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Glossing over
Inacuracies about Forough Farrokhzad

Mazdak Khajehpour
February 16, 2007

It was with great pleasure that I noticed that there was an article about Forough Farrokhzad in the Iranian. Forough is one of my favorite poets, and I always avidly read any article about her. However Ms. Darznik’s article "Iran’s great poet of exile" was a disappointment. I am a scientist by training, and have no pretension to being anything but an enthusiastic amateur in literature. However, to my untrained eye, her article exhibited a great deal of scholarly inaccuracy and sloppiness.

In her first paragraph, Ms. Darznik attests “... her [Forough] poetry broke totally new ground with its modern form and equally modern sensibility”. This is not totally accurate, while Forough’s poetry is undoubtedly “totally modern in sensibility”, its form is not particularly “groundbreaking” especially in comparison with poets like Nima, Shamlou and Akhavan-Saless. In fact, in an interview (taped by kanoon parvaresh fekree koodakaan va nojavanaan) she contrasts her intimate style with the formal innovations done by these contemporaries.

In the fourth paragraph, I take issue with Ms. Darznik referring to Reza Shah and Mohammad Reza Shah as “the Emperor”. Surely, it is scholarly inaccurate to refer to post-nineteenth century Iran as an “Empire”, especially given the degree of foreign intervention in Iran. In addition, using this word brings back memories of the worst aspects of pre-revolutionary Iran; i.e. the horrific sycophancy of the courtiers coupled to the diseased megalomania of the last Shah of Iran. The “Emperor” would by no means approve of many poetic metaphors of Forough; as was exhibited by his total lack of concern over her death (and the death of other eminent Persian scholars and intellectuals such as Dehkhoda). The Pahlavi court was singularly lacking in culture, especially any Persian culture, until Farah decided to make some cosmetic adjustments.

Subsequently, Ms. Darznik persists in viewing pre-revolutionary Iran through rose colored glasses and states, “At Colonel Farrokhzad’s direction, Forough and her two sisters attended the new coeducational schools that had replaced religiously based instruction in Iran and was producing the first generation of Iranian women to enjoy the privilege of a modern public education”. This totally inaccurate, Forough was an alumnus of Kamal-ol-molk technical school (a vocational school), which was not co-ed. Her field of study was painting and dressmaking.

In fact, prior to the late 1960’s and 1970’s there were very few co-educational schools in Iran, and all co-ed schools were mostly run by foreigners. Girls and boys attended separate schools and Forough was no exception. On a historical level, I would like to point out that the modernization of education in Iran started earlier than Forough. By the time Forough started high school, a generation of females had already graduated high school. Although it must be acknowledged, that until the 1960’s the bulk of young Iranians (male or female) only continued secondary education to the ninth grade.

Speaking about Forough’s personality Ms. Darznik continues “... As a young woman Farrokhzad was by all accounts bold in speech, dress, and manner, and her behavior was a frequent source of distress and strife in the household.  While her three brothers would all go on to pursue professional degrees abroad, at age sixteen her own future was unclear. The emperor’s modernization program included education for women, but only up to a point, and with little direction or opportunity for women who wanted to enter professional life.  Farrokhzad left school after tenth grade to study art and clothing design at a technical school. In 1951 she married a cousin ten years her senior, a man of some literary ambition, and nine months later she gave birth to a child”.

Again this statement is inaccurate. By reading the recently published letters that Forough wrote to her fiancé and then husband Parviz Shahpur, an interesting picture emerges. These letters demonstrate that Forough was the driving force behind the courtship. She is no chattel, given away by the parents to the bumpkin cousin. Her parents were against the match. She out-maneuvers, cajoles, manipulates and outwits her parents and her prospective in-laws so that they consent to the marriage. In these letters she doesn’t seem to consider herself a depressed teenager with an “unclear future”; she chooses to be Mrs. Shahpur. At that time, she is no Madam Curie longing for intellectual freedom; the shackles of conventional life in Iran do not bother her anymore than it would bother another lovesick teenager in her position.

Ironically, it is her marriage to Parviz Shapur that enables her to express herself as a poet. Parviz encouraged her initial poetic endeavors. It should also be made clear that Parviz Shahpur was not “a man of some literary ambition”. He was an eminent caricaturist and illustration artist and an important person in Iran’s cultural life in the 1960’s and 70’s; he was a part of an intellectual circle that included Shamlou and the painter Mohasses.

Ms. Darznik states that “Farrokhzad, however, was the first woman in Iranian history to write erotic verse”. That may be true, but I would like to point out that Rabe’e Ghazdari is a classical Persian poet that also expressed an unconventional approach to love. She is known for her love to the Turkish slave Baktash. Although not as explicit, I think that her poetry has similar bold elements.

Your love caused me to be imprisoned again
My effort to keep this love as a secret was in vain
Love is as a sea with the shores you cannot see
And a wise can never swim in such a sea  (Rabe’e)

Finally Ms. Darznik points out that Forugh’s poetry was outlawed during the Islamic revolution. “Her publisher was ordered to stop printing her books, and when he refused, he was jailed and his factory burned to the ground”. This again is inaccurate. The first four folios of Forough’s poems were published by Amir Kabir publisher and the last one was published by Morvarid. Amir Kabir belonged to Mr. Jafari; Jafari was one of the most prominent figures in Persian Publication.

After the revolution, Jafari was imprisoned and Amir Kabir was confiscated. In his memoirs, Jafari explains the processes leading to his imprisonment and to the confiscation (not burning) of Amir Kabir. According to Jafari, the main catalyst of this event was his difficulties with Esmail Raain (the historian of Freemasonry in Iran). Forough and her poetry have no role in those tragic events. As for Morvarid, it still remains a privately owned company producing progressive literature in Iran.

By the late 1980’s Forough was again a publishable author (even Ms. Darznik concedes that). It is true that her poetry is not published in its’ entirety now, but again that has always been the case with such a sensitive and socially conscious poet. After the revolution the sexual parts of Forough’s poetry was censored (for example words like Pestan (breast) was excised); before the revolution the social part of her poems were suspect (for example when she uses the words Bomb and Enfejar (explosion) they are cut out).

Personally I believe that, in addition to being bold, brave, honest, outspoken and sexually frank and explicit, Forough was a deeply socially conscious, person. Ms. Darznik totally glosses over this aspect of the mature Forough. It seems that Ms. Darznik has no respect for this aspect of Forough leading her to totally ignore the last set of Forough’s poems “eemaan beeyaavareed be aaghaaze fasle sard ” ("Have faith in the beginning of the cold season") in her analysis. This is arguably Forough’s finest achievement at her most sensitive and her most socially committed.

Every poet deserves to be commemorated by their best work, and by omitting to do so I believe that Ms. Darznik has done Forough a great disservice. The late poetry of Forough not only attacks the hypocrisy of traditional mores and ideas, but also severely criticizes the materialism and soullessness of the westernization pioneered by the “Emperor”. No wonder it took seven years for the “Emperor’s” censors to allow this set of poems to be published.

The issues that Forough brings up in her best poems are global. One can easily apply “I pity the Garden” not only to the 1960’s of the Shah’s time or to post revolutionary Iran, but to contemporary life in the United States. Forough’s sister is just as much a suburban wife in Tehran, as a socialite in NYC.   Forough’s mother can be going to Shah-abdul-azim, or to a church in Middle America, and the list of parallels go on. This universal aspect of Forough’s poetry seems to be totally lost by Ms. Darznik.

Ms. Darznik gives us a fine dose of re-hashed, tired and out-dated polemics. “Inspired as much by the example of her life as artistry of her verse, many Iranians find in Farrokhzad the long-suppressed voice of feminism and human rights in contemporary Iran.  In a time when images of the chador have come to dominate ideas about Iranian womanhood, hers happens also to be a voice that few in the West would associate with the Middle East -and one that only echoes with greater eloquence as the divide between Iran and America widens”.

I think by now, even most Americans have figured out that in Iran, the numbers of chadors are getting less and less. Granted that women’s rights are definitely far from ideal in Iran, but our woman have a voice. Instead of that negative sentence of Ms. Darznik, I would prefer to say,

“Although Iranian woman have been, and are still subjected to many discriminations in Iranian society they have not taken this burden lightly. Iranian woman have struggled and at times achieved, great advances in the field of woman’s rights in the last forty years; in the face of tremendous odds imposed upon them by society, religion and tradition. There is no cultural and intellectual endeavor in Iran today that does not exhibit the great genius and fantastic achievements of Iranian Woman. Dedicated women like Shirin Ebadi, Mehrangiz Kar in human rights, film-makers like Samira Makhmalbaf and Rakhshan Bani Etemad, scientists like Nasrin Moazami have definitely made a mark on Post-revolution Iranian Society and are currently training a new generation of young Iranians.  The role that Forough’s poetry has played in this regard is crucial and we should be properly thankful”. Comment

For letters section
To Mazdak Khajehpour

Forough Farrokhzad




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