"Poetry" vs. "trash"
By Korosh Khalili
January 14, 2002
In the past week, readers of The Iranian have been witness to
a genuine battle of Nazm versus Verse, if I may use some poetic license
(and I use the latter term very loosely so as not to upset the poets amongst
Now some consider it strength of this forum that works of significantly
varying quality get to be printed side by side. I myself have been a beneficiary
of this democratic editorial policy and have had a few of my off-the-cuff
(a.k.a bandeh tonbooni) works posted here.
Often when a piece in The Iranian attracts posted commentary,
the latter addresses the contents of the former. But a recent letter stepped
beyond this unwritten protocol, and questioned the style, contents, and
quality of a poem, thereby attacking the very essence of the Poet (see and
good poem resembles a melody").
The undiplomatic attacker used "a number of other people" as
his witnesses, threw in a few famous names (like Noghl and Nabaat) for good
measure, and well... indicted our Poet and modern poetry with it.
The Poet took exception to the letter with a very interesting response,
revealing that she appreciated neither the attacker, nor suggestive Persian
dances! (see "Shaaeri
keh Baabaa Karam nemeeraqsad" and "Rigid
view on literature").
This led to an escalation where the indictment was upgraded to crime
of poetry") and now we eagerly wait to learn if the Poet also dislikes
As exciting and enlightening as this exchange has been (or not), it is
certainly nothing new. Artists have always been a smug bunch, and have attacked
each other with genuine ferocity.
In the recent Persian literary history, no one has been more criticized
for his works than Nima, the original pole-bearer of modern poetry. Having
his works criticized at many a published forum was not enough.
He was publicly humiliated by Mehdi Hamidi who, in a poem recited
in the presence of dozens of Persian and Russian writers, described Nima's
works as full of "fear, aberrancy, and idiocy".
But poets in the olden days gave each other grief as well. Khayyam did
not think highly of Sufism, nor some sufi poets whom, we are led to believe,
he thought of as charlatans (they thought of him as blasphemous).
And while the Indian Style (sabke hendi) of poetry was very popular
for a few hundred years, much of what was written (and there was a lot!)
has been deemed genuine garbage by later poets. In a famous verse, Bahar
calls only 10,000 of the nine million verses in this style "useful".
This reminds me of an anecdote about the recently departed great poet
Mehdi Akhavan Saless, which was told to me by an eyewitness. In a poetry
forum and among friends, Mr. Akhavan was approached by a young man who expressed
very heart-felt and sincere admiration for the artist. The youth, a teacher
in his early thirties, was quite excited to be in the presence of such a
Through the course of the evening, and with characteristic expressed
humility, he revealed that he too has written a few unworthy bits of poetry
one of which he recited with little encouragement. It was an amateurish
piece that was received with polite encouragement by all present, except
for the quiet Mr. Akhavan. The youth awaited his idol's response.
Akhavan looked up and said, very severely, what he really thought of
the poem, and said that he should stick to his day job (I can't remember
the exact words). The youth, visibly heartbroken and deflated, immediately
left the forum.
When asked about his surprisingly harsh response, Akhavan retorted that
somebody should have set the boy straight and prevented him from wasting
his time in an endeavor which can have no benefit for him or society. After
all, a mediocre teacher is far more useful than a mediocre poet. Who says
art should be democratic?
I am thankful artists like Mr. Akhavan Saless have not caught up with