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Famed Iranian Poet Behbahani Dies at 87: Report

AP Photo/Vahid Salemi

Famed Iranian poet Simin Behbahani, who wrote of the joys of love, demanded equal rights for women and spoke out about the challenges facing those living in her homeland, died today at the age of 87.

Behbahani had been hospitalised and unconscious in Tehran since August 6 and later died of heart failure and breathing problems, Iran's official IRNA news agency reported.

Behbahani, born Simin Khalili on July 20, 1927, saw her poetry often used by Iranian singers as the basis for love songs. Her poems came in a variety of styles, far from classical and routine forms normally associated with Persian prose.

However, Behbahani's work also focused on the challenges facing Iran in the wake of its Islamic Revolution in 1979 and women's rights, her strong words earning her the nickname of the "Lioness of Iran." Behbahani, who studied law at Tehran University in the 1950s, was awarded the Simone de Beauvoir Prize for Women's Freedom in 2009 and was nominated twice for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

US President Barack Obama even once recited her work in a video message in honour of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, saying: "Old I may be, but, given the chance, I will learn."

Saeed Hamidian, a literature professor at Tehran Allameh University, praised Behbahani for her focus on politics and societal issues.

"We see strong social and political aspects in works of Behbahani in a capacity that does not exist in poems by other female poets," Hamidian said. "Behbahani's works have the entire power of a classical tone, however, it is not in a difficult language, too."

However, Behbahani's work also saw her targeted by authorities. In 2010, Iranian authorities barred her from leaving the country to attend an International Women's Day event in Paris. In 2006, authorities shut down an opposition newspaper for printing one of her works, an editor there said at the time.

In his 2011 video, Obama described Behbahani as "a woman who has been banned from travelling beyond Iran, even though her words have moved the world."

Yet she remained a constant force in Iranian life, writing after the country's disputed 2009 election: "Stop this extravagance, this reckless throwing of my country to the wind."

The poem ends: "You may wish to have me burned or decide to stone me / But in your hand, match or stone will lose their power to harm me.

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PLACES: Iran
TAGS: ObituariesPoetryWomen
SECTION: Books
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