In his speeches, [Khameini] has often cited Lenin’s phrase that if an ideology is not supported by art it will die.

From an article called “The Secrets of Khameini’s Life,” written by Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Khameini, Iran’s Supreme Ruler, cares deeply about poetry and what I finnd interesting in this brief profile is the account of how poetry and politics mix at the highest echelons of Iran’s authoritarian, theocratic regime. Makhmalbaf, who has been living in exile in France, has become the Iranian opposition’s main spokesman abroad since the disputed presidential election in 2009. He posted the article to his website on Monday, December 28, 2009. The English translation from which I have taken this excerpt about Khameini’s interest in poetry is from Homylafayette’s blog:

Khamenei’s interest in poetry began at a young age and has been maintained till today. He spent long hours at the poetry association of Mashhad. He has written some poems. He is delighted when poets write poetry about him and expresses his satisfaction through gifts to the poets. Sabzevari and Ali Moallem, who are among the fawning Muslim poets, are constantly corresponding with him. It is through them that he is informed of the problems of artists affiliated with the regime. At the start of his Leadership, he received the poet Mir Shakak, who was a manic depressive, several times. Khamenei became very proud of himself when Mir Shakak upon saying goodbye would say, ‘Seyed zat ziad’ (Meaning ‘the honor is great’, which is a colloquial prayer). Khamenei invites poets to his Household several times a year so that they may recite poems in his presence.

At the beginning of his presidency, he asked Akhavan Saless, whom he knew very well, to write a flattering poem for the revolution. Akhavan Saless (NB Mehdi Akhavan Saless, also known as M. Omid) responded, ‘We artists are above the government, not with it.’ Khamenei was so incensed by this answer that he ordered that he stop being paid. (NB Akhavan Saless worked at the Academy of Artists and Writers). Akhavan Saless became unemployed after that. Gheysar Aminpour has referred to this event in his article on Akhavan.

Khamenei intensely disliked Shamlou (NB Ahmad Shamlou, one of the most prominent Iranian poets of the last century) and referred to him with hatred. But he never dared arrest and punish him, because he feared tainting his own name in history. He has read much about kings who mistreated poets. In his speeches, he has often cited Lenin’s phrase that if an ideology is not supported by art it will die. He loves poetry so much that if he had not become active in religion and politics, he would probably have turned to poetry and literature. However, because of his busy schedule, he sometimes makes glaring mistakes [in this regard]. Despite claiming to be knowledgeable about verse, when a young poet recited a poem in his presence, he asked him, ‘Is this poem by you?’ To which the poet responded, ‘No, it is by Sohrab Sepehri.’ (Any schoolchild knows Sepehri’s work).

Cross posted on The Poetry in The Politics and The Politics in The Poetry.

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