“Such a strange time it is, my dear” – Ahmad Shamlou, #Censorship, #Art, and #Poetry

They smell your mouth
To find out if you have told someone:
I love you!
They smell your heart!
Such a strange time it is, my dear;
And they punish Love
At thoroughfares
By flogging.
We must hide our Love in dark closets.
In this crooked dead end of a bitter cold
They keep their fire alive
By burning our songs and poems;
Do not place your life in peril by your thoughts!
Such a strange time it is, my dear!
He who knocks on your door in the middle of the night,
His mission is to break your Lamp!
We must hide our Lights in dark closets!
Behold! butchers are on guard at thoroughfares
With their bloodstained cleavers and chopping-boards;
Such a strange time it is, my dear!
They cut off the smiles from lips,
and the songs from throats!
We must hide our Emotions in dark closets!
They barbecue canaries
On a fire of jasmines and lilacs!
Such a strange time it is, my dear!
Intoxicated by victory,
Satan is enjoying a feast at our mourning table!
We must hide our God in dark closets

Ahmad Shamlou, “In this Dead-end”

This month, let’s try to break down the elements of censorship and oppression.  i’d like you all to consider the common tool of these environments: surveillance.

Surveillance, in the current sociopolitical world is a hydra-headed entity.  Networks of networks are not just observing our actions, but also logging massive amounts of data.  Sometimes this is an explicit violation of privacy, but other times we are tricked or comforted into providing our own tastes, habits, and thoughts to our “dossiers”.  And this is to say nothing of what we do to the rest of the world.

My questions to you, when we next meet to write, are:

  • How does art fare in this climate?
  • How does a writer produce?
  • How do you form and sustain personal relationships?
  • How do you revel in the riches of language, thought, and art when all of these are surveilled?

Totalitarian societies  are wildly paranoid; they police not just action but esthetics.  In the case of governments, anything reactionary, populist, anything that reminds people of the time before (or a life outside of) the regime is suspect, degenerate, and punished.


As an exercise, we will try to put ourselves into some small part of Shamlou’s speaker.  Write a dialogue (or poem) with your lover (real or imagined) WITHOUT using the following words:

love, sex, hand(s), eye(s), body, moonlight, warmth, breath, quiver(ing), touch, yearn, need.

Allusions to these concepts aren’t “illegal”, but will be suspicious.  Any trope, image, or metaphor that comes close to these intensely personal, intimate realms will put you on “a list”.  Remember that you have to cover not just yourself, but your beloved.

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