Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Writing { and reading and publishing } ~

Imprisoned Writers

The woman in the picture is a poet from Iran, serving her 7th year of a 20-year prison term.

Day of The Imprisoned Writer

Photo from Baha’i World News Service

She is, according to the Bahá’í World News Service: “A teacher and educator…charged with and ultimately sentenced on wholly fabricated charges of ‘espionage’ and ‘propaganda against the Islamic Republic’.

Her name is Mahvash Sabet.

Somehow, verses she’d written while incarcerated made it out and have been adapted from the original Persian by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani and published as Prison Poems (free world wide shipping or Kindle)

She’s also been honored by PEN International as the first of five authors recognized with open letters in the run-up to the 33rd Day of the Imprisoned Writer on 15 November.

From an article in The Guardian: “Nine hundred writers around the world were harassed, imprisoned, murdered or ‘disappeared’ last year…”

The open letter to Ms. Sabet was written by award-winning Argentina-born author Alberto Manguel:

Dear Mahvash Sabet,

It’s almost an impertinence, I feel, to write to a poet who is being kept behind bars for her words and beliefs. King Lear, imprisoned at the end of the play with his daughter Cordelia, tells her that they will become “God’s spies”. That is what you as well have become, bearing witness to society’s injustices, prejudices and inability to understand that no matter what society might do to a poet, the poet’s words will still be free in the minds of the readers, and continue to conjure up ideas, engage the mind in conversation. Perhaps there’s consolation in this.

You end one of your poems saying that “You can’t see the sorrow after lights out,” and that you therefore “long for the dark, total black-out.” I hope, for your dear sake, that the end of your sorrow is near but not as that “total black-out” you speak of: instead, as a resolution of freedom, as the free sunlight that is every person’s natural right, a right no one is entitled to take away.

I don’t know if you can find comfort in realising that you have now been welcomed into a vast and honoured company of imprisoned writers, from all centuries and all tongues, from Boethius to Abu Nuwas, Cervantes, Yevgenia Ginzburg, Nazim Hikmet and hundreds of others, and that generations of readers to come will remember your name as they remember theirs, long after the names of your jailers have been swept off the memory of the earth.

I can’t offer you anything in your cell except my devotion as your reader, my trust in better times, and my distant but sincere friendship. I hope that in the very near future we will meet in person, not only on the page.

With very best wishes of hope and courage,

Alberto Manguel

Again, from the article in The Guardian:

“’November 15 is a day of action and acknowledgment,’ said Marian Botsford Fraser, chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee. ‘It is PEN’s way of saying to all of our 900 imprisoned, harassed, murdered and disappeared writers: you are not silenced. You are not forgotten. We stand with you and fight for you.’”

And, here is one of Ms. Sabet’s poems:

Lights Out

Weary but wakeful, feverish but still
fixed on the evasive bulb that winks on the wall,
thinking surely it’s time for lights out,
longing for darkness, for the total black-out.

Trapped in distress, caught in this bad dream,
the dust under my feet untouchable as shame,
flat on the cold ground, a span for a bed,
lying side by side, with a blanket on my head.

And the female guards shift, keeping vigil till dawn,
eyes moving everywhere, watching everyone,
sounds of the rosary, the round of muttered words,
fish lips moving, the glance of a preying bird.

Till another hour passes in friendly chat,
in soft talk of secrets or a sudden spat,
with some snoring, others wheezing
some whispering, rustling, sneezing –
filled the space with coughs and groans,
suffocated sobs, incessant moans –
You can’t see the sorrow after lights out.
I long for the dark, total black-out.

Find out how to send an appeal for Ms. Sabet’s release

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4 responses to “Imprisoned Writers

  1. tribalmysticstories November 12, 2014 at 7:06 pm

    A very moving story.


  2. Alexander M Zoltai November 12, 2014 at 7:14 pm



  3. Richard Berry November 15, 2014 at 9:54 am

    A good post Alexander, thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Alexander M Zoltai November 15, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    You’re Very Welcome, Richard :-)


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