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Day by Day

Updated: Apr 16, 2023


"In the language of your blood, poetry becomes rage, it rebels."


Following revolutionary mass protests in Iran, poet and translator Saeed Tavanaee Marvi turned to language to document the emotions, violence and reality of everyday life during the uprising. His collection of peotry has been translated by Khashayar “Kes” Mohammadi and shared on Words Without Borders, a home for international literature. The #WomanLifeFreedom series is creating space for the voices of protesting Iranians, in honour of the death of Mahsa Amini and hundreds more. We asked our writers to share their thoughts.



A pink and orange splodged background. In the foreground, a circular artistically shot photo of a black wire bird against a colourful backdrop
Photography from Khashayar “Kes” Mohammadi

Lois


The death of 22 year old Mahsa Amini on 16th September 2022 while in police custody sparked protests in Iran that are described as unprecedented by commentators and human rights groups. Men and women from across different generations, ethnicities and social classes have united in a way that activists are quoted as saying is different from demonstrations seen in previous years. Several activists have commented to news outlets anonymously on the reasons for the apparent shift:


“[Anonymous says] that in 2019 poorer sections of society protested fuel price rises, while unrest in 2009 centred on more "middle-class issues" of vote rigging.


The “simple reason” why there is more unity now he says, is that Amini was an “ordinary girl”.

“She was not from a big city or an activist. She was taken from her family and murdered … it's much easier to sympathise with that.


Something else that sets these protests apart from those in the past is that they show the Islamic Republic has “lost legitimacy among its core supporters”, [says Anonymous] believing this is due to the “horrific violence” inflicted upon past demonstrators.”


- 'Iran protests: What caused them? Are they different this time? Will the regime fall?’ Euronews.com, (updated 01/02/2023, accessed 14/04/2023)


It’s in this context that Saeed Tavanaee Marvi’s Day by Day has been written. Originating as a series of Instagram posts by the accomplished poet, translator and lyricist, Day By Day strikes the reader with a much greater sense of both immediacy and intimacy than a simple poetry collection.


And terrifyingly so. It’s a curation of reactions, observations, declarations, outcries, and lamentations that documents a history that’s unfolding in front of the world. Khashayar “Kes” Mohammadi, the person responsible for translating the collection from its original Persian, describes it as “morbidly fascinating, both in historical terms and in its poetic weight against the fist of the Oppressor.” I quote this because I can find no better words to describe the position in which I find myself with it.

The confines of literary study have reduced me to the level of a privileged peeping tom. I peer crudely through the window while young people fight for freedoms people like me rarely give a passing thought to. University reading lists are filled with library-loads of works on context, form, style, criticism and technique that students young and old are instructed to absorb and pass comment upon – all within acceptable word counts. So, I have just over 200 words left to tell you what I interpret when I see written under the date 7/10/22: “All the innocents are clad the same / With sparkling eyes / And bleeding mouths”. Meanwhile an article containing reports of teenage girls murdered by security forces sits open on my phone. It bears the same date.


Generations are risking their lives documenting what we’ll one day label history. To passively dissect and comment on linguistic and stylistic nuance feels crass. The words themselves are what matter. “Words”, the author tells us, “are always victorious” … “Since your bullets will run out / But our words circulate mouth to mouth / And persist.”

The words that will outlast the bullets are what matter. It matters that they are written; that they exist.


It matters that Words Without Borders are continually translating and publishing new writing by authors from around the world and that there’s a platform where the words can continue to circulate; to open doors; conversations; minds. That’s what literature is for. It has been a vehicle for dissenting voices and cries for change in every language. The only appeal I can make is that we lend weight to the words by reading and sharing them. Learn about Words Without Borders, their mission, impact and resources here.




The logo for Words Without Borders, a home for international literature. The logo has a blue background, with a bold W and B in soft black font. A W in white font overlaps the black letters.
Words Without Borders

Gazal


Day by Day by Saeed Tavanee Marvi was an alarming reminder that poetry continues to be a simple yet powerfully impactful medium to convey emotion in a way that feels wholly relatable. I say this because when you first read his selection of poems in isolation, you assume the poems depict general worldwide concepts that anyone could experience, such as: love, sorrow, and freedom of speech. Coupled with the fact that Marvi’s selection of poems are written in chronological order and vary in length to reflect how every day can differ, I felt it was a very clever way to encourage audiences that are not just Iranian to sympathise with the conflicts he discusses.


However, these poems open a plethora of conversations about gender and conflict and because of that, understanding the context of these poems is paramount to truly understanding the message Marvi is trying to convey. Day by Day must be understood as a written protest, as contextually speaking, the issues he mentions within his poems speak to Iran’s political history and current leadership, which has triggered recent events and tragedies such as the death of Mahsa Amini. Mahsa was a twenty-two year old Iranian Kurdish woman arrested on charges of improperly wearing the hijab by morality police on the 13th September 2022, who eye-witnesses stated was beaten and then later died from brain injuries while held in custody. Her death triggered protests in anger nationwide at the state’s refusal to investigate her death or admit their complicit involvement. Women and teenage school girls demonstrated in the streets of Iran by freeing and cutting their hair in rage, chanting “Zan Zindagee Azaadi/Women, Life and Liberty”.


With this in mind, the anger and protest at these horrific events are ever present in Marvi’s poetry, where the constant referencing of womanhood and hair are made apparent. He makes it clear that he is speaking for Iranian women exactly like Mahsa Amini who are constantly silenced and subjected to misogyny and religious oppression when saying “Our mouths were poisoned with silence”. These words alone cut deep. They denote the censorship and obstructive laws the Iranian regime has enforced on women who are trying to speak for themselves on their choice to wear a headscarf and autonomy to dress however they want.


On a personal level these poems made me feel very emotional. As an Afghan woman, the same restricting rules enforced on women in Iran are also prevalent in Afghanistan. It felt easy to relate and empathise, notably since Afghanistan and Iran do share history, culture and even language - especially in regards to Persian literature and poetry written in Farsi. I immediately understood how restricted, violent and hostile women’s lives are in Iran through the themes of death and self-expression that Marvi’s poems centre on. “It’s hard to explain someone’s death/To their clothes/To say they’re gone, and no one knows where/And you will forever remain cold”. Alongside symbolism of birds flying freely to emphasise an escapist hope or dream, it felt clear that Marvi wants us to know that Iranian women’s fight for autonomy and freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, not a flighty fantasy.


I also found it really interesting that it was an Iranian man writing these poems and not an Iranian woman. Marvi’s poetry as a whole can be seen as his own political statement, especially when he says, “in the language of your womb, poetry becomes human, it brings miracles”. For a man to write against the gender norms of Iran that arguably do not affect his own life, feels provocative in itself. Since the protests have partly been to rally support from Iranian men to actively fight against the oppression women have been facing, you could definitely say this is Marvi’s way of supporting and platforming Iranian women’s voices through Persian poetry – something which has been a prevalent cultural medium in Iran and other persian-speaking nations for centuries.


Day by Day is first and foremost a translation, so I definitely recommend you read both this version and the original Persian text in Farsi, if you can understand it! Even translated, Marvi’s poems will gift you an understanding of the beauty and emotion that Persian poetry exudes. Feminism and women’s rights are critical issues that we must continue to speak about to actively fight against oppressive beliefs. Despite being a short selection of poetry, its conciseness invokes strength and a unique perspective of the reality of women’s rights in Iran, as well as around the world.





Review edited by Ellie Reeves






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