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Friday, March 19, 2010

It's Not All Academic in Tehran

Among the many debates the occur frequently around poetry, there is the well worn question of what can poetry do… what is it good for anyway? Academics are not the only ones with a view in this question. Evidently Iranian authorities have one too and apparently are fearful of the power of the poetic word. Last week they stopped Simin Behbahani, an 82 year old woman who is nearly blind, from boarding a flight to Paris. Behbahani, is a poet, and known to some as the Lioness of Iran. She was taken away from the airport, interrogated throughout the night, then sent home without her passport.

Behbahani has written poetry in Iran for decades…through the reign of Iran’s Shah, during the Islamic Revolution, and the reign of the ayatollahs. She has been twice nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature. She’s been outspoken for women’s rights. It has not however been easy for her to publish work in the past few years. The government has become more repressive in years towards writers in general. Her last work of poetry published required the removal of 40 poems or fragments thereof once the government censors finished with it.

After the disputed presidential election last summer and hundreds of thousands hit the streets in protest, prompting government crackdown and violence, Behbahani wrote a poem, “Stop Throwing My Country to the Wind.” People who have followed her for many years now have considered her as untouchable. There will be a lot of eyes on Tehran watching how she is treated from here on.


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