16 Sep 2011

This solitude

Between my casual passing through your mind and
your persistence in my wakeful sleeping conscious     
a rose opens
a moonless night vanishes into twilight
a bee trapped behind the garden glass door 
fails to grasp why it cannot reach its flower

There is in this solitude a stability no union offers
there’s an honesty in this loneliness
an unspoken promise
a warmth that enters me gently like the seeping
heat of my morning coffee

I find your scent between my scattered papers
your raining sadness between my breasts

I see your sorrowful eyes in our encounters,
unhooking their blazing gaze from mine

I am in your parting a woman
learning how to forgive herself for your cruelty

My hands test the dampness of my plants’ soil
and I remember not to water your memory.

13 Sep 2011

Do not resuscitate

Another love falls ill
loses its colour
its will

We had so many tomorrows;
tomorrow I will call to say I’m sorry
tomorrow I will write you a poem
that will steal your heart.

Tonight I lie in a pool of blue light
where the silver moon last cried
all tomorrows spent (unwise)

Flowerless this desire for you,
feral this rootless longing

If you find it between your hands again
don't resuscitate this porous heart of mine.

6 Sep 2011


It’s only when I saw her steering that mighty black mare
with her tiny 5 years old fingers firm on the rein
that I realized how astonishing life is
just yesterday she could hardly stand up
clutching the coffee table for support with an effort
her knuckles sweet dimples on her chubby hands.

Trotting deeper into the green fields
not turning to look if she could still see me
I squinted for my mind’s eye to measure
'this far' my thumb and index demonstrated
a mother’s mind minimizing the tragedy of distance
for a mother’s heart.

5 Sep 2011

The Wind-Up Doll Forugh Farrokhzad: Pushing the Boundaries of Iranian Poetry

Literature in Iran has long possessed a predominantly masculine character. Conspicuously absent from it has been the presence of women as writers or critics, as makers of literary tradition. Until recently, little has been heard of women writers, painters, musicians, architects, actors, potters, calligraphers. The achievements of those women, who against all odds, managed to nurture their creative talents has remained for the most part unrecognized, invisible[1]. For centuries, the written literary potential of Iranian women has been repressed and muffled, easy access to the power, privilege, and arena of the written word was for long denied to them[2].

In Iran, a society where walls and veils have been customary and censored communication the order of the day, a new tradition of women’s poetry came into being toward the middle of the present century; a tradition of women intensely involved in self-reflection and self-revelation, not sheltered or restrained by the anonymity or opacity of the veil; a tradition of women who not only revealed themselves but also unveiled men in their writings.[3]The list includes, among others, Zand-Dokht Shirazi (1911-1925), Jaleh Esfahani (1920-2007), Simin Behbahani (1927), Mahin Sekandari (1940) and Forugh Farrokhzad (1936-1967).
These women wrote about private ideas, feelings and facts. They strove to reconcile the emotional, sensual, and social aspects of a female self. With bodies unveiled and pen in hand, they led the reader behind walls and veils to the domains of the private. However, this article’s main interest is Iran’s most significant female poet of the twentieth century Forugh Farroukhzad, as revolutionary as Russia’s Akhmatova and Tsvetaeva, and American Plath and Sexton, she wrote with a sensuality and burgeoning political consciousness that pressed against the boundaries of what could be expressed by a woman in 1950s and 1960s Iran. But Farroukhzad paid a very high price for her art; shouldering the disapproval of society and her family, losing custody of her only son after her divorce, and being sent to a mental institution.[4]

 I have sinned a rapturous sin
in warm enflamed embrace.
Sinned in a pair of vindictive arms,
Arms violent and ablaze.... [5]

Farrokhzad’s bold and unconventional poetry which are often a representation of women’s subjectivity and sexuality have elevated her to the level of a cultural icon in modern Iran. The shock of Farrokhzad’s poetry is the shock of purity; the purity of ice water, the purity of her relentless intensity. Although the dominant themes of her poetry are sexual love and despair, there is always an awareness of how the normal world tries to stifle emotion with the noose of its own deadness[6].

My whole being is a dark chant
which will carry you
perpetuating you
to the dawn of eternal growths and blossoming
in this chant I sighed you sighed
in this chant
I grafted you to the tree to the water to the fire.

Life is perhaps
a long street through which a woman holding
a basket passes everyday

Life is perhaps
a rope with which a man hangs himself from a branch
life is perhaps a child returning home from school.

Life is perhaps lighting up a cigarette
in the narcotic repose between two love-makings
or the absent gaze of a passerby
who takes off his hat to another passerby
with a meaningless smile and a good morning .

Life is perhaps that enclosed moment
when my gaze destroys itself in the pupil of your eyes[7].

The third of seven children and a very mischievous little girl Forugh would not be bound and was often made bidden by her dictatorial mother and her military strict father who was quick to draw his belt. Growing up, Forugh finds refuge in her books, studies painting and dress making but remain faithful to her true love for poetry through her reading of Hafiz and Rumi. At the age of sixteen she marries a relative, fifteen years her senior, with her husband’s encouragement and support Forugh publishes her first poems in magazines and meets frequently with various editors. Her first collection Asir (Captive) gets published in 1955. Historically, the beauty of women was the subject of Iranian poetry, but now Forugh has made men her poetic subjects, her objects of love, passion and desire. By this time her poems are sought and published because of their intimacy and frankness about sexual encounters and less to do with her poetic accomplishments[8].

Let me lose myself in you
till no one can find my trace
let your dewy sighs fevered soul
waft over the body of my songs[9].

Rumours of affairs circulate and soon her marriage ends, resulting in the loss of the custody of her son. The stress of divorce, separation from her son, society’s criticism and her family’s rejection is too much for her to endure and she experiences a nervous breakdown.

“All my mental anguish is due to loneliness. When I’m alone, there is no one to inject into me good and healthy thoughts. My arms and legs get tied up with my own bleak imaginings and then I see that I can no longer have the power to resist, that I’m done with this life...”[10]

After her divorce, Forugh goes back to her parents’ home, under her father’s resentful watchful eyes they often clashed. Her relationship with her mother was also difficult, their constant quarrelling forces her to move out and live in a small rented room.

“My greatest pain is that you never got to know me and never wanted to know me, I remember when I used to read philosophy books back at home, you would tell me that I was a stupid girl whose mind has been poisoned by reading journals, I would then fall into pieces inside myself...”[11]

Farroughzad’s life style increasingly becomes the subject of gossip, scandal and fantasizing as she publically enters into relationships with numerous men. In 1958 she meets the handsome, well educated, producer Ebrahim Golestan who was also married, they have a passionate affair and Forugh is convinced she has finally met her match. Golestan doesn’t only understand her and accept her for what she is and who she is striving to become but also helps her financially to study film production and offers her a job in his own film studios[12]. Their open affair is met with further scandal and the intellectual community which Forugh so longingly wants to fit into views her affair with a married man as morally reprehensible[13].

Even more, oh yes,
one can remain silent even more.

Inside eternal hours
one can fix lifeless eyes
on the smoke of a cigarette
on a cup’s form
the carpet’s faded flowers,

One can remain fixed in one place, here
beside this curtain... but deaf, but blind.

With an alien voice, utterly false,
one can cry out: I love!
in the oppressive arms of a man
one can be a robust, beautiful female
skin like leather table cloth...[14]

Even after publishing her second collection The Wall and her third collection Rebellion she is still addressed with the title of poetess, a title which denies her the seriousness of a true poet[15].

“If my poems, as you say, have an aspect of femininity, it is of course quite natural. After all, fortunately I am a woman. But if you speak of artistic merits, I think gender cannot play a role. In fact to even voice such a suggestion is unethical. It is natural that a woman, because of her physical, emotional and spiritual inclination, may give certain issues greater attention, issues men may not normally address...”[16]

If I were God, I'd call on the angels one night
to release the round sun into the darkness' s furnace,
angrily command the world garden servants
to prune the yellow leaf moon from the night's branch.

If I were God, I'd call on the angels one night
to boil the water of eternal life in Hell's cauldron,
and with a burning torch chase out the virtuous herd
that grazes in the green pastures of an unchaste heaven.

Tired of being a prude, I'd seek Satan's bed at midnight
and find refuge in the declivity of breaking laws.
I'd happily exchange the golden crown of divinity
for the dark, aching embrace of a sin...[17]

In 1964, Farrokhzad publishes her fourth collection Reborn, this collection is immediately hailed as a major work, her poems are widely read, discussed and studied, finally she is viewed as a poet. In 1967 on her way back home from work she swerves the jeep she is driving to miss an oncoming school bus, she is thrown out of her car and her head hits the cement gutter, she dies instantly at the age of 32. In the falling snow, her funeral was attended by literary and artistic communities and hundreds of people. She was buried under the snow[18].

Let us believe in the down of the cold season.
Let us believe in the ruin of imaginary gardens,
In idle inverted scythes
In confined seeds
Look how it snows
Perhaps the truth was those two young hands
Those hands
Buried beneath snow
And in the coming year
When spring mates with sky behind the window
Fountains of green saplings will erupt
Saplings that bloom, beloved, my trusted friend
Let us believe in the dawn of the cold season...[19]

After the 1979 revolution in Iran, the new Islamic government officially banned Farroukhzad’s poems and her publisher is ordered to stop printing her books, he refuses and is subsequently jailed and his publishing house burned down[20].

Forgive her.
Sometimes she forgets
She is painfully the same
As stagnant water,
Hollow ditches,
Foolishly imagines
She has the right to be exist.

A photo portrait’s listless rage,
Whose longing for movement
Melts in her paper eyes

this woman whose casket is washed over
by a flowing red moon...[21]

[1] Milani, F. (1992), Veils and Words.
[2] Groningen, H. (1983), Images of women in Greek Historiography on Persia.
[3] Parispur, S. (1976), The Dog and the Long Winter.
[4] Ostriker, A, (2007), Sin: Selected Poems of Forugh Farrokhzad.
[5] From Farrokhzad’s poem Sin, 1955.
[6] Brookshaw, D. & Rahimieh, N. (2010), Forugh Farrokhzad, Poet of Modern Iran, Iconic Woman and Faminine Pioneer of New Persian Poetry.
[7] From Farrokhzad’s poem Rebirth, 1964.
[8] See Ostriker (note 4 supra).
[9] From Farrokhzad’s poem On Loving, 1955.
[10] Farrokhzad in a letter to her ex-husband, in Esma’ili and Sedarat, Immortal Forugh Farroukhzad, 1972.
[11] In a letter written in 1957 to her colonel father, Farrokhzad shows the distance and amount of conflict between them. See Brookshaw & Rehimieh (note 6 supra)
[12] Farrokhzad was also known for producing the ground breaking 1962 documentary The House is Balck, shot in a leper colony in north-western Iran.
[13] See Brookshaw & Rahimieh (note 6 supra)
[14] From Farrokhzad’s poem Wind-Up Doll, 1964.
[15] See Ostriker (note 4 supra).
[16] A quote from Iranj Gorgin’s interview with Farrokhzad, 1964, See Milani (note 1 supra).
[17] From Farrokhzad’s poem Rebellious God, 1958.
[18] See Ostriker (note 4 supra).
[19] From Farrokhzad’s poem Let Us Believe in the Dawn of the Cold Season, 1967.
[20] See Ostriker (note 4 supra)
[21] From Farrokhzad’s poem Forgive Her, 1964.

3 Sep 2011


The wind often carries your voice
enveloped in a dream

sometimes your arm’s shadow reaches out with mine
in a trivial gesture; when turning off the night lamp  
or when closing and laying down a book

I wish to unwrap from your caging murmur
to feel the gentle falling of night

only you can touch darkness 
put the twitching flicker of candles to rest

next to me you lie
always in your absence.

2 Sep 2011

My Hoover Resembles My Love Life! Does Yours?

I bought a silver flash cylinder vacuum cleaner with 1600W motor power, a 2L capacity, featured onboard tools and 4m cable. It wasn’t the best Hoover at the store, but I thought that 1600W was powerful enough to clean my floors and well it was affordable! But after using it for a few months the adjustable head brush broke, I replaced it with a spare part which was the same price as the whole Hoover! And just a few days later, the adjustable metal tube got so stiff that it wasn’t adjustable anymore, not to mention the dust bags were so small and needed constant replacing and they were not cheap. So I finally decided to get a new one, I went to the store full of determination that this time I will get myself a better Hoover, a stronger Hoover, a Hoover that was efficient and will make my life easier, better and cleaner and one that wasn’t high maintenance. There in the store surrounded by all those shiny new appliances each one with a tag that stated more advanced features than its rival makers I was spoilt for choice, I saw one exactly like the one I’ve got, passed it and started comparing prices between two other Hoovers that had caught my attention, after half an hour of deliberation I picked a silver flash cylinder vacuum cleaner with 1600W motor power, a 2L capacity, featured onboard tools and 4m cable, paid and went back home! I had no idea why I did what I did, I had gone to the store with my mind set on buying a more efficient machine but I didn’t I went with what I know and what I was used to. The new Hoover was working fine the first few months but soon enough the same symptoms began to show.
I decided to try and understand why I had settled for what was familiar rather than what was better, sure I had to pay a little bit more money, but that was something I had initially expected to do and am capable of doing, sure the new appliance might look and work differently but that’s a welcomed change - most of the time - so what went wrong?
In his article Gregory Pacana[1] poses the crucial question; how much choice do we really have when choosing our relationships? Some might say that we all have certain qualities and attributes that we look for in members of the opposite sex and based on those things we decide on the person who is right for us. But is it really that simple? Is the process of attraction and mate selection that logical and straight forward? If it was, why would so many people get it wrong? Why do so many people seem to choose the wrong person or even worse choose the wrong person over and over again? Clearly it is more complicated than simple free choice.
Dr. Daniel Tomasulo[2]  suggests that we love what’s familiar, in brief, the theory of love might be expressed by saying: “we are drawn to what is familiar rather than what is unfamiliar”. He goes on to explain that we learn how to love and who to love from our family, good, bad or indifferent, relationships with parents and siblings teach us what to look for when we go out into the world. In fact, our unconscious acts like a GPS unit to see a “familiar” love that we’ve had in our family.
Who we love is likely to be more similar emotionally to what we’ve been used to – the people in our family. We may look for someone different, and may in fact be devoted to finding someone who appears to be different than what we have known in our family, but time and time again research shows and people confirm that there is a pattern to who and how we love. If you came from a loving, caring, generous and supportive family, this is incredibly good news. But, if you are like most of us, your family may have had some degree of ... let’s say... dysfunction, then you will (unfortunately) be drawn that.
To demonstrate his theory Dr. Tomasulo provides the following example; suppose you were asked to write your signature on a piece of paper, then you were asked to write it on a blackboard, and then sign your name in the snow with a stick. Your signature will be identifiable and uniquely yours. But when, where and how did you learn to do this? You could write it with your elbow, your nose or your foot and pretty much you’d get your unique signature. In much the same way we have patterns inside of us that guide our actions. We may not recall how we learned them, but we are drawn to recreate them in a familiar pattern[3]. 
Going back to Gregory Pacana, he adds that in life we don't get the person that we want, we get the person that we are. So "what are" children who grow up with loving supportive parents? They are people who love themselves and think highly of themselves. They are also people who feel that they deserve to be treated in a very special way. And "what are" children who grow up with unsupportive indifferent parents? More often than not they are people who often do not believe that they are entitled to be treated like they are special or deserving. We've been subconsciously programmed from childhood to believe certain things about ourselves? It doesn't matter if these things are true or untrue; truth has nothing to do with it. That's one of the pitfalls of childhood, we don't have the ability to question or challenge the things we are told and taught to believe, we simply accept them to be true and move forward. There is tape recorder which resides in our subconscious child minds. It is running and recording all the time. It doesn't block out the bad and it doesn't have the ability to tell truth from lies; it records everything. And that tape gets played back over and over in our minds when we become adults. What we must do is reject the negative feelings and voices that are inside of us and start from scratch. That "tape recorder" that plays in our minds? Well quite often it plays false information and lies and those lies need to be challenged and erased. Our inner tape recording needs to be examined and edited and those negative messages need to be replaced with positive messages.

So what am I going to do? Well, the next time I go Hoover shopping, I’m going to get the best Hoover there is.

[2] Dr. Daniel J. Tomasula, Ph.D., TEP, MFA is a psychologist, psychodrama trainer and a writer on faculty at New Jersey City University and formerly a visiting faculty member on fellowship at Princeton University.