Women Poets: Gendered Personhood and Displacement

When and Where

Friday, April 16, 2021 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm
via Zoom


Professor Fatemeh Shams Esmaeili


Throughout history, women poets have been systemically relegated to the margins of Persian literature. An early attempt by male writers to assert female visibility in the eighteenth century tazkeras led to the creation of a marginalized canon of women’s poetry, oftentimes calibrated along phallogocentric and heteronormative lines. This evolving nomenclature has been shaped over centuries by ideas around marital carnality and sexual frustration, the fetishization of chastity (‘effat) and the use of sexual defamation, honor killing, and capital punishment for any form of female cultural transgression. As a result, women poets have rarely been evaluated merely based on their poetic output and have been discovered, read, interpreted and anthologized through a sexed lens.

This presentation explores the process of ‘othering’ women poets across the centuries, drawing on details and examples in the work of both female and male poets. In an attempt to move beyond a traditional binary approach to studying women poets, the following questions will be addressed: How have poetic-patriarchal metaphors contributed to the construction of fictive ‘womanhood’? How have women poets responded to their gendered displacement in their own poetic output? If we consider foundational categories of sex, gender and desire as “effects of a specific formation of power,” how could we decenter phallogocentric and compulsory heterosexual structures of power in our analyses of “women poets”?

Dr. Fatemeh Shams is a specialist in Persian literature. She earned her Ph.D in Oriental Studies from the University of Oxford, Wadham College. Before joining Penn, she has taught Persian language and literature in various academic institutions including the University of Oxford, University of SOAS, and the Courtauld Institute of Art in the United Kingdom. Her work focuses on the intersection of literature, politics, and society. Fatemeh is interested in the evolution of poetry and patronage in the Persian literary tradition and the representation and transformation of this relationship in modern Iran. She has published articles and book chapters on poetry, patronage and politics in the Iranian context. Her forthcoming book A Revolution in Rhyme: Poetic Co-option Under the Islamic Republic (Oxford University Press, 2020) is particularly concerned with the question of poets and patrons in the past and present Iran. In her book she demonstrates the role of state-sponsored literary institutions and the ideological state apparatus in promoting state-sponsored literature in the post-revolutionary Iran. She has recently won the Humboldt Foundation Fellowship to join Forum Transregionale Studien in Berlin in 2021 in order to embark on her second book project on exile and exilic writing in Persian tradition. Fatemeh is also an internationally acclaimed, award-winning poet and has so far published three collections of poetry in Persian and English. Her first collection, 88 (Berlin: Gardoon, 2012) won the Jaleh Esfahani Poetry Award in London, UK. Her third bilingual collection, When They Broke Down the Door (Washington: Mage Publisher, 2015), translated by the world-famous British literary scholar, translator, and poet, Dick Davis, won Latifeh Yarshater Book Award in 2016. Her poetry and her translations have been so far featured in the World Literature Today, Michigan Quarterly Review, Life and Legends, Poetry Foundation, Jacket 2, Penn Sound, and more. The upcoming Penguin Anthology of 1000 Years of Poetry by Persian Women Poets translated by Dick Davis (2021) has featured a number of her poems.

Contact Information

Arshavez Mozafari


Toronto Initiative for Iranian Studies, Department of Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations, Department of History, Women Gender & Sexuality Studies, Cinema Studies Institute, Centre for Comparative Literature, Critical Studies in Equity & Solidarity