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Payvand's Iran News ...

Crisis In Poetry: An Interview with Mohamad Shams Langeroudi, Contemporary Poet and Scholar

Source: Hambastegi

Q: You have often spoken of a crisis in our contemporary poetry that has been called 'crisis of audience'. When do you think this crisis started?

A: I believe that this crisis started gradually since the sixth decade of the last century (i.e. 1960s) and has nothing to do with the present time. A number of different factors have been responsible to induce it, some of which are known to me and some are still quite obscure. But to me the most critical factor was the emergence of the new wave in aesthetics of poetry. Following this new wave, many trends started to take shape with different names. This phenomenon is still continuing and even many of the followers of these trends are not aware that they are in fact pursuing this new wave. For example, to me, Ahmadreza Ahmadi with all his poetical talents, is the cause and founder of a kind of diversion in poetry through some of his own poems and some other poems composed under his influence. In any case, I think that with the emergence of diverting theories in the sphere of modern poetry, the above crisis started to take shape. But some people believe that poetry is facing no crisis. First of all I should say that it is not only poetry that is facing this crisis, but the whole domain of poetry is suffering from it, that is the whole complex of poetry, poet and audience. Mr. Manouchehr Atashi wrote in an article that there is no crisis in poetry. In reply to this article, I take Atashi himself as an example. He published 3 collection in 1978, and some of the poems of these collections such as 'Ash', 'White wild horse' or 'I carved your name on the forest's trees' won an extraordinary popularity, every body was reading them at that time. But since then none of his new poems attracted much attention. Now there are only two explanations for that. Either Atashi should accept that he has not been successful in composing similar poems with the same beauty and language. Or he has composed powerful poems, but they failed to attract attention because of the fact that poetry is suffering from a grave state. This is exactly what I mean by the presence of a poetical crisis in Iran. However, one prevalent interpretation of this statement is that we no longer have any good poetry, which is a very reductionist interpretation. I do not intend to say that we have no good poems, incidentally many good poems have been composed during these years, but they have not left any notable extensive impression. If I am wrong, they can express the reasons for their objections.

Q: Some people see the individualistic and personalized attitude of poets as the reason for the lessening fascination of the audience, what is your opinion?

A: Modern poetry is the fruit of individualism and it is quite successful as it appeals to a greater number of people. We know poets that turn the most general and fundamental human problems into a very personal issue, and on the other hand, we know poets such as Shamloo or Fernando Pessava - one of the pioneers of postmodern poetry- who turn their most private preoccupations into a public issue. All of Shamloo's poems concern his own private life and he explicitly says, 'my poetry is my biography' and that is quite true, as his poetry changes stage by stage. For example, his poetry when he sees Ida (his wife) is quite different from the poems he composed when the partisan wars broke out. The same is true about Fourough's Poetry. Their poetry has the capacity for generalization and therefore they diffuse and expand, i.e. any body who reads their poems, feels that as though they talk about his/her own personal life. To me to say that our poetry has been individualized and personalized is just an excuse and justification. The root of decreasing fascination with poetry lies somewhere else.

Q: In your opinion what is the relation of poetry to reality?

A: Once a university student asked me, what was the need for the emergence of all these different styles. The question reminded me of Kafka. After the publication of his book 'Metamorphosis' one of Kafka's friends finds a book in which a human being had turned into a butterfly. He shows the book to Kafka and says: "the author has imitated you. You changed a human being to an insect and this one has transformed him to butterfly." Kafka's response is quite intelligent and wise, which I now use as an introduction to my reply to your question. Kafka said, 'that author has not imitated me, but we both imitated life.' And this means that art is rooted in reality and the result is reality. One day 'Metamorphosis' was just a book, but now life has metamorphosed. One day the book of metamorphosis was Kafkaist, but now life is Kafkaist. Reality and Art have a close mutual relationship. Art is a reflection of reality. The relation of art and reality is exactly the same as that of an object and its mirror image. The image is not the exact reality, and sometime it is even the opposite. However, an image is always the result of the presence of an object. I told that student that it was not like that our poets would say well let's compose our poems in the style of Khorasani from now on. They were in Khorasan when a movement started to take shape in our language and this regeneration led them to use Khorasani style in their poetry. When Moguls attacked Iran, the same poets immigrated to Iraq and Iraqi style was born. The relation of art and reality is similar to that of water and cloud. Although it might seem that there is no relation between them, but they are inseparable.

Q: Some of the critics believe that most of your poems are one syllabic and contain a philosophical or social trend, what is your own opinion?

A: It is quite true and my poetry has a philosophical social basis and I believe in this form of poetry, but I do not believe that poetry should be a mere reflection of philosophy or a specific meaning. As Schopenhauer says, arts progress to reach music, that is music is the most pure and abstract art. I too, believe that poetry, without expressing any specific meaning, should imply this meaning. In other words, poetry should manifest in a philosophical or semantic form. You can not claim that a work such as Carmina Burana by Carl Orff has the same effect on you as Schopenhauer's works. When we listen to Carmina Burana, we automatically wish to rebel, as the music is the music of rebel. Hitler used this music and revolutionary and partisan groups used it too, as this work has no concern for meaning, and only intends to imply the feeling of rebel. Arts advance to reach here. In this sense I believe that no work is without an effect unless it is purposeless. But under no condition can I accept that poetry should be the means and the instrument of some philosophy or social situation.

Q: Some poets believe that their works have not become world-known, because they are not translated into foreign languages. What is your opinion here?

A: No doubt that works have to be translated to achieve universal recognition, but translation does not automatically imply world recognition. The works of Mehdi Soheili were translated into a few live languages in his own lifetime. In addition, many of our contemporary literary works have already been translated, and many of our poets and authors do translate their works into the language they themselves are familiar with. Our problem here is not translation of works, but absence of impressive reflection is the main problem of our literature. At present and in contemporary Iran, the works of world-known authors and poets are better sold than the works of well-known Iranian figures. It seems that world recognition requires two things, one is talent and potentiality and the second is material and spiritual opportunities. But the problem is that talents are easily manifested in scientific fields, but the same is not true for literature and arts. You can turn into a professional technician in a relatively short period of time, but for your culture to change, you need to undergo a very complicated, slow and long process. As Molavi says; 'with milk it enters and leaves with blood.' Culture is in fact a shield against the realities. Culture grows over years, particle by particle, step by step with absorption and disposition of elements from life in order to help us to adjust ourselves to life and progress. That is why nations do not easily give up their culture. Even when they know that a lot of their beliefs are superstitious and ridiculous, they are willing to be ridiculed as superstitious, but will still keep their beliefs. And this is one of most important difficulties in human life. That is why all nations are quite conservative toward their cultures.

The conclusion is that after our constitutional revolution more than a century ago, although we have been discussing subjects such as renaissance, modernism and now postmodernism, but they are just words and it takes a long time for these ideas to get absorbed by our souls and our culture. Was not our revolution the result of such a conflict and for the purpose of finding a way for conciliation of modernism and traditionalism? I do not know, but the presence of this conflict in all spheres of our life is quite explicit. To me the manner any nation drives cars is a good indication and a symbol of the quality of that nation's culture. Machines and orderliness or disorderliness show the relation of each nation with the question of observance of law among them. To me we live in all spheres of life in the same manner as we drive our cars, i.e. trying to escape the law, disorderly and carelessly. Our literature and arts are no exception. In the sphere of literature, we have always been like crossing the continuous line, paying no attention to the sign of 'no passing' …with the latest brands of cars. It is natural that some people do drive and write according to laws. But this is not the rule, but an exception. We are not short of exceptional works, but universal recognition is determined by the cultural rule of each country. I mean that sort of novel, creative and original works of arts and literature that associate the specific cultural air of each country. I think we should be concerned more about the translation of our identity that is reaching a very difficult language rather than our works. To make it short, I believe that the most important factor in not achieving universal recognition in the sphere of our literature and arts, despite the presence of outstanding talents, is the crisis of identity and the lack of sufficient constructive knowledge about the nature of this crisis.

Q: Tell us about your recent works.

A: My new collection of poems 'Notes for a wooden nightingale' will be published within the next few months. I have also written a novel that is in fact a continuation of my last novel 'Marching on loose soil.' I am also writing a book on Nima Youshij on the basis of Nima's letters and poems and will examine the nature of the transformation of his poetry.

Q: What do the poems in 'Notes for a wooden nightingale' express?

A: I don't know, that is something that others should say. What I do know is that I have gradually changed spiritually and intellectually during the last ten years. I no longer believe in lamentation, I even hate it; I have realized that protest is different from lamentation.

Sensitivity is different from sentimentalism, intellectualism is different from mechanical thinking and insight is different from indolent perversion. Human beings can affect this infinite world as much as the height of their thoughts. In social transformations, institute has priority over individual's desires and many other problems that during these past years have preoccupied my mind must have naturally affected my soul, imagination, language, word selection and aesthetics. But how much these personal individualistic problems have been internalized and how much they are reflecting in my poetry and the extent and power of the influence of these works, is something that the reader can decide. Poet is like a spring that neither can determine the quality of the springing water nor the kinds of flowers and plants growing around it.

Q: You also have referred to a book on "Analytical History of Modern Poetry', I want to know whether you intend to write the second volume of this work as the time span covered in the present volume is up to 1978?

A: I have made some notes for it, but whether I will ever sit to write it or not, I don't know, as the first volume took some ten years of my life. I had a strong motivation and a lot of stamina at that time that I no longer possess.

Translated for by Roya Monajem,

Iran Under the Ayatollahs

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