Rewriting the Past: Exploring Innovations in Postmodern Persian Poetry

Anthologies, essays, and translations have been produced in English for the works of the leading modernist poets, but little is available in English on contemporary Iranian poets. In my presentation, I will provide a brief survey, with illustrations and examples, of the specific features in Iranian postmodern and avant-garde poetry. The survey will begin in the 1990s with what has been called “šeʿr dahay haftād.” This new generation advances Persian poetry by self-referentially experimenting with original and traditional forms and ideas. Their writings are often rooted in the works of the pioneering modernist Iranian poets.

Iranian postmodern ghazal poets continue the experimentation with traditional forms pioneered by such poets as Simin Behbahani. Their versatile poems infuse classical tropes with colloquial idioms and pop culture references in order to produce ghazals that decontextualize and recontextualize the sacred and profane, quickly shifting in registers of tone and diction. Poets like Mehrdad Fallah (b. 1960) expand on the early innovations in concrete poetry by Tahereh Saffarzadeh. Fallah’s “Valieasr Street” series is made up of calligrams where words branch out in a visual form that delivers multiple readings as well as slippage and dissonance of the signification in the text.

Contemporary poets also experiment with polyvocality and mixing genres. For example, The Perfume of the Name (2013), co-authored by Mohammad Azarm (b. 1971) and the pen-named poet Eve Lilith, addresses issues of identity and gender not only in content and form but also by not identifying which part of the text is written by which author. Named after a term by Jacques Lacan, Volume One Love: My Jouissance (2006), by Mohammad Ramezani-Farkhani (b. 1970), is an example of a mixed-genre work that combines different forms, tones, and styles. Ramezani-Farkhani was the subject of issue 6 of the journal Hekāyat šeʿr, which focuses on the young poets of the post-revolutionary period.

Some poets will incorporate a number of these techniques. For example, books by the pen-named Anima (b. 1980) may include polyvocality, postmodern ghazals as well as calligrams. Recently, Anima -- whose writing has won the Karnameh Poetry Prize and been a runner up for the Gheysar Aminpour Prize for free-verse poetry -- has even created poetic theater in art galleries.