Intimate Realism: Recording the Experience of Exile in Second-Generation Refugee Poetry in Iran

A lecture by Zuzanna Olszewska, St. Johns College, Oxford University, part of the Afghanistan in Ink Conference

Intimate Realism: Recording the Experience of Exile in Second-Generation Refugee Poetry in Iran

Please upgrade to a browser that supports HTML5 audio or install Flash.

Audio MP3 Download Podcast

Duration: 25:49

This paper examines the poetry of second-generation Persian-speaking Afghan refugees in Iran. It is based on 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork, interviews with poets and gathering of literary material in Tehran and Mashhad between 2004 and 2007.

While the first generation of refugee poets in the 1980s was still largely steeped in the experiences of war and resistance against the Soviets and used epic poetry to support the struggle, the second generation from the late ‘90s onwards has moved away from such political and ideological preoccupations and has focused on itself. These young people have been educated in Iran and influenced by the styles and genres of poetry popular among Iranians. They are interested in presenting themselves as cultured people (adamha-ye farhangi) and as socially conscious intellectuals in order to improve their status from the stereotype of the Afghan labourer assumed by many Iranians. But they also seek an outlet for the many frustrations of living as non-citizens in a country that has offered them many opportunities, but also reserved the right to take them away without notice.

This has led to a large amount of subjective lyrical poetry, including ghazal-e no which uses the traditional form but a very contemporary and conversational language, and she‘r-e sepid or blank verse which is thought to be the most direct and forthright way of communicating one’s inner thoughts. There is a lot of experimentation – not only with style, but also with identity. I will present and discuss a number of poems in one such style – which I call “intimate realism,” since it presents both the external realities of everyday life as refugees in an urban setting, as well as the internal thoughts, hopes and concerns of the narrators. Such poetry is both a valuable document of the refugee experience, but also a refreshing addition to the history of Persian-language poetry in Afghanistan.