Iranian Azerbaijani poet, Masum Jabbarpur, on women's rights, poetry and publishing in Iran

This article was originally published in Azerbaijani on


Iranian - Azerbaijani poet Masum Jabbarpur was born in Tabriz. She received her master's degree in mathematics, and wrote her first poems in Farsi, but later turned to Azeri as her preferred language in which to compose. Until now, she has had two books published. She is rather well known for the social messages that come across in her poems, and for describing the prejudices and discrimination that women in Iran face on a daily basis. 

Masum Jabbarpur gave an interview with "Oxu Zali" (Reading Room), in which she described in detail the situation of women in Iran, the literary environment and the difficulties of publishing in the country. 

- Ms. Jabbarpur, what does poetry express for you? How did you first decide that you wanted to put your thoughts into poetry? 

- Poetry is an expression of life itself. For me, life is a tangled, messy thing that no one can completely comprehend. I was always interested in philosophy: what is this world? Who are we? Why are we here? Where did we come from and where are we going? Is there a creator of the universe? If there is, what kind of creator is It? Is It just, and is it comprehensible to our minds? Questions such as these always interested me. I've always wanted to talk about the world with my own language, my own inner thoughts. 

For that reason, I chose poetry as my language of expression. Maybe life itself resembles a poem...? The spoken Word is as large as the world itself - it is endless, infinite. In putting words to paper, I come to terms with the pains and difficulties that I have experienced, and explore questions which I've yet to find an answer to.

- In Iran, do you have any institutions or groups that help Azerbaijani poets and others involved in literature? If not, would you say that Azerbaijanis are excluded from the literary environment? 

- These days, we don't really have such large groups...and even the smaller ones are kept under tight supervision and surveillance. But even then, I don't really have much interest in such groups, and I don't have the strength for it, either - I spend a lot of my time reading and writing, and for that reason I don't really find the time to participate. 

Mesum Cabbarpur

Mesum Cabbarpur

- Do your poems usually touch on the difficulties experienced by women? Are these difficulties always connected to the situation of women in Iran, or are they more universal? And what are some of the difficulties in particular that women in Iran face? 

- I think it's fair to say that no where in the world are men and women on a completely equal footing. And Iran's religious government only exacerbates the matter. Women here are deprived of some of the most basic rights. The shariah has a law for a woman's every move and action; she is under constant supervision, from the quality of her clothes to her marriage, divorce and her right to work. 

Just think, according to the laws of the shariah, a woman does not have the right to leave the country or go to work without her husband's permission! A married woman has no right to divorce her husband. And on top of it all, these laws have been a part of society for so long now that they have become engraved in it - women have come to peace with the discriminatory laws against them. 

I want to add that in order to win back our rights, we may even have to struggle with conservative and even regressive minded women who support the current status quo. This fact makes the issue even more difficult, however, we fortunately have many supporters on our side.

- One might find in your poetry a, so to speak, 'throwing down of the gauntlet to society.' In your opinion, do you believe the objections of a poet have the ability to change society, or will your words simply remain an expression of discontent? 

- I could answer both yes and no to this question. In fact, the impression a reader or listener receives from poetry is highly dependent upon a number of factors, including but not limited to his or her world view, age, sex, relation to religion, education, income and a slew of other factors. 

For example, people who have already reached middle - age or who have been dragged into the folds of religious fanaticism...they are difficult to change, and generally do not experience the effects of poetry. However, for youth and adolescents, who have the potential to develop into logical and open - minded thinkers, poetry can work wonders. 

At any rate, a poet must not think much about the result. They should fulfill the obligations they feel to themselves, and not hurry in the process. Our elders used to say: water must flow. Maybe it will encounter barriers. But lapping up against these barriers day by day, the water will one day destroy these barriers, and continue flowing on even more strongly than before. 

- Until now have you published books in Iran? What difficulties have you encountered in the process? 

- As of today, I received the necessary permission to print a collection of my poems under the title of "Snowman." A second compilation of my poems is also being sent to the Ministry of Culture for review. In Iran, there is no end to the difficulties one may encounter. And one of those difficulties is publishing. For starters, the contents of a book are examined both before printing and after printing (before distribution) by the Ministry of Culture. Sometimes, an entire poem may be struck down for a single word. 

When you cut a poem with scissors at its beginning, middle and end, it becomes incomprehensible and at times turns into a completely useless and worthless work. Poets put off the publication of their works for long periods of time for this very reason, afraid that their initial creation will be turned into something to which they'd rather not put their name. 

However, others are ready to write their works in such a way so as to make sure they will pass through censorship with minimal harm - in other words, they go through internal censorship. 

Unfortunately, in recent times, people have began to read less and less. Such conditions in the press industry have scared readers and pushed them away. 

There are other factors as well: including the reasonable availability of free, online books, which one can now download onto a computer or mobile device. The virtual world has become a destroyer of books, which have been put together and printed with great difficulty and care. 

I'd like to add that such [online] publications have not passed through censorship, and for that reason the public may feel more at ease with reading what they know has not been touched by the hands of those who would otherwise like to tell them what they should, and should not read. 

However, none of this distracts us [poets] from our goals. As I said before, a writer must not put much thought into the idea of obtaining a 'result' with his or her works. I believe that the content of today's modern poetry, despite censorship, is still of great interest for the public readership. 

- What female modern Iranian poets do you read? By whom have you been influenced in your work? 

- I hope you won't conceive of this as arrogance, but there are few if any female Turkish [Azeri] writers in Iran these days whose works I like. The works of Persian poet, Forugh Ferrokhzade, have meant much to me in the past few years and I have grown to love them...and some of my readers have told me time and time again that there is something common to both our works. 

I like very much the poet Attila Ilhan, and Bakhtiyar Vahabzade was one of the first poets with whose works I first became very familiar.

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