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Poetic Trends and Movements In Post-Revolutionary Iran

Session IX-14, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, December 3 at 3:00 pm

Panel Description
Over the last four decades, Iran’s literary scene has been a platform for lively and groundbreaking debates about the craft of poetry and poetic imagination. Up to the end of the 1970s, authoritative voices such as those of Ahmad Shamlou, Mehdi Akhavan Sales, and Forugh Farrokhzad, to name a few, shook and shaped the public readership. The popularity and influence of poetry in shaping the political discourse peaked during the Ten Nights of Poetry Readings by prominent Iranian poets at the Goethe Institute of Tehran shortly before the revolution. It was later considered by historians of modern Iran as one of the main events that triggered the revolution. Shortly after the revolution, important questions were raised by literary critics who witnessed a downfall in the quality of poetic production. Some referred to changes in cultural preferences and the policies of the newly established government as a cause for the overall aesthetic impoverishment of literary production, while others disputed this argument by offering reasons for and examples of the aesthetic progress and dynamic presence of poetry in public life, regardless of the political transformations. In the meantime, new, distinct voices emerged in the poetry scene of the 1980s, 90s, and 2000s, with alternative forms and original modes of writing that mirrored the everyday interactions of a rapidly changing society and world literature at once. New poetic trends such as the 1990s “language poetry”, new experiences in the form of Ghazal, or “simple poetry” emerged, each with its own distinct fashion in characterizing radical shifts in the use of language and poetic imagination. Most of the existing sources of contemporary Persian literary historiography have explored this topic only up to the wake of the revolution. These two panels aim to shed light on the overlooked poets and debates on and aesthetic features of the newly-emerged poetic trends in the post-revolutionary period. They will mark the first steps of a larger project which aims to compile a comprehensive collection of essays on the place and role of poetry during this period.
  • This paper will focus on a poetic trend that emerged outside Iran in the aftermath of the 1979 Revolution. It focus on a corpus of poetry produced by a group of exiled Iranian poets who actively took part in the 1978-79 revolution, then turned against it and subsequently left the country as a result of persecution, prosecution, or both. Through a rigorous examination of archival materials, the paper shares new insights on ways in which the experience of banishment from the homeland in the wake of political authoritarianism initiated poignant transregional and transnational literary conversations in the literary output of the exiled Iranian literati of the 1980s and played a transformative role in expanding the poetic imagination and introducing new qualities to the works of a number of leading exiled poets the 1980s.
  • Investigating the history of classical Persian poetry one may perceive that Persian poetry originally retains prominent performative features. The story of Rudaki (860-941) playing an instrument and singing his poem Buy-e juy-e muliyan for his patron, which is narrated in Chahar Maqaleh, proves the association of classical poetry with music and performance even at its very first steps. In the modern era, the inclination of modernists to expand the realm of poetry through utilizing the dramatic features of performance arts has led them to the creation of performative poems. Nima Yushij (1897-1960), the founder of modern Persian poetry, refers to his groundbreaking work Afsaneh as a drama rather than poetry. Nevertheless, the concept of Persian performative poetry as a poetic form written for performance rather than print distribution has always been considered an imitation of Western avant-garde poetic movements during the 1970s and the 1980s. Therefore, it has always been ignored or even suppressed by mainstream literary critics and academics, as it could not meet the literary standards set by the men of letters. Thus, although one can identify a variety of styles and genres of performance poetry being practiced in Persian, to this time, they have not been classified as a trend or movement. This paper contains a very short narrative of the early experimentations for expanding the genre of poetry through integration with performing arts in Persian literature. This introductory section provides a brief overview of performance-oriented experimental poetry from the early nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. The major part of the paper will examine and classify the main attempts of Persian poets to produce performative pieces, including a variety of performance and multimedia poetry from the 1990s to the present. In addition to the aesthetic analysis of these works, I will try to study the politics of mainstream literary criticism as well as state cultural institutions and organizations encountering these avant-garde experiments in the past three decades.
  • In the course of the twelve years that have followed Bizhan Elahi’s death in 2010 his poetry and she’re-e digar (Other Poetry), the highbrow modern movement he led, have gained in unprecedented and unnatural popularity amongst different groups of Iranian social media users. Learned or unlearned, the majority of those users are on Instagram –– the only social medium that has escaped the regime’s security measures unscathed. A profusion of the poet’s pictures and extracts from his poetry have been posted by Iranian users some of whom may not have much familiarity with modern Persian literature. It has not been merely the poetry of Elahi that has found favour with Iranian users. Elahi’s disciples and close writer friends, too, have been iconised to an extent that some of their devotees on social media even imitate their behaviour and appearance. Elite as it is, Elahi’s poetry, in particular, has waxed so fashionable on Instagram that people even caption irrelevant pictures of their gatherings or goods they sell online with it. This unusual popularity, however, is not a unique phenomenon in the history of art and literature. In this paper, the proclivity of the populace and the elite for Other Poetry is contextualised within narratives that bear testimony to the popularity of ‘the chic’ in different periods and the hypocrisy that ensues from it. Ultimately, Coffee Reading 1, one of Elahi’s little-known unsophisticated short poems, is foregrounded to challenge the audience with a question: if the piece bore a condemned lowbrow name as its author, would it still attract partisan support from Other Poetry fanatics? Keywords: Bizhan Elahi; She’r-e digar (Other Poetry); Social media; Modern poetry; the chic; Hipocrisy