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Tenement Press is an occasional publisher of esoteric,
accidental, angular, & interdisciplinary literatures.

My head is my only house unless it rains

Don Glen Vliet

Were a wind to arise
I could put up a sail
Were there no sailI’d make one of canvas and sticks

Bertolt Brecht, ‘Motto’
(Bucknow Elegies)

Reza Baraheni

Tenement #8
140 pp



Published 9th June 2023

Iran’s finest poet. 

Harper’s Magazine

[Baraheni’s] vision was not confined to Iran. He was instrumental in having the wording of charter of PEN International changed to make it more universal. Its first words used to be: “Literature, national though it may be in origin, knows no frontiers and must remain common currency among people in spite of political or international upheavals.” He proposed deleting the words, “national though it be in origin.” That simple yet profound change was approved at the 2003 PEN Congress in Mexico City, the first change to the document since it was agreed to in 1948. The revised Charter now reads: “Literature knows no frontiers...”

Haroon Siddiqui, former president of PEN Canada,
in tribute to Baraheni on his death in 2022, PEN International

‘I think therefore I am other…’ In Reza Baraheni’s Lilith, the mythological demon of the night gives a youthfully irreverent, viscerally wise voice to the lucidity of the rebel. Rather than renouncing freedom, Lilith is outcast for her outspokenness and sensuality—sequestered to a place wherein freedom is crucially situated in the power and beauty of language, and where that language is seated in stark opposition with the oppressive forms of authority that seek to make it mute.

Lilith can be seen as an allegorical take on the condition of the poet in exile. Like the banned and persecuted author, the demon refuses to yield to force and is, resultantly, a pariah. Her body becomes the dumping ground of all power-driven fantasies, and the figure of the exile is invested with the projected fears and compulsions of the dominant society. But it is the creative drive of language that permeates these pages.

A deeply lyrical and irreducibly subversive work, over a little less than a hundred pages Lilith investigates the limits of a linguistic freedom via encounters between Lilith and a cast of fabled figures, and the vulnerable courage of the poet is set against avatars of patriarchal oppression and authoritarian rule alike via the demon’s dance with language. In Lilith, it is language that disrupts ordinary chronology; language that allows for the shade of a dream life to dint the light of day; harking back to an envisaging of poetry as music, as ritual. This is not language as an evocation of some distant golden age, but as celebration.

An experiment in word alchemy; a dance of grace and danger on the faultline of prose and song; Lilith explores the reality-making function of language to pinpoint the antagonistic faculty and political felicities of poetry itself.

In 2006, Lilith was adapted for the theatre and produced in France and Geneva by Thierry Bedard (under the title Exilith). Bedard has also previously presented Reza Baraheni’s play Enfer to great acclaim at the Avignon International Festival in 2004. This Tenement text is a translation of Clément Marzieh’s brilliant French version (Fayard, 2007). No edition of Lilith, as far as is known, seems ever to have been published in Persian and, indeed, the original manuscript appears to have been lost. The English translators of Lilith have chosen to remain anonymous.

The Tenement publication of Lilith is punctuated by paintings by London-based painter and filmmaker Oliver Bancroft.

For the attention of ‘brick & mortar’ bookshops,
order copies of Baraheni’s Lilith via our distributor,
Asterism Books.

Reza Baraheni, ‘Daf’ 

Translated by Reza Baraheni
& Stephen Watts

‘Daf’ reflects both Baraheni’s Persian background but also particularly his Azeri roots : he was born in Tabriz (in 1935) & thus is much concerned with Azeri, Turkic & Kurdish cultures, as well as more mainstream Persian themes. A ‘Daf’ is a round drum (in many ways not unlike a ‘bodhran’), played at times to ecstasy and to sharp climax. Baraheni’s poem dances linguistically through its pages & I’ve attempted to measure this in the English translation and to reflect its rhythms & space : the opening, for instance, seeks to convey the circular shape of a daf. Much of the language and layout reverberates with Azeri & Kurdish energies, themes & rhythms. It is a volcanic poem of air, rock and breath, plunging from its title down to its very last word. 

Stephen Watts, 2023

Beating the daf, shaking it
beating it, breaking it out in shake music, beating
the midnight moon beating the daf moon’s night in the
ecstatic bursting of laughter in the ‘ha’ of the hallelu-jah
in the turbulent rolling of struck thunder
On drum days when the shining in the outburst of Shirin’s
dream is the music that Farhad was aching for
Deafen down the daf when the belt of thunder of the future
drums out truths from its circle & strikes itself in just
where we need it to strum it out again
Daf intravening daf moon into moaning moon & there-
fore in its oven mouth-baked – the white round bread
of the sky, the daf of the soul, the music of
the tight skin around the
spirit’s dream

Now night will never sense silence again
and after these circles of turbulence
I’ll not sleep for a geology of un-numberable years
Here night swells on rim edges of drums and bells –
the daf’s white moon : flick it from your wrist
but do not throw it away
I’m telling you take this & affidavit it in the juice & leisure
of the moment : do not I beg you leave it

Kurd of the spirit
Eye dervished by squinting
Eyebrow pulled across toward miracles
You poppy-eyed
Sneak-thief of a thousand fires You bursting into laughter where
copper melts into fever and the gold of the daf daf daf opens
up the oven of my body : do not give up this music

Planets of the daf
are pulsing in the swallow gardens
daf daf de daf de daf daf

Blood is dripping
from this poem as from your eyes
daf daf de daf

A woman running on the titanium coast screams
“god god god why have you forgotten the sky of Teheran”
the daf-given golden face of the full moon gleams
in the face of the woman

daf daf de daf da daf
daf daf de daf da daf
daf daf de daf da daf

My beloved
You sky
of the spirit
Mandala secret
daf daf da daf of the oven of my body
Kurd of the spirit
You struck Kirkuk with the strength of your voice
on Kurghau-Gaaf
daf daf da daf
daf daf da daf

You simurged the Alborz mountains reviving their rock spirits
with the drum glint of this trance
daf daf da daf
daf daf da daf da daf

Shake awake you star ancestor of drums from their sleep
Darling simurg be violent
Startle everyone
daf daf da daf
daf daf da daf da daf
daf daf da daf da daf daf daf da daf

When in the ruby desert
the drumbell of the daf is playing
rise up in me and on my shoulders
& above my heart      breasts       daf
it is the jump of blood that is pumping
judas tree fingered with purple
with its fist of perfume & honeys
it is the daf daf da daf that is beating
I am the coastline       and the waves
are the daf beats of sounds pounding
I am the earth and it is the hooves
of herd beasts drumming out
the heartbeats of
the daf

The ancient spirit of Ghonia is a fire beneath the earth,
Ghonia that
has blossomed on the earth’s shoulders as judas tree and tulip
It is the dream drum of the dear daf that is beating
on Ghonia
O you young youth
You Urmavi
You inbreath of breaking speech
It is the daf’s daf breaking
on Maulavi

On scorched meadows
Tabriz has inscribed
You Urmavi
You young Babylon of the oldest tongues
The ancient spirit of Ghonia is a fire beneath the earth,
Ghonia that
has blossomed on the earth’s shoulders as judas trees and tulips
It is the drum dream of the drawn daf that is beating
on Ghonia

Winds blow out the blast edges
and gust-cliffs of Azeri peaks and pour into lakes
where nomad herders with their herds make fire and bivouac
it is the ache and crack of the daf that is beating
Suns from early-risen mountain peaks light up waiting turrets of
high rock pastures further west
This Zoroaster of the mountain culture is among us
the drum and clash and cluster of the daf
beating on the roof

Camel’s milk
On the roof of the moon
Carafe of wine
On the tip of the tongue
Swirl of the skin on the daf that is beating
Sea of lilies painted on our ceilings
It is the dizzy dance of the daf that is beating
rippled in its core-line stem

It is the dancing planet that is beating
It is the dancing plummet da daf
It is the dancered dizzied daf
It is the daf daf da daf that is beaten
and beating

You young youth
You throat that
is kissable
Let me kiss you
Young mouth
You fist of honeys
Perfume and honeys
Kissable throat
You iris

My drum moon whirling round the world
behind the dancing daf
full moon
full moon
full moon
It is the daf that is beating out da daf
eyes wet with honey
wine carafe
My moon daf whirling round the world
My round daf
My woman-man
My asylum of miracles & margins

Beating the daf beating its music out under the moon
at midnight  night of Zoroaster  of mountain culture among us
in the ecstatic breaking of the laughter of the ‘ha’ of hallelu-jah
in the turbulent bursts of its struck thunder
my daf moon is whirling round the world
circles of its light haloes of the planets of its heads
from the sky and its bewilderment of necks
from the shoulders of its shadow
the head flies off
the head jumps free
the daf beats the hand
the hand beats the daf
it is the sound of the daf being slapped
that knocks off our human heads
daf daf da daf daf

Young youth
throat that is kissable
you head beheader
it is the sound of the daf
that knocks off our heads
Are you struck dumb
are you headless

Stump red & severed orb
blood rump & miracle of distant dirt
calve along the colour skein dazed in the daf da daf daf
that’s dawning in the crazed days of the mind where
thousands of stars also call out
it is the daf daf da daf that is beating
and these stars are
in the planets of the head and in
fragrances of fast-flowing rains and in the confluence of many
taut skins in the daf daf da daf that is being out-breathed :
drum like velvet that within its sheen
has dervished all the love
of its frenzied planets

Let me melt me in the revolving
of the madness of the frenzied daf your crazy
daf where what can you do  aieeee ….
Let me make myself in the circle of the madness crazy daf
aieeee …. let me meet me in the whirled of the madness
of your frenzy daf your crazied daf where what
can you do aieeee ….
Aieeee ….
Aieeee ….
Let me melt myself
in the revolving of the madness crazy daf  aieeee ….

Aieeee ….

Baraheni’s recitation of ‘Daf’ is excerpted from the record Addressing Butterflies, poems and songs by Reza Baraheni and Farnaz Modarresifar (© Petrichor Records, 2019). Oliver Bancroft’s work appears courtesy of the artist and Goldmark Gallery, London. 

Baraheni is a literary man, so his revolt took the form of breathing “reality and harshness” into the Persian language, and turning it against his oppressors.

Kirkus Reviews

Poetry is an affirmation of the possible. It celebrates life, its delights, sorrows and value. Affirmation is best when sung with passion and wit. Celebration needs to be individual and collective; immediate, and soaked with a sense of the past. When poems are written out of a cogent Marxist ideology and/or in opposition to a repressive, exploitative society, celebration can be fired by a spirit of practical revolution: a driving force for change that, by affirming the possible and recording its violation, ferments discontent and implies the need for struggle. [Baraheni's work] is such an affirmation, and force for change.

Sueloe Wenstein

‘So let us propose discussion of the idea that a new art, with its own rules, is being generated in the 20th century,’ says E. L. Doctorow in his introduction to [Baraheni’s] The Crowned Cannibals: ‘the Lieder of victims of the state. It sings of regimes so repressive as to be fun‐house mirror images of civilisation. It recounts years of solitary confinement. It tells of pliers for pulling fingernails, it speaks of electric currents sent Into sexual organs, it describes prison cells in which person can neither stand up nor lie down. True, this is a necessarily small range of subject. There is a limit to the possibilities of metaphor. The subtext has to do with the degrees of death in life. But within these strictures the poet is entitled to sing with his or her own voice.’ Mr. Doctorow is fending off imaginary critics before any punches have been thrown. He would protect Reza Baraheni from ‘those who insulate themselves in literature,’ those who draw ‘patronising distinctions between what is aesthetically successful and what is only sensational,’ those for whom ‘words are a tapestry, and of no value except in the pretty designs they make.’

John Leonard, The New York Times 

Reza Baraheni (1935-2022) is one of the twentieth century’s major writers, whose work transverses poetry, novels and essays. With more than sixty books of poetry, fiction, literary theory and criticism to his name (oft-cited as a “founder of modern literary criticism in Iran,” the Washington Post), he is revered as a key figure in contemporary Persian literary culture. Baraheni’s works have been translated into several languages, and he has taught at universities in Iran, the United States, and Canada. Imprisoned under the Shah in 1973, he was arrested in Tehran; Baraheni claimed he was tortured and kept in a solitary confinement for 104 days—see God’s Shadow, Prison Poems (Indiana University Press, 1976), and The Crowned Cannibals (Random House, 1977)—and his involvement in the formation of the Consulting Assembly of the Writers Association of Iran necessitated his exile from the Islamic Republic. In Sweden, and in the United States thereafter, he joined the American branch of the International PEN, working very closely with such authors and poets as Edward Albee, Allen Ginsberg, and Richard Howard at PEN’s Freedom to Write Committee. With Kay Boyle, Baraheni acted as the Honorary Chair of the Committee for Artistic and Intellectual Freedom (CAIFI) to release Iranian writers and artists from prison. A celebrated and insightful commentator on literary freedom(s), his prose and poetry has been published in such periodicals as Time Magazine, the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, and the American Poetry Review. Eventually settling in Canada, Baraheni lived in exile in Toronto, and held post as a visiting professor at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Comparative Literature and as president of PEN Canada (2001-2003).


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