Simin: The Iconographer of our Time

The article, based on the author’s two lectures on the poet’s craftsmanship, approaches the poetry of Simin Behbahani from the point of view of iconic imagery. According to the argument presented in a nutshell, the classics of Persian poetry were conscious of an entity in traditional Persian poetics that articulated the process of creativity as well as the interpretive assumptions of the Persian qasida and ghazal. They defined the bayt al-qasida and bayt al-ghazal in terms of a line, an image or a passage that marked the most condensed site of meaning in the entire poem and, therefore, bestowed on the entire composition the greatest potential for interpretation. Simin Behbahani, the article contends, recasts this concept in a new mold, reconceptualizing it as a central image, which comes to dominate the poem and give it much of its potency as an icon made of words. The tendency toward reorganizing the poem around a central icon first appeared in Simin Behbahani’s poetry around the time of the Iranian revolution of 178-1983, and might be related to the poet’s observation of the revolution in the making.

It now has come to constitute a signature feature of her best poems. The article further demonstrates the emergence of this tendency in the poet’s 1981 collection of ghazals titled Khati ze Sor`at o az Atash [A trajectory of fire and Speed]. It then follows the workings of various iconic foci in three pf Behbahani’s most notable compositions, “The Man with a Missing Leg,” “One Meter Seventy” and “And Behold . . .” in some detail. It concludes that the poet’s use of iconic imagery goes beyond an extension of the jaded poetic concept of “bayt al-ghazal” in classical Persian poetics to constitute further evidence of the innovative way in which she approaches the central lyrical genre of the ghazal in a poetic tradition over a millennium old.

Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak
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