In Search of the Missing Forough
An Analysis of the Forough Farrokhzad Seminar at the University of Manchester
The legendary status of Forough Farrokhzad (1935-67) and her uncontested rank as the most notable modern Iranian female poet—in addition to her extraordinary skill and talent in composing poetry—is nevertheless beset by two questions. The first is her untimely death at the age of thirty–two in a car accident. The second is the carefree, personal revelations contained in her poetry.
I sensed Golestan’s puzzling silence and reluctance to talk about Forough, not only in interviews, but in face to face meetings as well. The result of his silence has been an accumulation of unanswered questions that have left those who research Forough’s work with completely conflicting interpretations.
A seminar on Forough, which was held on June 4 and 5, 2008 at the University of Manchester in England to mark the fortieth anniversary her death, attracted many scholars from around the world. While, unfortunately, no one had devoted their research to the subject of “Farrokhzad and Golestan,” almost all the presenters mentioned their relationship and it was noteworthy that their opinions completely contradicted one another.
The truth is that the young Forough, who became a filmmaker as well as a poet, started working at Golestan’s film studio and embarked on a personal relationship with this influential and intellectual scholar of story-telling and film-making. Aydin Aghdashloo, who is close to Golestan, says: “Golestan sought his poetic attributes in Forough.” Many others speak of the stark change in Forough’s poetry before and after meeting Golestan.
Cyrus Shamisa, the first speaker at this seminar, who has also published a book about Forough, believes with certainty that there was a devoted and admiring relationship between Forough and Golestan. During his speech he refers to Sadreddin Elahi’s interview with Forough which took place in Golestan’s presence. Forough would look toward Golestan for approval every time she spoke. Shamisa mentions that if we just consider the text of her poem “Another Birth,” and ignore its many interpretations—a poem written at the start of Forough’s relationship with Golestan—we can clearly see the upheaval in the poetess’s life and the start of an important turning point in her work. Shamisa says that in the first phase of her work Forough was a carefree poet. After “Another Birth,” however, she became a poet with a distinct style of her own. In that way, Golestan’s role is undeniable. Although Shamisa calls Forough an “original,” “the real thing,” and “authentic,” and counts her as one of the true intellectuals of her era—one who had expressed her individuality—he also believes in the mentoring role played by Golestan.
Kamran Talattof, from the University of Arizona, presented a different view. Talattof believes that the man who influenced Forough’s poetry the most was her husband, Parviz Shapur, not Ebrahim Golestan. Talattof recalls Forough’s passionate love for Parviz Shapur when she was sixteen years old, which led to their premature marriage. In his opinion, Forough’s passionate poetry about love is an elegy to her relationship with this man. He mentions Forough’s letters, where she has written of her love for this man, and points out that no such thing exists in relation to Ebrahim Golestan. In a private discussion, he repeats that a relationship of mentoring and admiration makes no sense in that period and at that time.
Talattof’s discussion of Forough’s poetry during the first period is indeed accurate and there is no doubt that the man Forough alludes to in her work is Parviz Shapur. However, when we talk about the influence of Golestan during the period that begins with “Another Birth,” we naturally refer to the intellectual impact Golestan had on Forough herself instead of the subject of her poetry.
Mariam Ghorbani Karimi gave a simple “no” in answer to the fundamental question regarding the extent of Golestan’s influence on the poetess’s film “The House is Black.” Karimi closed the subject by claiming that “according to many features of the film,” Forough does not seem to be influenced by Golestan in this matter. Unfortunately, Karimi provided a somewhat incomplete examination and analysis of the film “The House is Black,” having based it completely on the writings of Hooshang Kavoosi while ignoring the important works of Shamim Bahar and Parviz Davaii.
Dominic Parviz Brookshaw, from the University of Manchester and one of the hosts of this seminar, entered the discussion at this point with the claim that “our culture does not want to take women seriously and for this reason has to connect them to a man.” This is in and of itself a debatable opinion. It can serve to instigate more research, but Forough may not be the best vehicle for this discussion.
However, the discussions of this two day seminar proved that despite differences in approach, there still exist many unsaid and unidentified discussions around the life and work of this modern poet. In the words of Dr. Mohammad Ghanoonparvar: the most celebrated modern Iranian poet in the world is still begging for substantiated and reliable research.
Maybe the problem with this seminar, and many others like it, was that it relied upon the academic presenters and left no place for a poet who was a contemporary of Forough’s, or any research carried out by non-academics. Consequently, the greater part of the discussion became limited to what was publishable and the seminar came to no specific conclusions.
Text of “Another Birth” http://www.forughfarrokhzad.org/selectedworks/selectedworks_farsi1.asp http://www.forughfarrokhzad.org/selectedworks/selectedworks1.asp