Mehrdad Fallah comes from Northern Iran. He was born in 1960 in Fashoo Poshteh – “a small village . . . five fingers away from the Caspian”, as he writes in his autobiographical poem ‘Let’s get some fresh air’ – somewhere between Langerood and Lahijan in the province of Gilan. He discovered his love of reading and writing poetry in his teens at high school.
In 1976 Fallah went to study in Tehran, where he became acquainted with the many bookshops of the capital and the contemporary Iranian poetry scene. The next few years ushered in the surge of revolutionary fervour in the universities against the Shah’s dictatorship, which interrupted his poetry for two to three years. With the establishment of the Islamic Republic and its ‘Cultural Revolution’, universities began to be purged of dissenting voices. Fallah was caught in this wave of university expulsions and could no longer complete his degree in Communications Engineering.
The period that followed was marked by a disillusionment with politics and Fallah’s all the more earnest return to poetry. The poems he wrote in this period were collected in his first collection, Suspension, published in the autumn of 1984, and reflect the mood of the time. There are dark undercurrents throughout this first book, with a kind of fatalism and philosophical despair running through the best poems of the collection. This ran counter to the prevalent tone of revolutionary optimism and humanism of the poetry of the time and became a distinguishing mark of his work.
A year after the publication of his first book, he married Heideh Peer Fekri, to whom he has been married now for 26 years. They have a son and a daughter.
His second book, In the Best Waiting, was published in 1992 and impressed the poetry circuit, including some leading poets and writers including Sepanloo, Hoghooghi and Golshiri. In the short poems of this book we confront clear and figurative language and imagery. With realism, Fallah deals with subjects such as time and death.
In fact, in the period between his first and second books, literary publications had begun to multiply in Iran, and Fallah published many of his poems through these publications, proving himself a prolific poet. In this period of growth, Fallah studied contemporary Iranian and international arts and researched classical Persian poetry. His interests were not confined to poetry but also extended into fiction, cinema and painting. Socialising with artists from all genres expanded the horizons of his poetry. Fallah’s poems of this period were electronically published in a book called This Precipitous Dream and distributed via the Internet. Overall, one can say that Fallah’s first three books represent stages in his connection with the modern poetry (New Poetry) of Iran. In his later books, we witness a departure from the aesthetics of modern poetry.
Fallah’s collection of poems Four Mouths and One Gaze was published in the autumn of 1997, a year or two after the emergence of a new generation of Persian poets including Ali Abdolrezaei and Abolfazl Pasha. These poets had created a stir by reading innovative and audacious poems to poetry reading groups and associations, and were beginning to lay the foundations of their new aesthetics.
Following the publication of Four Mouths and One Gaze, Fallah and friends of his generation began to expound and explain this new gaze and the new aesthetics operative in their work, through writing articles and giving talks in the literary and academic circles at the time. By announcing the birth of the ‘Fifth Generation’ of modern Persian poetry in his articles, Fallah put himself forward as the spokesman for the new generation of poets.
Arguably, the most important poem of Four Mouths and One Gaze is the title poem, a long piece simultaneously narrated by several voices. Fallah himself considers this poem to be representative of hidden microphones or cameras planted in someone’s head, capturing whatever goes on without explanation or evaluation.
Such writing was unprecedented in Persian poetry. This material, together with his articles, his strong presence in the media and his subsequent collection I’m Becoming a Crow Again (published in 1999) brought Fallah significant renown. In an interview about the latter collection, Fallah explained that the book took him back to how he originally wanted to write poetry. The varied tones of speech and the live rhythmical language mixed with social and philosophical satire and his original narrative style attracted considerable reviews and commentary. Fallah himself believes the key characteristic of these poems, and poems inspired by them, is the setting aside of the “I of the poem” which typically dominates in earlier Iranian poetry. The new I in the poem, in contrast to the previous I of the poem, who was always prophetic and idealistic, is now a multiple I in crisis. It would be no exaggeration to rank I’m Becoming a Crow Again and Ali Abdolrezaei’s Paris in Renault as the most influential collections on the new generation of Iranian poets.
The title poem of Fallah’s subsequent From Myself (2001) further tried to the render the ‘self’ through peeling back its the psychological and social masks, exposing its multiplicity and contradictions. This and other poems from the collection are redolent with black humour and critical gaze.
As of early 2011, no book has been printed in Fallah’s name since this last collection. This could be because the highly conservative atmosphere dominating Iran in the latter years has unfortunately led to a dearth of risk-taking publishers of poetry. This has been compounded by the regime of government censorship which presides over the publishing industry in Iran.
Nevertheless, Mehrdad Fallah’s next book, Let’s Get Some Fresh Air, was published electronically in 2009 by poetrymag.net. It consists of six long poems and a few short poems, which Fallah considers to be the closure of his second poetic phase. The most original and daring poem of this collection is ‘Arc of Ma(jnu)N’, the title of which encompasses three permutations of Arc of Man (or ‘me’ in Persian), Arc of Jnun (‘madness’), or Arc of Majnun (a Romeo-like figure of Persian literature). In this long poem Fallah employs arrows and graphic shapes, guiding the reader’s eyes through the text, and one can return to read the poem again in a different way. As Fallah puts it, “It’s as if we write one poem but we can read several.” It is not surprising that Fallah considers this to be the fallopian tube of his later, concrete poems. He calls them ‘khaandidani’, a portmanteau word made up of seeing and reading, a cross between readable and spectacular – literally translated, ‘spectacureadable’), rather like Appollinaire’s calligrammes.
Calligrammatic poetry has preoccupied Fallah since 2005. Fallah has published these on his blog to reach his audience. The most famous of this genre is his ‘Valieasr Street’. This calligramme visually reconstructs the long main street of that name in Tehran using textual calligraphic elements. This poem has instigated a lot of discussion, with both advocates and detractors. Fallah himself has written articles and joined the debate to argue for the advantage of this style of concrete as opposed to linear poetry.
Certainly, Fallah has left behind some of the fans of his earlier poetry, who think that with his concrete poetry Fallah is turning his back on the poets of his generation. But Fallah is not convinced by this view, arguing that this kind of poetry is a natural development influenced by today’s hybrid media culture. According to Fallah, “If we consider the poem as a living and dynamic entity, like all other living entities, it is constantly changing and shedding skin. Yes, these poems perhaps do not fit into the mould of poetry as written so far, but it is an attribute of creative poetry to break set frames and moulds. That which shows off its poetic appearance is not a poem, it is a quasi-poem. From my point of view, the poet should work with whatever opportunity lends itself to make the poem more multifaceted. I don’t like repeating myself. When a poem calls on me, I would like it to throw me somewhere I have not seen before. I let language make me its playmate.”
Elsewhere he explains, “The ruling powers in the cultural sphere are always determined to ensure cultural, intellectual and artistic activities fit into predefined and recognised frameworks in order to protect their hegemony. In this way they can predetermine what constitutes art, ideas and culture and what does not. [ . . . ] If seeking the new and writing the new is an unquestionable value, the main reason is to overcome the hegemony and to break the barriers within which this hegemony wants to confine everything. In addition, in poetry the thing that excites the creator is treading the unknown territory and its borders. Otherwise, writing poetry becomes like office work or school work. [ . . . ] in progressive poetry we have no alternative but creativity that is a discovery of connections, bonds, forms which have not been found before in which ever field. If I just mix a few verbal or visual clichés, what else am I doing other than spreading pre-existing cliches? Creative art that is critical breaks the clichés of form and content. In fact, art of the mainstream is itself a banality of which it is the job of the progressive artist to expose and to break.”
What most strikes the eye in considering Fallah’s career is his search for new writing and new experiments. Undoubtedly, we can count Fallah as a poet who speaks his mind through his search into unknown realms and discovery of new forms. He keeps inviting poets of his generation to innovation and experimentation and believes that the creative poet should not enslave himself to the illusion of appealing to a mass audience through poetry. He thinks of mass audience as a media concept and shares the belief of Jorge Louis Borges, the Argentinian poet, that the poet is someone who is imprisoned in an ivory tower, writing a letter to someone else who is also imprisoned in an ivory tower.
Suspension, Azad Nashr, Tehran, 1984
This Precipitous Dream, 1988
From Myself, 1990
In the Best Waiting, 1991
Four Mouths and One Gaze, 1994
I Am Becoming a Crow Again, 1999
Let’s Get Some Fresh Air (selection of poems 2001–2004) poetrymag.net, 2008
Mehrdad Falalh on Wikipedia
Mehrdad Falalh’s blog