A Reading of Persian Poetry and Literature

“Of what use will be a dish of roses to thee? Take a leaf from my rose-garden. A flower endures but five or six days But this rose-garden is always delightful.”

On Monday, April 9th, the Persian Cultural Center and San Diego Public Library in Downtown organized a reading of Persian literature and poetry. The event was part of One Book, One San Diego, celebrating Zohre Ghahremani’s works, most particularly her first English novel, “Sky of Red Poppies.”  The event was well received.
Ms. Ghahremani moderated a discussion between Dr. Sonya Quintanilla, Dr. Moezzi and myself. Dr. Quintanilla examined the connection between Persian art and poetry, most particularly in the works of Nezami. She compared the female characters of Leyli [and Majnun] and [Khosrow and] Shirin in how they negotiate their rights in patriarchal societies. Shirin, much more strong and assertive than  Leyli, is also the protagonist of Ms. Ghahremani’s novel. Highlighting the historical and literary significance of Shirin’s personality, Ms. Ghahremani said, many believed the Iranian Revolution was after turning our Shirins into Leylis.

Dr. Moezzi recited a poem and a story by Rumi, and attributed his popularity in the U.S to his psychoanalytic and therapeutic effect of his worldview. Tracing  Iran’s strong literary tradition to modern times, I recited two ghazals by Simin Behbahani, and highlighted her role in shaping ghazal-e no (the new ghazal), having appropriated a space not only for female sentiments and emotions reciting about men (historically men have recited about other men or women) but also for a variety of socio-political concepts and subjects.  Behabahani remarkably recasts a classical form deemed “dead” by many of her modernist colleagues (an argument made by Prof. Farzaneh Milani)  into a popular form of expression potent enough not only to shed light on the complexities of present day Iran but also to make dialogue with its past.  In my opinion, Behbahani’s accomplishments,  in the lieu of harassment and incarceration, showcases Iran’s civil capacities to  bring about social and political change.

I sincerely hope to hear Iran’s name used in association with its literary and cultural history, more so than see its representation through the limited vocabulary and fixation of the Western media with its nuclear ambitions. I believe it is not necessarily the responsibility of the media to offer a nuanced narrative of Iran–or for that matter of any other country or issue. This is not to excuse their at times lousy and irresponsible journalism which fuels fear among the American public and strengthens the warmongering rhetoric of some politicians in DC; this is just to highlight the responsibility of ordinary citizens–us–in rejecting simplified, biased and dichotomous narratives and pursue a much more nuanced image through arts and literature.

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