With Pouran Farrokhzad




Pooran Farrokhzad, sister of the late revered poet Forough Farrokhzad, writes about women and poetry and looks at how those who have been silenced by Iran's laws and male-dominated culture have managed to make their voices heard. 


(Interview translated from Farsi.)

Holly: Could you speak about Iranians and love, or love for life?

PF: In general all Iranian women are in love, meaning Iranians are hot-blooded — the reason is the sun that shines directly from above over Iran. The majority of Iranians are in love, especially most Iranian women are in love and love life. If they weren't in love they could never tolerate the specific life they live today. They are in love and patient, they wait till they reach the place where they're supposed to be. Iranian women are in love with life, are in love with their identity, are in love with their culture…they're just in love.

Holly: Is this why there is so much poetry?

PF: The reason is the sunshine, if you look at Iran's map from above you see that the sun shines directly on it. The Iranian soil is brick colored and a little red and when this sun shines brightly, the cells move rapidly and when they move more rapidly, love is more passionate and when love is more passionate, poetry comes out. In reality, most Iranians are poets — even those who during my childhood used to peddle in the streets and sell ice cream, their chants were rhythmic and they spoke with poetry. If you pay attention you can see that Iranians can come up with poems instantly and the reason for it is love that is inside them and this is much stronger in women.

Holly: Could you talk about the last book that you have published?

PF: My last book is about the path of poetry by women from the fourth century [the 10th century AD] 'till my sister Forough. I will write the second volume that will cover the women who came after in the future. In this book, I have studied how women poets lived, because the male-dominated society did not allow women to speak at all. The women were forced to live behind closed doors and compose their poetry there, and the women from the second or third social classes did not have the right to compose poetry at all. Only women who were from the ruling aristocracy — the daughter or wife of a king, for example — could compose poetry. Therefore there are few women poets and in reality we only had around 40 women from the fourth century 'till Forough who were able to write poetry. But most of them wrote the poetry from the voice and perspective of a man, because women had no identity and had not yet gained their historical identity to have the courage to write poetry in their own voices. My sister Forough in reality started a style and school of thought, meaning that for the first time in Iran she wrote from a woman's perspective and voice.

I think there are around 70-80 years between Forough and Jalleh. We had female poet called Jalleh Aalam-Tadj Ghaem-Maghamie who was the first woman who spoke from a woman's voice, but she did not show her feelings as much and spoke mostly about her husband, her children and the oppression of the male-dominated society. She did not have the courage to express her feelings. In reality Jalleh started it but Forough is more audacious, is more candid, is brave and for the first time has shouted, meaning that she has spoken up for all female Iranian poets and has spoken as a woman. Parts of my book have to do with Forough, with Jalleh, Parvin Ehtesami and other poets. We know that especially during the time Qajar dynasty we had many female poets. Fathali Shah Qajar [the king] had around 1,000 wives and most of them were poets, meaning that they were trapped in cages and were shouting. The poems are simple and do not have literary value but as I said there is much of them and I intend to write a book about the poet wives of Fathali Shah, his daughters, granddaughters and all the women in his court — [they] were shouting and composing poetry, its very interesting, it should be studied.

Holly: Why do think the people and youth like to go to Forough's grave?

PF: Forough has a charm, a charisma; in reality there is no word [expression] to describe this type of people, some people just have it, they have a genius, they have something, they radiate something that attracts others. Forough speaks plainly and simply and is frank and sincere, she is brave and candid. Eastern people, not only Iranians but in general Eastern people, always live under masks, they are never themselves and are like an onion, there are many skins until you get to the real person. Forough is just herself, there are no skins, she speaks in simple words, she is not afraid to express what she experiences, the reason is people like sincerity, people like simplicity, and people don't like lies. Forough doesn't lie; she is a woman without a mask. That is the reason; there is no other reason.

Holly: What are some of the myths that the west has about Iranian women?

PF: That is true when people from the west come to interview me I realize that they look at me from a different perspective, as if they have come to see a woman from a thousand years ago, while that is not true. Well, we have certain rules [laws] here and naturally because of our upbringing and training we have accepted those rules, but the truth is something else. For me, the intellectual issue is very important. Always during hard times, under pressure, under these conditions, growth is created. And in reality, Iranian women have gone through a very wondrous era during these 22-23 years, meaning that they have taken a journey of mind. Meaning that regardless of the destiny that had been decided for them, they did the reverse and grew extensively. Very early on they went after their identity and found it in themselves and grew amazingly. Because I deal with women I see from 12-year-old girls to 80-year-old women being active and building themselves. We grew [progressed] massively and we have numerous poets, painters, writers, sculptors, social activists, those active in charities, scientific work and in all social aspects Iranian women have clearly shown their growth and progress.

A few days ago, I heard from a lady whom I respect a lot speaking on NITV saying that the Iranian women have done nothing in these 20 years. This is so painful for me. I want to ask what have women on the other side done? I respect all of them but is living in difficult conditions and growing important, or living and growing in freedom? Which? Like soldiers, Iranian women are building the roads. They are building the roads of the future. We spent ourselves; we have worked so hard. I, for example, am a hard worker, and I have always worked. I have worked for Iran, and for Iranian women. We are working for the future, and the future is going to show us who is honorable: Iranian women.

Holly: Could you read one of your favorite poems?

PF: I have a lot of poetry, but since we are talking about Iranian women, I will read the title poem from my new book, The Women of Forever — for women, I see the pains of the past, present and future as all the same.

The Women of Forever
The forgotten women, they weigh heavily and squeeze the small openings of my heart and always make me cry.
The dust of forgetting and past has covered their bodies and hides them from the memories.
Forgiving, dynamic, lasting and loving women innocent like the youth, like the youth.
I rub my head against the faraway shrine of thought and see them each who move by, pale and gaunt.
We move forward in a aura of fog, with eyes wet from warm tears from the mountains and the complaints and the repeated crying of destruction.
The woman stares at my existence and follows the lost dreams through calm blinking, quiet.
My dream, my mother's dream, my grandmother's dream, the women of pain, the women of agony, patient women who don't complain and travel the paths of history, quiet, adrift.
From the beginning to today, passion creating women who are alive, passion creating women who are alive who play the drums with their seeking and dynamic hands and feet and lose a new image in our dreams.
The women of yesterday, today, from me to us, the women of forever.

Holly: What is your fear?


PF: I don't fear anything. Humans make their own fear. Fear doesn't exist by itself. It comes from inside, and my inside is not weak to make the fears. Not even my sister's death scared me, my own story didn't scare me.

Holly: What are you writing about?

PF: I'm writing an old story about our family. I'm writing a book called The Kids from the Khadam Azad Alley. We lived in an alley called Khadam Azad. We lived there from the time we were little until 14-15, a lot of famous people came from that street. I realized this later on, when I was older — how famous all of us who used to play with each other had become. For example, Ahad Ashraf who works with Yarsater on Iranica, his brother Hamid Ashraf, a wrestler called Mehdizadeh who became very famous. There was Dr. Azimi, Sirrus Azimi who became a university professor. There was Roghieh Behzadi who became a professor of ancient languages and teaches, writes books and is a researcher. There were three or four of us from our family who became famous. When I was a kid, Ruhangiz the famous Iranian singer lived in that alley and used to sing. I'm writing the memories of that street, mine, Forough's, Freydoon's.