Translator's notes

Death by Stoning (extract)

By Ziba Karbassi

Ziba Karbassi was born in the city of Tabriz, northwestern Iran, in 1974.

She began writing poetry at an early age and quickly gained a reputation as one of the best younger contemporary poets writing in Persian. Her long poem ‘Sangsar’ (‘Death by Stoning’) in particular brought her to the notice of audiences and readers. It relates the execution of a young pregnant woman in the mid-1980s in Iran, which was one of the reasons the poet’s own mother decided to leave Iran and seek asylum for herself and her family. ‘Sangsar’ is a superbly achieved poem of political and personal pain and a sustained elegy of harshness and tender language. 

Her poetry is a dense and open-meshed lyric poetry and yet it is also – if not political poetry, which it isn’t – then poetry created from the effects of political terror. Ziba Karbassi’s poetry has always been marked by a passionate lyricism and an openness to emotional and linguistic risk: but her singular achievement, in my opinion, has been to maintain a balance in her lyricism so that it is precisely where her language is at its most tense that it is mapped with exact detail onto emotional and physical reality. In this she reminds me of such poets as Marina Tsvetaeva. In her most recent long work ‘Collage Poem’ she again writes about love in personal and political terms, but now not so much from the trauma of memory as from precise and present experience, bringing together different genres of text in an almost filmic sequence (a translation of this poem is due to be printed in the current issue of the journal Sable). 

To date, Ziba Karbassi has published five books of poetry in Persian, all of which have been published outside Iran. She is a powerful and moving performer of her own work and has given readings throughout Europe and in North America. She has lived in exile in London since 1989 during which time it has been impossible for her to return to Iran. Highly regarded by Persian-speaking audiences in exile, her poetry also exerts a strong influence in her birth country, especially among younger readers with access to her work, precisely for her open and passionate lyricism and the literal risks that she takes. 

(A much longer essay, by Stephen Watts, about Ziba Karbassi’s early poetry was published by the Galway Arts Centre in the Cúirt Annual 2003)

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