Poems from Iran and its Exiles
Edited by Sholeh Wolpé
Michigan State University Press (2012)
The poems selected for this collection represent the young, the old, and the ancient. They are written by poets who call or have called Iran home, many of whom have become part of a diverse and thriving diaspora.
From the Introduction
In a country like Iran, literature, and particularly poetry, is like rain—it cannot be arrested. Vast umbrellas of censorship can be raised, people can be forced underground and into dungeons, but the water will eventually seep in, cleanse, nourish, and create a new landscape. This is true about many other countries and cultures. Indeed the first who recognize literature’s power are the tyrants themselves. From Moscow to Beijing to Tehran, they fear the poets, jail them, torture them, and send them into exile, but they cannot silence their words.
The poems I have selected for this anthology represent the young, the old and the ancient. Although this anthology is divided into six sections, each a complete nugget, I suggest you read this collection from front to back because each poem is a musical note carefully sequenced so that by the time you finish the last poem you can hear the powerful symphony of the poets’ voices.
I have included a good number of poems written in the diaspora. Historically, writing in exile has not been a part of the collective Iranian experience. However, what makes the Iranian exile poems interesting is that they are not homogeneous. One can observe a vast landscape of expressions and an arch of evolution in style and content that has richly developed over the course of the past thirty years. This is partly due to the extent of the dispersion of the poets throughout the world, a factor that has contributed to the color and dimension of the tapestry of Iranian poetry over all.
Despite the Islamic Republic’s use of any and all available methods to quell dissent— including propaganda poems, novels and films— in a country that even the uneducated bricklayers recite poems by heart, the voice of the poets cannot be silenced. Like rain it will seep into every crevice and feed the seedlings. In Iran’s Green Revolution we see signs of saplings that have broken through pavements and are growing fast in the streets and squares. Anthologies such as this empower these saplings. This power does not just come from their fellow Iranians, rather it comes from all human beings in every corner of the world; it comes from readers like you who allow in your lives the transformative power of literature. — Sholeh Wolpé
Sample Poem from The Forbidden
Let’s not muddy the water:
Down yonder, a pigeon drinks.
In a far away thicket, a finch bathes.
In a village somewhere, a jug is filled.
Let’s not muddy the water:
perhaps it flows towards a poplar
to wash away the sorrow from a heart,
or to the foot of a dervish who dips in his bread.
A beautiful woman has come to the stream’s edge.
Her reflection repeats her beauty.
Let’s not muddy the water.
How lucent the stream!
How sweet the water!
How the folks up yonder savor!
May their springs surge.
May their cows give abundant milk.
Though I’ve never been
to that village, I know
God’s footsteps grace its fields.
The moon there spreads her light
on their talk, and no doubt
their clay walls are low.
The people of that village know
what poppies are.
No doubt there, blue is blue,
and when a flower blooms
the whole village is aware.
What a township!
May its streets overflow with song!
Those on the stream’s edge understand the water.
They have not muddied it.
Let us too not muddy the water.
(Translated by Sholeh Wolpé)