Poetry as protest: Iranian poet spoke out for women’s self-determination 100 years ago

Screenshot interview met Zhinia Noorian. © Universiteit Utrecht

As the protests in Iran continue, the socially critical poetry of Parvīn Iᶜtiṣāmī (aka Parvin E’tesami, 1907-1941) is more relevant than ever. Postdoc researcher Zhinia Noorian recently received her PhD with her thesis ‘Sapling of Hope’, on Iᶜtiṣāmī and her poetry. “What she has done in her poetry and what women are doing in Iran right now are, in essence, the same. She too did not want to live by the boundaries of Islamic patriarchy.”

The revolt in Iran is rare in size, but not new

Uprising and revolution in Iran per se are not new. “Over one hundred years ago, Iᶜtiṣāmī already had the idea that people should have control over their own bodies, particularly women”, Noorian says. But in the past few years, Iranian protests have not been as massive and outspoken as in recent months. During the current uprising in Iran, thousands of people take to the streets every day.

Tradition of religious and political criticism in Iran

Iᶜtiṣāmī’s work fits into the Iranian tradition of delivering social, political and religious criticism through poetry, Noorian explains in her PhD thesis. By raising issues through poetry, commentors avoided problems with the Iranian regime.

The fact that Iranian women wrote critical poetry can be seen as an act of resistance in itself, as women were restricted from writing. Moreover, those who did write, often did not have access to publishing. Several female poets composed poetry criticising social, political and religious issues, but they were denied publication of their work.

Iᶜtiṣāmī countered this. “What she has done in her poetry and what women are doing in Iran right now are, in essence, the same.”