MTV-U’s Poet Laureate: Simin Behbahani

MTV (Music Television) “University” has selected Simin Behbahani, “the poet who never sold her soul or her pen,” to be its second poet laureate.
For a visually challenged 82-years-young Iranian, how cool is that?
Beginning Monday, Nov. 2nd Behbahani’s poems will be featured on MTV-U in a series of 19 short films.
Why would MTV do this? Is it political? In the The Wall Street Journal, MTV senior Vice President Ross Martin explains:

“Her poems speak to us because they are from a part of the world that is front of mind and confusing… We know there’s a groundswell on U.S. campuses advocating freedom and an end to oppression in Iran. mtvU has a responsibility to hear that cry and respond to it.”

Amid Iran’s post election tumult, millions around the world heard Behbahani’s timeless lament at the death of Neda Soltani:

You are neither dead, nor will you die
You will always remain alive
You have an eternal existence
You are the voice of the people of Iran

Yet it is Behbahani, the reputed “Lioness of Iran,” who will now re-introduce millions of the world’s youth to Iran, through the medium of rock ‘n roll, music television, in her universal voice.
When Iran’s President Ahmadinejad dismissed those who protested the election’s legitimacy as mere “dirt,” Behbahani hurled the insult back, with the pen:

If the flames of anger rise any higher in this land
Your name on your tombstone will be covered with dirt

Yet MTV’s featuring of Behbahani should not be interpreted as adding to the cacaphony of voices pining for more invasions, war, sanctions, bloodshed. Nearly 30 years ago, Behbahani wrote of her horror in seeing a martial fever for war arise in her students then:

Oh, the child of today
If war is what you want
I am the child of yesterday
To me, war is shameful


MTV’s Ross Martin further explains the choice of Behbahani on his own blog,

“Behbahani’s poetry champions women’s rights and acts as a voice of peace and freedom during a time of political and social upheaval. Twice, she has been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Poetry. Her poems illuminate not only the struggle of Iran but also the extreme beauty of the land, its people, and its history.”

Martin also notes how none of this would have been possible were it not for the literary skills and devotion of Professor Farzaneh Milani. Her translations bring Behbahani’s “iconic” poems to life in English. If Behbahani is Iran’s national poet, Milani has rendered her the world’s.

To stay alive, you must slay silence,
to pay homage to being, you must sing….

15 thoughts on “MTV-U’s Poet Laureate: Simin Behbahani

  1. Salah

    mtvU has a responsibility to hear that cry and respond to it.”
    Same media used as a megaphone as war mongers for Bush/Blair lies 7 years ago to launch illegal war against a state that did not threaten US in fact less threat than N. Korea in all accounts.
    How shameful this, now same media outlet felt their responsibilities to respond “to hear that cry and respond to it“?
    Were are they when 13 years of sanction on Iraqis not just crying it cost 500,000.0 baby dead and more damage of thousands of humans have nothing to do of both sides politics game?
    Wonder where these deaf media from Iraqi’s and their pain and the cry of Iraqis?
    Instead they interview and brought on their screenes those fraudulent, liars and incompetents brought them from their street to elevate them as honest, trusted sources to support their lies to build the case for warmongering.
    It took years for same media serving Bush with those stupid gangsters who were living in US and UK every day talking what their handles like to hear nor caring what “to hear that cry and respond to it” of their nation as they claims they belong to?
    What a hypocrite’s media US had?

  2. bevin

    Salah is correct. Pitch defiles: MTV are poisonous propagandists, naturally they need some sugar coating. You can but your life that nothing this poet might say about Gaza would get on TV.

  3. picard

    Correct – about what? Even if MTV-U (as distinct from MTV) was somehow part of a vast monolithic mediacomplex shilling for the neocons, is there a beef here with Behbahani? Are you in agreement with those inside Iran who would like to see her silenced? Or is this more of a sour grapes type reaction — e.g., that because other causes are ignored, then no others matter? Or is it the fact that she’s Iranian – per se — and nothing “good” can come from there in yr estimation?

  4. epppie

    How charming is that? Now MTV is helping prepare the way for war against Iran. THIS ISN’T ABOUT HUMAN RIGHTS. Human rights are being used as an excuse for war; in the same way Saddam was demonized on the basis of ‘human rights concerns’ on the road to war.
    Yes, Human Rights are important, but if MTV is interested in Human Rights, let them appoint a Palestinian voice as co-poet-laureate. Then maybe we could take this action as something other than the most vicious propaganda possible.
    You who mindlessly echo the anti-Iran propaganda: the coming war is on YOU. When the bombs drop, will you feel it in your conscience? Or do you still have one?
    One sided concern about human rights is WORSE than no concern at all. Human rights matter everywhere, not just in countries the US wants to subvert and/or attack.

  5. epppie

    How charming is that? Now MTV is helping prepare the way for war against Iran. THIS ISN’T ABOUT HUMAN RIGHTS. Human rights are being used as an excuse for war; in the same way Saddam was demonized on the basis of ‘human rights concerns’ on the road to war.
    Yes, Human Rights are important, but if MTV is interested in Human Rights, let them appoint a Palestinian voice as co-poet-laureate. Then maybe we could take this action as something other than the most vicious propaganda possible.
    You who mindlessly echo the anti-Iran propaganda: the coming war is on YOU. When the bombs drop, will you feel it in your conscience? Or do you still have one?
    One sided concern about human rights is WORSE than no concern at all. Human rights matter everywhere, not just in countries the US wants to subvert and/or attack.

  6. brian

    sorry, helena, but Behbahani HAS sold herself…to Great Satan!
    She is fully aware the elections in Iran were legitimate (unlike those in the US in 2000 or 2004). That shes being praised by the WSJ only confirms her sell out.

  7. Titus

    A poem about Gaza? Even Dante would be hard pressed to tackle that one. There is nothing poetic about corruption, feudal lords, AK-47s, explosives, and a sea of wrong choices.
    Maybe Abu Mazen can write a poem about lost Gaza, because ruling it again, won’t happen in his lifetime.

  8. Howard

    I’m very much with Helena on this one.
    Ms. Behbahani favors non-violence, women’s rights, democracy and freedom of expression. She peacefully stands up to thugs. She wields her pen against the sword. She thinks interesting thoughts.
    In many quarters the actions of the thugs who are currently forcing Iran down the wrong path have given Iran an overly simplistic bad reputation. But Iran is a complex country, far from monolithic. I oppose its regime, but I have to admit that Iran is not (yet, anyway) your typical middle eastern autocracy. There is still hope for it. For example, Ms. Behbahani, despite her politics, is the president of the Iranian Writer’s Association. The number of middle eastern countries that would permit such a thing can be counted on one hand. And of course, the average Iranian person in the street is neither evil nor crazy. Westerners SHOULD understand these things, but I suspect that most westerners see Iran as some kind of sinister al Qaeda stronghold.
    As for the implications of MTV-U’s selection: good heavens!
    @epppie thinks that MTV-U is setting the stage for a war against Iran. Seriously, epppie? This woman humanizes Iran. And her poetry frequently cries out against war.
    @brian tells us that the woman is lying. Well, Brian – millions of Iranians disagree. 😉
    @bevin complains that MTV-U is poisoning minds with propaganda. But airing Ms. Behbahani’s poetry shows that Iranian society is not some cartoon caricature of repression and anti-Westernism, but rather a society that produces works of beauty, culture and wisdom, including works that show a deep-seated yearning for peace. How is that “poisoning minds?”
    @bevin, on 11 Jan 2009, Ms. Behbahani did, in fact, join a demonstration in Palestine Square against the Gaza war. The gathering was held by Mothers of Iran for Peace. The demonstration was not registered with the authorities, however, and the Iranian regime sent goons to violently break it up, beating some of the demonstrators. Among other slogans, these thugs were shouting, “Death to the Peace Lovers!” (which is truly bizarre and Orwellian). The western media did not cover this event; I’m sure the IRI regime was grateful for the omission.
    @salah, I don’t recall MTV never celebrating Bush or the Iraq war; you must be confusing them with someone else.
    Here are 2 examples (translated) of the woman’s poetry:
    http://www.djavadi.net/2009/01/23/banu-lady-gift
    Seriously, epppie, this is the most anti-war person you can imagine.
    Thanks for posting this one, Helena.

  9. Scott H

    Many thanks Howard for that detailed rejoinder, for helping to correct mis-impressions with actual data points about Behbahani, rather than the knee jerk ideological assumptions.
    In fairness to Helena, I (Scott) put up this note about Behbahani.

  10. scott h

    For Titus, your bile as usual is showing.
    Michael Heart of course wrote the moving song/lyric for Gaza — (e.g., referring to when “the bombs fell down like acid rain”) which got well over a million views on Youtube, before … ummmm… those wishing to silence him put a censor on it for being too graphic. (And further to Salah’s general concern, I don’t recall Youtube censoring the death films of Neda.)
    http://michaelheart.com/Song_for_Gaza.html

  11. scott h

    I would be curious to know if MTV ever played Song for Gaza….
    In thinking about this subject, it is fair to recall how much of Country Music TV (different channel — owned by MTV) WAS extremely jingoistic in pushing the invasion of Iraq back in 2003, giving long play time to all sorts of hawkish tunes, while various country music radio networks (if not CMT?) banned the Dixie Chicks because “Natalie” had the nerve to speak off the reservation once….
    On the other hand, VH1 (another MTV product channel) did feature the Dixie Chicks and their “not ready to make nice” smash…. (for over a year as memory recalls)
    And then there’s the Eagles’ — “Out of Eden” (e.g. Iraq) — a terrific anti-Iraq war title song to their last chart-topper album. Alas, they never made a video of that one. We could go on and on….
    But even if MTV had lost its way in the past, I can’t see it’s selection of Behbahani herself as a splendid choice — and not as one for conflict, blindness and fear, but of hope, insight, of courage…. She’s more part of the solution than part of some unseen plot for more conflict.

  12. not stupid

    neoconmtv is pitching an attack against iran using a nice elderly woman. using an iranian against iran.
    a black ops.

  13. brian

    djavadi…millions of iranians do not disagree…just those who wittingly or unwittingly support Great Satan agree. You for instance.

  14. Salah

    Scott H,
    Did MTV screens one Iraqi (real Iraqi) who is against the war before 2003?
    Did the media in US screened the real voices of Iraqi not those odd voice who sold themselves to Neocon project.
    That was my point with regards to Ms. Behbahani&MTV, but it looks Sigah marriage between them in case of Iran, serving MTV goals.

  15. Howard

    @Scott
    Scott, I’m very sorry! I failed to notice who posted this blog entry.
    So, thanks to Scott for posting this one.
    *Embarrassed*

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