The day the poetry died in Iran by Yahya Dehghanpour

Monday 13 th of February 1967 must have been the day the poetry died in Iran. It was the day when poet and filmmaker Forough Farrokhzad, commonly known as Forough, could not avoid a car crash in Tehran. She passed away in the ambulance while she was rushed to a hospital.  Despite her very young age (32), she was  recognized already during her lifetime as one of the most remarkable modernist poets in Persian language.

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Forough was immensely popular among Iranians but perhaps they knew and loved her in the first place because of what they had heard about her life full of passion, loneliness and pain. Indeed, every Iranian knew how Forough had lived like a candle in the wind, uncompromisingly asserting her radical modernity also in the life style she was leading.  At the age of 16 she had left her parental house for a love marriage. She divorced her husband a few years later losing custody of her son by doing so. Full of grief because of this separation, she left Iran for Germany and Italy but she came back and she started a controversial relationship with a married filmmaker (Ebrahim Golestan). The relationship enabled her to make a poetic feature film about a leper colony “The House is black” that would gain international successes.

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Forough would also adopt a boy from the leper colony.

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Shortly before her untimely death Bernardo Bertolucci had flewn to Tehran to meet and interview this exceptional person. Only a five minute excerpt remains of the interview in which we see a self assured, beautiful and frail woman. While smoking a cigarette she is explaining Bertolucci that an intellectual is one who (among other things) looks at moral issues, thinks about them and also solves them for himself. That a woman would state this was quiet unheard of in ultra patriarchal Iran. But also in many other interviews, Forough had surprised her conservative compatriots. She had talked in public (!) about her personal feelings and desires as a woman and about the social pressure and the loneliness she was fighting as a divorcee. She had opened up the horizons of a whole generation for whom she had become a guiding star.

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Her death caused a shock through the nation and on the morning of the funeral, countless bewildered mourners had formed a guard of honour along the streets between the hospital and the cemetery. There is a youtube clip showing the funeral in a dramatic fashion.

Allegedly, only one photographer was there to cover the funeral procession and the burial: Yahya Dehghanpour. In 2015, nearly half a century later, 75 years old Dehghanpour managed to publish a photobook with his unique account of the day Forough was buried or, as the title of his book tells us “The day ‘she’ was planted in the garden“. In the sequence of some 50 strangely blurred pictures we are tele-transported to one of the most doomed days in Tehran’s tumultuous history.

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© Yahya Dehghanpour

Unfortunately the work itself remains unavailable outside Iran but Olga Yatskevich and Christer Ek have published  web reviews in 2015 that describe the work most accurately. This blog post will only focus on the third and last part of “The day ‘she’ was planted in the garden“.

We can see how the weird white, dinky toy hearse that had collected Fourough’s body in hospital, had passed through a sea of mourners finally arrives at the Zahir-od-dowleh cemetery, a small and quiet place in northern Tehran where artists and poets are laid to rest.

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© Yahya Dehghanpour

The complete intellectual elite (poets, singers, filmmakers, writers, artists) from Tehran is waiting there to say goodbye to their first lady and to comfort her son.

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© Yahya Dehghanpour

Let’s turn our attention to a few of them. The man against the wall is Ahmed Shamloo, arguably the most influential and prolific poet of 20th century Iran.

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© Yahya Dehghanpour

The man with the beret was the central figure of Tehran’s intellectual and artistic scene of the time: writer Jallal Al-e-Ahmad. He was famous for coining the concept of “Occidontosis” or “Westoxification“, the phenomenon of western economic and existential victories over the East.

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© Yahya Dehghanpour

Also Ehsan Naraghi was present. He would become the first major sociologist ever who investigated brain-drain phenomenon due to migration of the third world’s smartest students. He would become a director at the UNESCO in Paris and was the only Iranian who was awarded Légion d’honneur medal twice, once by De Gaulle, and then by Mitterrand.

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© Yahya Dehghanpour

At the time of Forough’s death, Iran was undergoing a rapid modernization from which only a tiny upper class with connections to the royal family was benefiting. Most of the attendants were, like Forough herself, highly critical of the Shah’s policies. Some had been a member of Iran’s legendary communist Tudeh party and had paid with bitter prison years for their criticism. But in 1967 they had already quit the party because of its too great dependency on the Soviet doctrines. In 1967 most of the attendants had learned to develop an independent voice vis à vis the regime through their art, academic work or journalism.

Thus, Dehghanpour’s focus on the crowds along the streets and on these independent personalities gathering around poor Forough on the cemetery has become a beautiful ode to Persian culture itself. Always proudly looking for independence always paying the price for this quest.

“The day ‘she’ was planted in the garden” is both invaluable as a historical document and as piece of art full of beauty and emotion. How can a photobook be better a proof that it belongs to an autonomous form of art? Thank you for this Mr. Dehghanpour.

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© Yahya Dehghanpour