Simin Behbahani’s Poetic Conversation

Behbahani has used the traditional form of ghazal throughout her career. She expressed complete confidence in the ghazal’s capacity to reflect her contemporary environment. Behbahani tells us how she changed the structure of the ghazal to suit her poetic needs and her desire to reflect the various periods of her life. This article focuses on a particular feature of Behbahani’s poetic style, namely, the poetic conversation which leads her poetry firmly into present time. Early female poets in Iran made use of poetic conversation to bring attention to a changing social system and insert their commentary on socially sensitive issues. At first sight, their poetic dialogues appear to be an expression of personal feeling. However, their dialogues may be read as ‘emotion talk’ according to a study of Egyptian Bedouin love poetry, and as such, referential to social life, rather than to an internal state. Behbahani has refined and perfected the technique of poetic dialogue as a multi-dimensional mode of expression. Her poetic conversations range from a single-voiced complaint, to complex commentary involving more than one perspective. Often, the poetic speaker confronts a ubiquitous character identified only as ‘you.’ ‘You’ may embody a conservative and unjust society, or personify a less than perfect companion. The ‘you’ character even brings the poet face to face with herself. ‘You’ adds a bold and inclusive element to Behbahani’s poems, widening the scope of the poetic drama. Behbahani’s poetic conversations convey a femininity that is complex and a sensibility that is modern. The imagery and language of Behbahani’s ghazals impart a female quality to her poetry. Her poetic conversations insinuate timely expression and a contemporary range into a timeless art form.

Rivanne Sandler
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