Simin Behbahani’s poems paint one of the most nuanced narratives of modern Iranian society. Her poems offer apertures into the daily life of Iranians, and reveal its subtleties and paradoxes. “From the Street,” a series of poems written between 1983-85, are realist representations of the uncomfortable economic and moral realities that plague Iran; the stories include a pregnant woman giving birth while waiting in line for rationed food (From the Street # 3) and the stoning of a woman by a cement block (# 6). In another poem, “The Child Trailed Behind,” a boy stomps his foot on the floor and cries for pistachios. Embarrassed, the penniless mother leaves the store only to find him smiling with pockets full of pistachios. Momentarily relieved, the mother has a new predicament: has he stolen them? Spanned over 600 poems, Behbahani’s concerns include war, peace, revolution, class disparities, gender discrimination, polygamy, marital life, domestic violence, patriotism, prostitution, aging, poverty, and global violence.
Born in 1927 in Tehran into a literary family, Behbahani is now in her mid eighties. Nearly blind, she always appears presentable; her warm and passionate voice never fails to mesmerize. She likens herself to an “Ancient Eve,” whose mouth is “shut with kisses.” With “wine” in hand and her “companion” by her side, she “rivals the twenty-year-old” Eve. Classical Persian poetry, traditionally coded as masculine, did not foreground issues of gender and sexuality. A masterful poet, Behbahani has mobilized her identity and experiences to highlight issues of gender hegemony and egalitarianism. Her story traces and illuminates gender apartheid and oppression as well as ground-breaking transgressions in Iran’s cultural and literary history.
The Persian ghazal, historically known as a love lyric, has been recast and redefined several times, its elements made to serve new purposes, or sometimes done away with altogether. In her verse, Behbahani circumvents the social and cultural segregation of men and women (1), particularly by composing ghazal outside male centric conventions. She writes in the traditional ghazal form but allows her own personal and socio-political realities to permeate its universe and perhaps even take precedence over its conventions. In her essay, “We Await the Golden Dawn,” she writes, “From early on, my poems have reflected my social milieu and conditions, though in effect, these reflections have been reflections of my individual and emotional reactions to the society and conditions in which I have lived.”
Continue reading Aria Fani and Adeeba Shahid Talukder in The Huffington Post