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"Poetry" vs. "trash"

By Korosh Khalili
January 14, 2002
The Iranian

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 us).

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 "A 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 ("Crimes of poetry") and now we eagerly wait to learn if the Poet also dislikes the Lambada.

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.

Click Here to Pay Learn More Amazon Honor SystemHe 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 great man.

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 me yet.

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By Korosh Khalili

Sipping chai at Starbucks

Deev ham deevaaye oon zamoon
"Lord of the Rings" so so


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