Iran: Poems of Dissent

This week in Little Star Weekly we feature “In this Blind Alley,” by Iranian poet Ahmad Shamlou, a poem dating from the days after the revolution of 1979. Shamlou  (1925–2000) was born in Tehran and raised in the Iranian provinces, spending time in prison during World War II and after the British- and American-led coup of 1953. He was an heir of the modernizing movement begun by Nima Yushij (1896–1959), who in the midst of the political chaos following World War I, began reading French Symbolists and Russian Futurists and broke decisively with the strict, classical traditions of Persian verse. He advocated a poetry of natural speech that was considered so unorthodox that it remained unpublished for a decade. Shamlou was similarly immersed in continental styles, translating Lorca, Eluard, and Aragon; but also recasting the Bible and Qur’an as poetry and collecting Iranian folktales. He opposed the regime of the Shah but was held in suspicion by the succeeding Islamic government. He was too popular to arrest but his work remained unpublished until the 1990s. His 1957 poem “Public Love” is still recited by political activists and protesters: “this year’s dead / have been the most loving of the living.”

Shamlou appears in Little Star this week courtesy of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, which recently commissioned poet and translator Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr., to assemble the pamphlet Iran: Poems of Dissent.  The pamphlet begins with the ghazals of Hafiz and follows the history of Persian poetry as it encountered succeeding generations of violence and oppression, concluding with Simin Bebahani’s modern ghazal, “On the Prayer Mat of Violence and Aggression,” written in response to the suppressed demonstrations of 2009.  Bebahani’s poem first appeared here in Little Star. Gray has also translated the work of Iran’s most revered poet, Hafiz-i Shirazi, and recorded her translations in collaboration with musician Reza Derakhshani. Her own poems have appeared in Little Star #2 and #4. Her translations of “In This Blind Alley” first appeared in Poetry International.



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