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Pain and hope
Simin Behbahani's poetry reading in Toronto

By Sepideh
October 16, 2002
The Iranian

Earlier this month, Toronto's Iranian community was fortunate to host a woman whose strong words have given poetry a divine meaning. Simin Behbahani gave a lecture and read a series of her poetry to a group of enthusiastic fans. She also presented her latest book "Yeki masalan in keh...".

Welcomed by Reza Baraheni, the president of PEN Canada, Behbahani at the age of 75 appeared on the stage with her warm gracious smile, and began telling the tales of pain, torture, inequality, courage and strength with her mesmerizing voice.

Through her poems, stories and forthright sense of humor, Behbahani connected with her audience as she revealed the realism of present-day Iran. Most of the poems she read were from her latest collections and each carried with it, a bitter remembrance of injustice.

Through her solid, clear, defined, and deep language, she illustrated the economic, social, and political predicaments that Iranians face today. She continuously challenged the traditional roles and marginality that women tackle, and she wrangled with the patriarchal authorities that have tried to silence her.

She read a touching poem that reflected on last year's serial killer in Mashhad, whose victims were prostitutes, and she incessantly objected to the status of women in Iran. She sighed and delivered poems that reflected the captivity of the youth and university students, and the walls surrounding them.

She sighed and recalled the killings of fellow writers and many scholars. When a member in the audience asked about the activities of writers in Iran, she said that although the number of poets and writers have trippled in recent years, they still face many dilemmas and have very limited chances of being active. And of course there are so many whose sufferings are never expressed. Behbahani also stated that with the price of books continuously rising, not too many people could afford to read, considering their low income levels.

With all that, Behbahani has made it through as a woman in a male-dominated environment. But despite what she continues to face in a prison called "home", I was amazed to see the optimism in her words. She ended almost every distressing poem with a simple, yet hopeful line that said "it will get better".

The evening was magnificent, at times joyful, filled with laughter. At times it was eartbreaking, filled with silence. But no doubt, it was a precious chance to meet a woman who is not just a warrior but also a survivor. Behbanai not only inspired me as an Iranian woman, but she reminded me of where I come from and what I can be.

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