of their martyred sons, oblivious to whether their headscarves or
their chadors or their stockings and shoes were slipping off or not. I
won’t say any more. In the light of all this, how did you expect my poetry
to be joyful or, as in my recent poem, to speak of love? Even so, more than
half of my poetry is joyful and these are the products of the moments when
I’ve felt happy. As a matter of fact, my poetry is multi-vocal. I’ve spoken
about everything. I’ve written poems that consist of a story in minimized
form. I’ve used surreal subjects. I’ve produced ‘dialogic’ poems. I’ve
produced descriptive poems. I had one working period which was totally
devoted to transforming the foundations of the ghazal. I have used about
seventy new or disused meters, and this is something that can give the
ghazal a totally new potential and a new mold in which to pour today’s
language, today’s events, and today’s needs. You can find any type of poem
that you like in my works and anyone, with any taste, can find something to
their liking in them. On the whole, there’s a great deal of variety in my
works. I can’t predict how my poetry will be in the future. It will depend
on the state of things and how I’m feeling.

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