Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

ANOTHER EMPTY CHAIR: SIMIN BEHBAHANI

Share |

A few days ago I wrote about how the Chinese government prevented poet Liao Yiwu from attending a literary festival in Cologne, Germany. It was the thirteenth time the totalitarian regime had prevented Mr. Liao from leaving the country. Yesterday, it happened again. This time to a woman. This time in Iran. It was reported that celebrated Iranian poet and feminist Simin Behbahani, often called "the lioness of Iran," was detained in Imam Khomeini Airport, her passport confiscated. She was scheduled to appear in Paris at an event celebrating International Women's Day. Clearly, the oppressive, ultra-conservative theocratic government of the once relatively progressive nation of Iran had other ideas.

In Western society, poetry is seen variously as an arcane diversion, an elitist pursuit, a niche hobby, the dusty vestiges of a lyrical literary tradition no longer considered vital by the masses. Here, our poets are not seen as a threat to the established order of the state. They are not detained in airports for fear they could bring the scrupulous eye of the world to gaze upon the sins of the establishment. Remember the curse about living in interesting times?

Does it come as a surprise to us that, in our age, the places where freedoms are in the shortest supply are also the places where poetry has the most power? Please watch this interview with Simin Behbahani that was recorded during the period of protest and solidarity that followed the questionable Iranian presidential elections of 2009. If she cannot speak to the world in Paris, at least we can still hear her.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Paul Vermeersch

Paul Vermeersch is the author of The Reinvention of the Human Hand (McClelland & Stewart, 2010) and three other collections of poetry. He is also the editor of The I.V. Lounge Reader and The Al Purdy A-frame Anthology.

Go to Paul Vermeersch’s Author Page