Iranian Poet Simin Behbahani

An important poet, known and beloved by many, as the “Lioness of Iran,” has passed away. You can read some of her poems and click through to listen to interviews with her in this NPR story. (The photo above is from that story, credited to Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images.)

Here is a great story about her fight for women’s rights (from the Washington Post).

At this great website, you can read in English or Iranian, poetry and commentary. You can also see the video of President Obama reading her poetry. This photo is from that site. I love the look in her eyes — far away gazing with full knowledge and ferocity.

I look forward to learning more about this woman’s poetry. Share a comment here if you already are a fan.

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Prompt # 18 “Men kill for this” Remembering Maxine Kumin

What a week. Maxine Kumin, a great poet and powerful foremother, died at 88. Iranian poet and activist Hashem Shaabani was executed for his writings. Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman succumbed to his addiction with a lonely needle gesture. I attended a beautiful and moving reading by Louise Glück, who read new poems about the imagined end of a creative life; her reading left me bereft in a way I did not expect. Maybe it’s the rain, which we thirsty Californians revel in, but which greets me in the morning with a darker sky. In any case, I am writing sad stunted miserable poems this week, or, fighting the urge to.

Reading back through Kumin’s poetry, I found a lovely poem that I feel brave enough to offer as a prompt. “Appetite” is a short lyric, less technical than some of Kumin’s work, but still shaped with formal restraint. You can hear Garrison Keillor read it in this 2002 recording of his Writer’s Almanac. Even better, you can hear Kumin read it herself (as part of a delightful lecture/reading) in the (Emily) Dickinson Electronic Archives. She calls it “a little father poem.”  Because it’s reproduced all over the internet, I’ll risk posting it here, without permission.

Appetite

I eat these
wild red raspberries
still warm from the sun
and smelling faintly of jewelweed
in memory of my father

tucking the napkin
under his chin and bending
over an ironstone bowl
of the bright drupelets
awash in cream

my father
with the sigh of a man
who has seen all and been redeemed
said time after time
as he lifted his spoon

men kill for this.

Isn’t it funny how eating reminds us of our family in such powerful ways? I remember my father sitting down at the dinner table every single night to whatever meal my mother put in front of him, lifting his fork and saying, without fail, “This is the best dinner I have ever had.”  That generosity, that gratitude epitomized my father and defines him still for me, if now only in memory.

Your challenge today, your opportunity, is to write about eating with your father. And if that’s a relationship you don’t want to remember or imagine, then pick someone else you ate with regularly, someone whose habits at the dinner table, the picnic table, the lunch counter, the brunch buffet, the bar, are part of your permanent history.

If you can make a connection in your poem between eating and death, I’ll give you extra credit.

Enjoy Maxine Kumin’s poem and think about your delicious short life.