Poetry

Poetry Sunday: “Sin,” by Forough Farrokhzad

Commentary by Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor
Written in free verse with direct, simple diction, and treating subjects like the body, sex, and women’s rights, Farrokhzad`s poetry was revolutionary when first published and remains so today. Dramatizing the role of women living in Iran’s restricted society, it unabashedly expresses the thoughts and emotions of a woman asserting her own selfhood, subjectivity, and agency. When “Sin” was first published in the 1950s, Iran was not used to seeing poems written by women in the first person, and certainly not poems dealing openly with divorce, extramarital (or any) sex. Farrokhzad was and remains a controversial public figure, so much so that at a recent reading from her new novel inspired by Farrokhzad’s life, Song of a Captive Bird, author Jasmin Darznik told the audience that she still hears comments to the effect of “why would you want to write about that whore?”
Still, Farrokhzad is beloved in Iran and elsewhere, by readers who refer to her by her first name only, the way we in this country refer to Madonna and Prince. Before her, Iranian poetry tended to portray women in the limited role of the absent, longed for “Beloved,” a passive object of desire, and male poets dominated the field. In a transgressive shift, Farrokhzad gave her women speakers a voice, and subjectivity and agency equal to a man’s. Darznik’s new novel, Song of a Captive Bird (Ballantine Books 2018), gives Farrokhzad herself another voice, this time in fiction praised as “superbly crafted” by The New York Times:

“Every poem I’d ever written was entangled with my country’s story,” the Farrokhzad of Darznik’s imagination says. “I loved its downtrodden, small-minded, generous people. I loved them; I belonged to them.” Song of a Captive Bird is a complex and beautiful rendering of that vanished country and its scattered people; a reminder of the power and purpose of art; and an ode to female creativity under a patriarchy that repeatedly tries to snuff it out. [“She Dared to Write Poetry About Sex. Iranians Loved and Hated Her for It” by Dina Nayeri, New York Times]

“Sin” is representative of Farrokhzad’s poems. Written in free verse organized into six unmetered and unrhymed quatrains, it speaks boldly in the first person about the raptures and ravages of sex. We feel the heat of desire in “O my life, my lover, it’s you I want,” just as we feel pain in “violent and ablaze,” and despair in the last stanza’s agonized “O God.” Although the poem eschews end rhyme, you will find within its lines many echoes of sounds, as in the slant rhymes of “warm enflamed embrace,” and “sinned” and vindictive,” as well as alliteration, as in “drunk / on desire.” Diction and syntax are simple and straightforward; the poem intends to be and is accessible to most readers. I love the way that image of the red wine trembling in the cup becomes an evocative and very sensual metaphor for the speaker’s own body, spent after lovemaking.
Song of a Captive Bird includes “Sin” and other poems translated by Darznik, and it re-creates the very fabric and texture of Farrokhzad’s life and the lives of women under the yoke of oppression everywhere, in every time. It treats social and political issues of crucial contemporary concern and offers an introduction to the poetry of an important, overlooked feminist poet. Besides all that, it’s just a great read, a compelling page-turner written with the intelligence and literary sensitivity that Farrokhzad’s work—and life—demand and deserve.
 

Forough Farrokhzad’s grave.

 
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  • Ramona Howard April 8, 2018 at 12:59 pm

    This Sunday’s offering lifted my spirits. Reading Jazmin Darznik’s brief description of Forough Farrokhzad’s life and works reinforces the message that the arts fill such a need in the human condition. The struggle of women in all cultures to gain a voice has historically been a slow process, but, nonetheless, it moves forward–Forough and Darznik are proof of that forward movement. Thank you for today’s poetic offering and each Sunday’s offering. Your column adds such positive moments to my life!

    Reply
  • Ramona Howard April 8, 2018 at 12:59 pm

    This Sunday’s offering lifted my spirits. Reading Jazmin Darznik’s brief description of Forough Farrokhzad’s life and works reinforces the message that the arts fill such a need in the human condition. The struggle of women in all cultures to gain a voice has historically been a slow process, but, nonetheless, it moves forward–Forough and Darznik are proof of that forward movement. Thank you for today’s poetic offering and each Sunday’s offering. Your column adds such positive moments to my life!

    Reply