Travel ban on Iranian poet Simin Behbahani
The plight of the great Iranian poet Simin Behbahani was the subject of an entire hour of the NPR program On Point with Tom Ashbrook this past Thursday. Three leading Iranian-American literary scholars discussed her work and the implications of her recent arrest in Tehran.
Behbahani -- widely considered the greatest living Persian language poet and a perennial candidate for the Nobel Prize in literature -- was detained by Iranian authorities on March 8 at Tehran airport as she prepared to board a flight for Paris to attend an International Women's Day conference. At the conference, Behbahani -- known throughout the Middle East and much of the literary world as the "Lioness of Iran" for her advocacy of Farsi literature and human rights causes -- was scheduled to speak on the rights of women in Iran and other Islamic countries, and read from her poems.
The 82-year-old Behbahani, now reportedly nearly blind, was led away by Iran security officers, who confiscated her passport, interrogated her for several hours and told her she would have to schedule a hearing before the Iranian Revolutionary Court to seek the return of her passport and international travel privileges. She was then released, but has since indicated that she will not agree to appear before the secretive, all-male cleric led Revolutionary Court.
Behbahani -- who is widely credited for introducing modernist and post-modernist themes into traditional Persian language forms like the ghazal and generally reviving interest in Farsi as one of the great world literatures -- has long served as President of the Iranian Writer's Association and in November 2009, succeeded John Ashbery as just the second mtvU Poet Laureate.
Her outspoken criticism of the recent direction of Iran's Islamic Revolution, and the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in particular, was notable during last spring and summer's popular protests of the results of disputed Iranian election, when she appeared before both the Iranian and Western media to
read two new poems, one of which denounced Ahmadinejad without naming him, and the other which eulogized the slain student protestor Neda Agha-Soltan.
Even if you don't have the time to listen to the entire hourlong On Point program, I urge you download the Web page that launches it. If you scroll down the page, you can read four of her poems from “A Cup of Sin: Selected Poems of Simin Behbahani,” translated into English by Farzaneh Milani and Kaveh Safa.