Crimes of poetry
What happened to beauty? Creativity? Hidden meanings and sublime
By Hamed Vahidi
January 11, 2002
Last year, I listened to a talk given by Dr. Farhang Jahanpour on the
life, poetry and the station of Hafez, Iran's greatest and most respected
poet. One of the interesting things he mentioned in his talk was that language
is not static, but rather dynamic. Centuries pass and we get new ideas and
poets write new poems with new styles. Therefore, one should not argue that
one style of poetry is absolutely superior to the other.
I agree with Dr. Jahanpour. But the existence of such a fact should not
make us blind to the lack of fundamental elements of creativity that exist
in "some", not all, modern poems. I published a letter, ["A good poem
resembles a melody"], politely asking how could Ms. Farjami's
Noele Marhoom"] fit into the category of "poetry"?
Then, and pay close attention, I PURPOSELY included a BAD poem in the
letter in order to show what a bad poem looks like and how easy it is to
write one (remember, I called it politically correct). I also wrote another
version of the same poem, this time more classical, in order to show that
even a bad poem could be written in a more creative way. I never intended
to degrade women and my other intention was to show, in the framework of
the poem, how some men perceive the other gender.
Lo and behold. I received a deluge of emails from different readers accusing
me of degrading women; how I was not a good poet; what a BS my poem was
(as if I intended it to be a real poem) and that "you must be referring
to subservient and idiots you have been with which in that case is a reflection
of your confidence in who you are. "Before I get to the meat of the
issue, let me just say that I am not a novice in the art of poetry. Here
are my two poems, "Grave",
And this letter was sent to me from one of the readers regarding my "Beloved"
I don't usually remark to things that I read online, or elsewhere for
that matter. I'd like to say how incredible this poem is, although that
word does not do it justice. It comes at a time where I can relate, and
I hope to read more of such writings in the future.
So I thought I was entitled to my own opinion by criticizing Ms. Farjami's
poem. Unfortunately, the kind of comments these readers sent me in their
outbursts of artistic and intellectual genius showed their own lack of creativity
and personal security. My main purpose was never to make a real distinction
between classical and modern poetry, but rather to convey to readers the
basic, fundamental elements that must exist in any kind of poem, whether
classical or modern. For example, take this Poem by John Updike called "Late
January" from his book Collected poems 1953 - 1993:
The elms' silhouettes
leafless but furred
with the promise of leaves,
dull red in a sky dull yellow
with the threat of snow.
That blur, verging on growth:
Time's sharp edge is slitting
The above poem is indeed modern, but it is also saturated with meaning
and beauty; it appeals to the human spirit and yes it resembles a sweet
melody - unless you are funny enough to equate melody with "Baba Karam".
In that same book, John Updike, writes: "[t]he idea of verse, of poetry,
has always during forty years spent working primarily in prose, stood at
my elbow, as a standing invitation to the highest kind of verbal exercise...".
I agree with him, but in my opinion, this highest kind of verbal exercise
not only manifests itself in the style and meaning of poetry, but also in
the kind of subjects you choose; how sublime the poetry is; the way it uplifts
the spirit and exposes hypocrisy; how it touches the soul and in what way
it can distinguish itself from prose. Part of a letter I received from a
A contemporary poet, expresses him/herself through currently existing
elements, such as "mobile phones", "subways", "coffee
shops", "underground clubs", "fast foods", "addictions",
"prostitution", "neon lights" or even "one-night
stands!". I am sorry to disappoint you my friend, but a modern poet
has RESPONSIBILITY to speak about cockroaches and hamburgers and the fact
that some hamburgers are made with ground cockroach eyeballs!... The fact
that you do not observe poetry in "Papa
Noele Marhoom" attests to your overwhelming alienation with
the arena of contemporary literature in general.
First of all, the fact that some hamburgers are made with ground cockroach
eyeballs can be expressed in a more useful manner by some kind of Food Inspection
Agency. Second of all, insects, meat products, prostitutes and soups existed
in the time of Shakespear, Shelley, Molavi, Goethe, Gibran, Hafez and Bahar
and these men were intelligent enough to choose these subjects IF THEY THOUGHT
SUCH SUBJECTS WERE WORTHY OF THEIR POETRY.
But the meat of my argument is something else. These men saw things
that others did not or they simply opened peoples' eyes to the beauty of
the human spirit. They were more than visionaries; they resembled a lighthouse
that illuminates a dark sea and guides ships. Instead of choosing to write
about kabob and rice, mice and long ears of a white donkey, they chose to
write about what is good and what is evil; what hurts and what is beautiful;
what is hypocrisy and what is honesty and, oh yes, some of them exposed
the cunning leaders and evil politics of their times in their poems.
I agree that some contemporary poems are simply superb, to say the least,
but they are rare. Many contemporary poets, especially Iranian poets, write
about what is obvious, ordinary or matter-of-fact. What happened to excitement
and beauty? Creativity? Hidden meanings and sublime language? Suffering
and detachments? I hope, in the future, the readers of iranian.com pay more
attention to details and do not jump into conclusions with their not-so-profound
and sometimes rude comments. Believe me, you just humiliate yourself or