ANU Persian Society hosted a review of the life and poetry of Alamtaj Ghaem Maghami by Dr Zahra Taheri on 24 August 2018.
Alamtaj Qaem-Maqami (1883-1946) was a feminist poet who spoke out for the first time in modern Persian literature about the suffering of women caused by inequality, injustice, superstition, illiteracy, and most importantly the lack of freedom. She received her education with private tutors, and at the age of sixteen, was given to an old wealthy man through an arranged marriage. Suffering from being a woman forced to follow the destiny written for her by her parents and the traditions of society, she began to portray her life in poetry.
Dr Taheri describes Alamtaj Qaem-Maqami's poetry as the narration of women’s suffering, misery and devastation in her time. Qaem-Maqami depicts herself as a prisoner, caged between tall walls without freedom to see the city and the outside life. She believes that her value is less than a fly, since a fly can go freely around the city, and experience where she lives. After a few years, against all the imposed traditional and social barriers, she bravely divorces her husband and goes back to her family home, however, she soon learns that the isolation and suffering of a divorced woman is even more painful and intolerable than a married woman. After the divorce, custody of her two-year-old son was given to her husband. She did not see her son for 25 years. In her poetry, we can hear the scream of women who fight for their personal and social rights, freedom, and equality. Her poetry is a narration of the social, religious and traditional barriers, restrictions, and boundaries. Alamtaj did not publish her poems. Her son published the collection of her poetry years after she had passed away.
Dr Zahra Taheri has received recognition for her book, The Ancient Silence of Mirrors: Alamtaj Qaem-Maqami's life and poetry. She held several readings of her work in the United States in January and the book has been a feature on BBC Persian, where it has been adopted as the basis for a series of programming.
In the first part of her book, Dr Taheri has written a critical discussion of Alamtaj’s poetry which examines her personal narratives in order to draw a documented line of her biography and life. She has used this biography to comment on the role of women in Iranian society from the time of Alamtaj to present. Dr Taheri sees Alamtaj as a pioneering feminist who was saying to the young women of her day that while she will never see equality in her lifetime her poetry might help them have a different future. Dr Taheri has documented why Alamtaj is an important figure in Persian literature.