Bloom, Rahmani, and the Beautification of Bitterness

A Profile on Nosrat Rahmani (1929-2000)

Writing on Nosrat Rahmani’s poetry, the most challenging task would be to portray its unique kind in comparison with other contemporary forms of Iranian avant-garde poetry. Where it is formidable to reveal the innovative nature of his poetry, a reference to Harold Bloom’s theory of “the anxiety of influence” and his notion of “the strong poet” might be helpful to portray the kind of a poet he was, and the kind of a poetry he has created.

Harold Bloom, the well-known literary critic, has elaborated on his theory of “the anxiety of influence” as the individualistic journey of a poet to gain autonomy over his ancestor poets. Referring to both Freud’s psychoanalytic model and Nietzsche’s analysis of the tension between the superstructures and the instinctual desire to overthrow them, Bloom defines the anxiety of influence as the challenge between the tradition of great writers, and the desire for innovation in young, “belated” ones. He believes that we are belated sons of the fathers who have been superior to us. Yet, it would be lethal for us to accept our inferiority and to follow the rules of our precursors. This ambivalent relation to our literary ancestors is embodied in Bloom’s “the anxiety of influence”, which is a quest to gain innovation and self-governance for the winner of the battle, the strong poet.

Bloom believes that the aim of the strong poet to get into fight with the ancestor is the declaration of himself as a self-created individual who is the master of his own fate while subverting the domination of his ancestors. He introduces “misprision”, the misunderstanding of the ancestral actual sources, as a departure from their influence which is a necessity for the strong poet to accomplish the project of self-creation. Bloom continues that we are all latecomers arriving in a cultural setting that has been already made for us and are given a preexisting language to express ourselves. In such a situation, most individuals follow the superstructures without challenging them, fitting themselves into typical roles and sacrifice their autonomy for being protected from the social order. However, it is Bloom’s strong poet, through his “misprision”, who lets go of social consensus and common idioms and earn individuality through a profound, revolutionary modification of superstructures and traditions.

Thinking of Nosrat Rahmani’s poetry, one can identify him as the winner of the battle of the anxiety of influence. Where he, like Bloom, conceived of poetry as a pre-existing setting of language, which makes it impossible for the late comer poet to be entirely free, Rahmani practiced the literary legacy of his ancestors but adopted it to create his own bold voice in his ingenious poetry.

Born (in 1929) and raised in Tehran, he started his career in the Ministry of Post, Telegraph, and Telephone. Later, he joined the state radio, and then started working as a journalist, contributing to some of then-well-known magazines including Ferdowsi (فردوسی), Tehran, Pictorial (تهران مصور), White and Black (سپید و سیاه), Hope for Iran (امید ایران), Woman of Today (زن روز). Rahmani began his professional poetry in the early 1940s. His debut poetry collection, Migration (کوچ), was published in 1954 and brought him instant fame. With Desert (کویر), and Termeh (ترمه) he established his poetic career, and gained recognition as an avant-garde contemporary poet during the 1960s and 70s.

As Bloom’s strong poet, he was familiar with both the superstructure of rhyme from the classical ancestors, and the contemporary Nimaic poetry. Rahmani borrowed the rhyme from the classic poetry, and altered the length of the lines as Nima had started to do so in his contribution to Iranian modern poetry. However, he did not invest entirely on the legacy of both classic and modern ancestors. Rather, he infused innovative themes through the combination of rarely used words and phrases in a way that the result is a distinct experience of poetry, and an autonomous language in his poetry.

If Nima’s poetry, as Reza Baraheni explains in his book Nima Youshij: Modern Persian Poetry, is “the language of objects and birds, the language of animals, forests and the sea”, Rahmani’s poetry, which is under the influence of Nima, is filled with the colloquial language of ordinary urban people who lived under the political and social turmoil of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Still, Baraheni, in an interview with IranWire, identifies Rahmani as the practitioner of Nima’s Romanticism, along with Fereydoon Moshiri and Nader Naderpour. However, just like Bloom’s strong poet, Rahmani later dismisses his poetry from the Romantic influence and binds it to a more subversive type filled with the gloomy atmosphere of the suppressed urban life. This new articulation, which is still loyal to rhyme, echoes more with the practice of The Beat Generation, as Baraheni asserts in the same interview.

Rahmani’s unique expression of misery that departs from the influence of the ancestors can be traced back to the beginning of his career as a poet which coincided with the distressing and sour aftermath of the 1953 Iranian coup d’état. However, even at this level, his poetry was under the influence, but not the repetition of the mainstream poetry. While the impression of those years can be understood from his poetry, his thematization goes beyond this social sense to depict the feeling of personal absurdity, which is filled with disappointment. Therefore, once again his poetry steers clear of the thematic influence of his ancestors and enters an internal and original world of his own focusing on questioning the philosophical complications of being. As the winner of the anxiety of influence, however, the legacy Rahmani has left for Iranian avant-garde poetry is not the mere depiction of agony and dismay, but the beautification of misery through an innovative expression of bitterness.

Works Cited

Bloom, Harold. The Anxiety of Influence, A Theory of Poetry. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Baraheni, Reza. Nima Youshij: Modern Persian Poetry. Trans. Somaye Talebi, Leila Rasouli. Candle & Fog, 2014.

Biblio Brief:

Migration (کوچ). Tehran: 1954.

Desert (Kaveer(. Tehran: 1955.

Termeh (ترمه). Tehran: Khoosheh, 1957.

Rendezvous in mud (میعاد در لجن). Tehran: Nil, 1967.

Burning of the Wind (حریق باد). Tehran: Ketab-e- Zaman, 1970.

Harvest (درو). Tehran: Donya-ye- Ketab, 1970.

Pen’s Beloved: Sword (شمشیر: معشوقه قلم). Tehran: Bozorgmehr, 1989.

The Goblet Made Another Turn (پیاله دور دگر زد). Tehran: Bozorgmehr, 1990.

In the Battle of the Wind: Collection of Poems (در جنگ باد: گزیده اشعار). Tehran: Bozorgmehr, 1990.

The Honor of Love (آبروی عشق). Tehran: Pooyandeh, 2002.

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Leili Adibfar

Leili Adibfar

holds an MA in English Literature from Loyola University, Chicago. She has over ten years of experience in literary translation and research. Her interests include Interdisciplinary studies in modern and contemporary literature and visual arts, critical theory, Persian literature, and creative writing. Born and raised in Iran, she moved to the U.S. in 2010 to attend graduate school.

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