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Crimes of poetry
What happened to beauty? Creativity? Hidden meanings and sublime language?

By Hamed Vahidi
January 11, 2002
The Iranian

Last year, I listened to a talk given by Dr. Farhang Jahanpour on the life, poetry and the station of Hafez, Iran's greatest and most respected poet. One of the interesting things he mentioned in his talk was that language is not static, but rather dynamic. Centuries pass and we get new ideas and poets write new poems with new styles. Therefore, one should not argue that one style of poetry is absolutely superior to the other.

I agree with Dr. Jahanpour. But the existence of such a fact should not make us blind to the lack of fundamental elements of creativity that exist in "some", not all, modern poems. I published a letter, ["A good poem resembles a melody"], politely asking how could Ms. Farjami's poem, ["Papa Noele Marhoom"] fit into the category of "poetry"?

Then, and pay close attention, I PURPOSELY included a BAD poem in the letter in order to show what a bad poem looks like and how easy it is to write one (remember, I called it politically correct). I also wrote another version of the same poem, this time more classical, in order to show that even a bad poem could be written in a more creative way. I never intended to degrade women and my other intention was to show, in the framework of the poem, how some men perceive the other gender.

Lo and behold. I received a deluge of emails from different readers accusing me of degrading women; how I was not a good poet; what a BS my poem was (as if I intended it to be a real poem) and that "you must be referring to subservient and idiots you have been with which in that case is a reflection of your confidence in who you are. "Before I get to the meat of the issue, let me just say that I am not a novice in the art of poetry. Here are my two poems, "Grave", "Beloved".

And this letter was sent to me from one of the readers regarding my "Beloved" poem:

I don't usually remark to things that I read online, or elsewhere for that matter. I'd like to say how incredible this poem is, although that word does not do it justice. It comes at a time where I can relate, and I hope to read more of such writings in the future.

So I thought I was entitled to my own opinion by criticizing Ms. Farjami's poem. Unfortunately, the kind of comments these readers sent me in their outbursts of artistic and intellectual genius showed their own lack of creativity and personal security. My main purpose was never to make a real distinction between classical and modern poetry, but rather to convey to readers the basic, fundamental elements that must exist in any kind of poem, whether classical or modern. For example, take this Poem by John Updike called "Late January" from his book Collected poems 1953 - 1993:

The elms' silhouettes

again relent,

leafless but furred


with the promise of leaves,

dull red in a sky dull yellow

with the threat of snow.


That blur, verging on growth:

Time's sharp edge is slitting

another envelope.

The above poem is indeed modern, but it is also saturated with meaning and beauty; it appeals to the human spirit and yes it resembles a sweet melody - unless you are funny enough to equate melody with "Baba Karam". In that same book, John Updike, writes: "[t]he idea of verse, of poetry, has always during forty years spent working primarily in prose, stood at my elbow, as a standing invitation to the highest kind of verbal exercise...".

I agree with him, but in my opinion, this highest kind of verbal exercise not only manifests itself in the style and meaning of poetry, but also in the kind of subjects you choose; how sublime the poetry is; the way it uplifts the spirit and exposes hypocrisy; how it touches the soul and in what way it can distinguish itself from prose. Part of a letter I received from a reader was:

A contemporary poet, expresses him/herself through currently existing elements, such as "mobile phones", "subways", "coffee shops", "underground clubs", "fast foods", "addictions", "prostitution", "neon lights" or even "one-night stands!". I am sorry to disappoint you my friend, but a modern poet has RESPONSIBILITY to speak about cockroaches and hamburgers and the fact that some hamburgers are made with ground cockroach eyeballs!... The fact that you do not observe poetry in "Papa Noele Marhoom" attests to your overwhelming alienation with the arena of contemporary literature in general.

First of all, the fact that some hamburgers are made with ground cockroach eyeballs can be expressed in a more useful manner by some kind of Food Inspection Agency. Second of all, insects, meat products, prostitutes and soups existed in the time of Shakespear, Shelley, Molavi, Goethe, Gibran, Hafez and Bahar and these men were intelligent enough to choose these subjects IF THEY THOUGHT SUCH SUBJECTS WERE WORTHY OF THEIR POETRY.

Click Here to Pay Learn More Amazon Honor SystemBut the meat of my argument is something else. These men saw things that others did not or they simply opened peoples' eyes to the beauty of the human spirit. They were more than visionaries; they resembled a lighthouse that illuminates a dark sea and guides ships. Instead of choosing to write about kabob and rice, mice and long ears of a white donkey, they chose to write about what is good and what is evil; what hurts and what is beautiful; what is hypocrisy and what is honesty and, oh yes, some of them exposed the cunning leaders and evil politics of their times in their poems.

I agree that some contemporary poems are simply superb, to say the least, but they are rare. Many contemporary poets, especially Iranian poets, write about what is obvious, ordinary or matter-of-fact. What happened to excitement and beauty? Creativity? Hidden meanings and sublime language? Suffering and detachments? I hope, in the future, the readers of pay more attention to details and do not jump into conclusions with their not-so-profound and sometimes rude comments. Believe me, you just humiliate yourself or anyone else.

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By Hamed Vahidi

Last refuge
A discourse on humanism

Somewhere inbetween
Ancient and modern man




Shaaeri keh Baabaa Karam nemeeraqsad
So what if others don't understand your poems?
By Leila Farjami

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