For Nowruz

[Yesterday was Nowruz, Persian New Year - the vernal equinox and the first day of Spring, a day for cleansing and visiting.]
Graffiti in Iran in solidarity with Nasrin Sotoudeh, imprisoned for defending victims of the Iranian regime. Let Nasrin's children hug their beloved mother at home!

[The men] raised their voices enough to be overheard. Quoting the late Iranian poet Ahmad Shamlou, one of them recited:
     They smell your breath,     lest you might have said I love you.      They smell your heart.     These are strange times, my darling.      The butchers are stationed at each      crossroads with bloody clubs and cleavers.  
Gesturing toward Tehran in the distance, he said, “There are the new butchers. They sniff out everything, not only in public but in private life, too.” His friends nodded. One of them said, “The people’s frustrations will find an outlet once the cracks in the monolith begin to appear.”
That's Jon Lee Anderson, writing in the New Yorker in 2010. When will the monolith break open?

This week, I read that the Iranian government has sentenced an Iranian-born computer software programmer, Saeed Malekpour, to death. Resident in Canada, he was arrested in 2008 when he returned home to visit his dying father. His crime? Designing software that enables pictures to be uploaded to the internet, allegedly used by others to upload pornography. "Malekpour was charged with the crime of Mofsed fel-Arz, or spreading corruption on Earth, a crime punishable by death." As Weggis says, "Just who is corrupt here?"

Here in Britain, Darren tells us about his mate at work singing  Ahmad Shamlou, "beautiful beyond words in the aisles at Sainsburys."

In Saeed Malekpour's adopted home, Canada, Noga writes:
There is not a day passes when I don't think of my cyberfriend Selma, the former, brilliant multi-talented blogger who wrote with love from Tehran. Last I heard, she had to make a choice that no human being should be forced to make these days: her future or her independent voice. She chose her future and since then her voice went silent. 
There are warring calls floating about, and existential fears. I fear for my country, Israel, the target of Iran's religiously mad regime with their genocidal threats and determination. I fear for my family and friends in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa. I fear for my friend and her family and friends in Tehran. 
At no time does the power of friendship seem of so little consequence in this brutal and irrational world of ours. 
Selma once told us that she is a great fan of Leonard Cohen. One of her favourite is this song. 
This Saturday morning I want to think of Selma and to wish her all that is good and abiding. 
Friendship is round and smooth, with no ends, no sharp angles. It is also fragile. When confronted with politics, it seems small and insignificant, irrelevant. Politics forces us to make choices that in a genuinely humanistic world concerned with human rights, we should no longer be making. 
These are the words of Ahmad Shamlou's poem, "In this impasse", which Darren's friend sang in the supermarket aisles:*
They smell your breath.
Lest you said "I love you."
They smell your heart.
These are strange times, darling...
And they flog love
at the roadblock.
We had better hide love in the closet...
In this crooked dead end and twisting chill,
they feed the fire
with the kindling of song and poetry.
Do not risk a thought.
These are strange times, darling...
He who knocks on the door at midnight
has come to kill the light.
We had better hide light in the closet...
Those there are butchers
stationed at the crossroads
with bloody clubs and cleavers.
These are strange times, darling...
And they excise smiles from lips
and songs from mouths.
We had better hide joy in the closet...
Canaries barbecued
on a fire of lilies and jasmine,
these are strange times, darling...
Satan drunk with victory
sits at our funeral feast.
We had better hide God in the closet.
It was written in July 1979. Shamlou had fought against and been persecuted by the Shah's regime. He returned from exile, enthusiastic about the revolution, and was soon disillusioned:
young men and women were sent into the streets to enforce the moral code of the shari'a or religious law... They "smelled the mouth" if they suspected someone of drinking alcohol, which could be followed by a lashing, and they wiped lipstick from women's mouths, sometimes even cutting the lips with a razor.

You can listen to the same reading with music by Babak Afshar here. Here is Dariush Eghbali singing it:

Ahmed Shamlou, like Leonard Cohen, was influenced by Federico Garcia Lorca, who is a favourite of Noga too. He said "I, an Iranian poet, first learned poetry from the Spanish Lorca, the frenchman Éluard, the German Rilke, the Russian Mayakovsky [...] and the American Langston Hughes; and only later, with this education I turned to the poems of my mother tongue to see and to know, say, the grandeur of Hafiz from a fresh perspective."

The butchers at the roadblock in the poem above are the same as the police who raid the Gypsy "city of  sorrow  and musk" in Lorca's "Ballad of the Spanish Civil Guard", here in Persian translation:
When night came near,
night that night deepened,
the gypsies at their forges
beat out suns and arrows.
A badly wounded stallion
knocked against all the doors.
Roosters of glass were crowing
through Jerez de la Frontera.
چندان که شب فرود می آمد
شب ، شبِ کامل ،
کولیان بر سندان های خویش
پیکان و خورشید می ساختند.
اسبی خون آلوده
بر درهای گنگ می کوفت
 خروسانِ شیشه یی بانگ سر می دادند.
The city, free from fear,
multiplied its doors.
Forty civil guards
enter them to plunder.
The clocks came to a halt,
شهر ، آزاد از هراس
درهایش را تکثیر می کرد.
چهل گارد سیویل
از پی تاراج بدان در آمدند.
ساعت ها از حرکت باز ایستاد

And here, for Selma - but also for Saeed, for Darren's friend in the supermarket, for Nasrin Sotoude, for all the Gypsies at their forges the world over awaiting the knock at the door from the civil guards - is Selma's favourite song, "Dance Me to the End of Love".

Links: Iran: Quash Convictions and Free Rights Advocates (HRW); Treatment of returned asylum seekers in Iran (NCADC); Kurdish political prisoner Habibollah Golparipour transferred to undisclosed location; at risk of imminent execution  (IHRDC); Christians in Isfahan face increasing pressure and arrests (IHRDC); Severe Beating and Transfer of Kurdish Prisoner Mostafa Salimi to Solitary Cell  (IHRDC);  Three prisoners were hanged in Qazvin yesterday- 18 executions in one week (IHR);  'We are ordered to crush you’: Expanding repression of dissent in Iran (IranRights); Iran targeting ex-pats (HuffPo); Iranian family sues for American dream (AZ Central); Take it Easy Hospital (The Poor Mouth).


jams o donnell said…
Shamloo deserves to be regarded as one of the true greats of 20th century poetry, His work is well worth investigating, but then there is a wealth of modern Iranian art and literature that remains largely unknown here in the West.

I would also strongly suggest the work of the poets Sohrab Sepheri, Forough Farrokhzad and Simin Behbahani. Those with Facebook accounts may like the page Persian Poetry in English It is updated regularly

As for literature there are quite a number of fine works now available in English translation, perhaps the greatest of these is Sadegh Hedayat's The Blind Owl (here is a link to the text Iraj Pezeshkzad's satire My Uncle Napoleon is definitely worth a read as it gives a good idea of why the UK is still seen as almost a big a satan as the US... well sort of!

As for contemprary art, I am fortunate to know a number of extremely talented Iranian artists. I was happy recently to edit the English text of of my a forthcoming collection of my friend Minoo Emami's work
darren redstar said…
Thankyou bob.
Thanks for the link, bob.
attack on Iran said…
Great post, excellent info