Last night I went with F. Mehrban to see Iranian poet Esmail Khoi at the Poetry Cafe in London. Esmail Khoi is vehemently opposed to the regime in Iran and is famous both as a poet and as an advocate of human rights and democracy. He has lived in exile in England for more than 25 years and, although he has the stature of someone like Harold Pinter or Seamus Heaney among the Iranian diaspora, he is relatively unknown among the English-speaking population here.
Last night's event was hosted by Exiled Writers Ink and included Iranian music from the Sahra Band and a poem dedicated to Esmail Khoi, written and read by Stephen Watts. Esmail Khoi read his poems both in Farsi (Persian) and English, and was interviewed by Rogan Wolf about the situation in Iran as well as a little about his life and work. He has lost friends, family and colleagues in Iran - and by 'lost', I mean that they were killed for what they believed - and tried to impress on those of us who have never experienced anything like it that censorship over there is so extreme that if you publish something that displeases the people in power, you either repent or die.
It was a wonderful evening. The tiny venue was packed, with standing room only and people being turned away eventually because it was so crowded it would have been dangerous to admit any more. Esmail Khoi's poetry was beautiful - both in the original Farsi, where I could only get the rhythm and rhymes, and in English, where I could appreciate the imagery and the meaning. And the poems, though short, were full of meaning.