October 29th, 2009 • Ross Martin
The Wall Street Journal Reports Iranian Simin Behbahani Will Follow John Ashbery As mtvU's Next Poet Laureate
Tonight, The Wall Street Journal broke the news that we've named mtvU's new Poet Laureate. As the Journal's Kamau High reports, it's 82 year-old Iranian poet Simin Behbahani.
Beginning Monday, mtvU will broadcast 19 short films featuring Behbahani's poems, translated by Farzaneh Milani and Kaveh Safa, and produced by Sophia Cranshaw.
mtvU will also be tweeting Behbahani's poems, in English and in Farsi, and will broadcast — on-air and online — college students' reactions to Behbahani's work, throughout the year. The poems featured on-air and online span the length of Behbahani's career, including new, unpublished poems composed as recently as this fall in the midst of the current turmoil in Iran.
Why choose Behbahani? After a year-long, international search, the decision became clear. Known as the "Lioness of Iran," Behbahani's poetry champions women’s rights and acts as a voice of peace and freedom during a time of political and social upheaval. Twice, she has been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Poetry. Her poems illuminate not only the struggle of Iran but also the extreme beauty of the land, its people, and its history.
IT'S TIME TO MOW THE FLOWERS
by Simin Behbahani
It’s time to mow the flowers,
Fetch the sickles, come,
don’t spare a single tulip in the fields.
The meadows are in bloom:
who has ever seen such insolence?
The grass is growing again:
step nowhere else but on its head.
Blossoms are opening on every branch,
exposing the happiness in their hearts:
such colorful exhibitions must be stopped.
Bring your scalpels to the meadow
to cut out the eyes of flowers.
So that none may see or desire,
let not a seeing eye remain.
I fear the narcissus is spreading its corruption:
stop its displays in a golden bowl
on a six-sided tray.
What is the use of your ax,
if not to chop down the elm tree?
In the maple’s branches
allow not a single bird a moment’s rest.
My poems and the wild mint
bear messages and perfumes.
Don’t let them create a riot with their wild singing.
My heart is greener than green,
flowers sprout from the mud and water of my being.
Don’t let me stand, if you are the enemies of Spring.
–Translated by Farzaneh Milani and Kaveh Safa
I need to personally thank University of Virginia Professor Farzaneh Milani, a champion of Behbahani, who has helped me on my journey through Behbahani's poems. Farzaneh has become a true friend, and I owe her a debt of gratitude for her brilliant inisghts, steadfast courage and devotion to Persian literature.
I'd also like to thank my colleague, Bahareh Kamali, who has helped me to understand Behbahani's impact and significance throughout the Middle East and beyond. Also of great help in that regard have been our friends at PEN American Center, the organization of writers working to promote literature and protect our freedom of expression, who helped us considerably, throughout this process.
Simin Behbahani is a poet who simply cannot leave her home without permission. Yet, at 82, she won't stop writing these poems. In response to the outcry on U.S. college campuses against violence and oppression in Iran, mtvU will share her poems with a new generation of millions of American college students, who, like their peers in Iran, are themselves an engine for social change.