Book Review: Forugh Farrokhzad, Poet of Modern Iran


Book Review: Forugh Farrokhzad, Poet of Modern Iran
by bparhami

Brookshaw, Dominic P. and Nasrin Rahimieh (eds.), Forugh Farrokhzad, Poet of Modern Iran: Iconic Woman and Feminine Pioneer of New Persian Poetry, I. B. Tauris & Co., 2010.

[Note: I have used the spelling "Forugh," instead of the more common "Forough," for consistency with the usage in the book under review.]

Forugh Farrokhzad (1935-1967) achieved great fame after her untimely death (in an auto accident) at age 32. Her esteemed place in the Iranian literary and visual-arts circles is in equal parts due to her beautiful and sensual poems (and some experimentation with film) and her rebellion against traditions that disempowered Iranian women. The latter aspect of Farrokhzad's role explains why she achieved even greater fame after the oppression of women became institutionalized under Iran's Islamic regime.

This book, composed of a 6-page introduction by the editors and 13 chapters, written by various authors, is based on presentations given at the Iran Heritage Foundation's July 2008 conference to mark the 40th anniversary of Farrokhzad's death. Here is a list of the 13 chapters (FF stands for Forugh Farrokhzad):

1. On the Sins of FF, by Homa Katouzian [pp. 7-18]
2. Men and Women Together: Love, Marriage and Gender in FF's Asir, by Marta Simidchieva [pp. 19-33]
3. Places of Confinement, Liberation, and Decay: The Home and the Garden in the Poetry of FF, by Dominic P. Brookshaw [pp. 35-52]
4. FF's Romance with Her Muse, by Rivanne Sandler [pp. 53-67]
5. Bewildered Mirror: Mirror, Self and World in the Poems of FF, by Leila Rahimi Bahmani [pp. 69-82]
6. Personal Rebellion and Social Revolt in the Works of FF: Challenging the Assumptions, by Kamran Talattof [pp. 83-99]
7. Garden in Motion: The Aesthetic of the Space Between, by Michael Beard [pp. 101-107]
8. FF's Apocalyptic Visions, by Sirous Shamisa [pp. 109-124]
9. Capturing the Abject of the Nation in The House is Black [pp. 125-136]
10. The House is Black: A Timeless Visual Essay, by Maryam Ghorbankarimi [pp. 137-148]
11. FF as Translator of Modern German Poetry: Observations about the Anthology Marg-e Man Ruzi, by Nima Mina [pp. 149-164]
12. Alien Rebirths of 'Another Birth,' by M. R. Ghanoonparvar [pp. 165-178]
13. Rewriting Forugh: Writers, Intellectuals, Artists and Farrokhzad's Legacy in the Iranian Diaspora, by Persis M. Karim [pp. 179-194]

The short introductory chapter is full of insights about Farokhzad's life and travails. We learn, for example, that FF "was a lonely woman, an intriguingly unyielding rebel; an adventuress of both body and mind; an iconoclast who asked (and sometimes answered) the wrong questions. Relentlessly, she trespassed boundaries and explored new domains. Zestfully, she demanded of life the gratification of her desires—intellectual, emotional, and sensual—troubling herself less and less about so-called moral proprieties" [p. 1]. She always shied away from talking about her life, once dismissing the question by saying that when and where she was born, which school she attended, and how she fell in love or got married are not as important as her work. Farrokhzad was sincere and daring in expressing her feelings. "Her poetry reveals the problems of a modern Iranian woman with all her conflicts, painful oscillations, and contradictions" [p. 4].

Chapter 1 exposes more of FF's personal attributes. A letter she wrote from Munich to her father in Tehran is quite revealing: "My greatest pain is that you never got to know me and never wanted to know me. I remember when I used to read philosophical books at home ... You would judge me by saying that I was a stupid girl whose mind had been poisoned by reading journals. I would then fall into pieces inside myself, tears coming to my eyes for being so much a stranger at home ... Why did you lack respect for me, and why did you make me keep away from home ..." [pp. 11-12]. She was also quite adept in foreseeing social conflicts outside those related to women's rights. We learn from Chapter 8, for example, that she "foresaw the contradictions and the lack of harmoniousness between the traditional segment of society (which was its largest component), and a superficially modernized stratum" [p. 110].

Needless to say that FF's writings and attitude toward religion and its associated rules and rituals did not endear her to the clergy. She wrote the famous poem "Paasokh" ("Response") in which she accuses them of duplicity and superficial piety. Another example is cited and analyzed in Chapter 8: "The prophets brought with them / into our century their message of ruin / These continual explosions / These poisoned clouds / Are they the echoes of holy verses? / O friend, o brother, o relative / When you reach the moon / Write down the date the flowers were massacred" [pp. 119-120].

Chapters 9 and 10 focus on FF's documentary film "The House is Black," commissioned by the Society for Aiding Lepers, which shows daily life in a leper colony in northwestern Iran. About this film, Hamid Dabashi is quoted as saying: "In lepers and their predicament, Farrokhzad saw her own projected image: ashamed of yet attached to a guilt falsely carried. In the face of the lepers, Farrokhzad saw her own face. ... The leper was Farrokhzad's vilified public persona, to which she now lent her defiant poetic vision" [p. 128].

The only photos in the book appear in Chapter 11 [on pp. 158-159]: one shows FF in Munich with her older brother, Amir Mas'ud, and the other is a group picture that includes a number of students and graduates of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat, as well as some exiled members of Iran's Tudeh Party. This chapter also includes some samples of Farrokhzad's handwriting.

Several chapters include sample segments of FF's poems in Persian with English translation. Others only use English translations to discuss her work. More samples of Farrokhzad's poetry would have been welcome, as would consistent inclusion of the original Persian versions of her poem alongside English translations.

Overall, this book provides valuable insight into the life and works of an iconic Iranian poet to the English-speaking world and people of Iranian origins alike. The editors are well-qualified for undertaking this project: Brookshaw is Lecturer in Persian Studies and Iranian Literature at the University of Manchester, and Rahimieh is Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine.

Many of FF's poems can be found on this Web site.


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