Esmail Khoi was born in Iran in 1938 and grew up in Mashhad and Teheran. In the early 1960s he studied philosophy at uCl and travelled in Italy. His early poetry – written under the friendly influence of Mehdi Akhavan-Sales – brought him quick recognition and he has remained at the forefront of modern Persian poetry ever since, publishing over forty books (in addition there are four volumes of collected works, a number of ‘selecteds’ axnd, in North America, five volumes in English translation). At odds with both the Shah’s regime and the Islamic Republic because of his deep insistence on individual human freedom, he went into hiding in the north of Iran in the early 1980s before managing to leave in safety, and has lived for the past thirty years in London. Exile is a state of life for him, but not one that he would have chosen. The philosophical and unequivocal qualities of his work – his warmly equal openness to both love and anger – have led him to be revered and respected by very many readers.
I came to know the poet in the late 1990s and we worked together on a number of his poems, both longer and shorter. One co- translation – of the ten page long poem ‘Return To Borgio Verezzi’ – was published in the ‘Mother Tongues’ issue of MPT in 2001. The four poems included in the present issue are all shorter and all were written in the spring months of 1992 in London. Esmail Khoi has been prolific over a long writing life, but he has also written in bursts of energy where his sense of language melts – or at times boils – integrally with his love of others and his sense of (in)justice. The contemporary poet and critic Mandana Zandian has described ‘Last Words’ as one of the most political of love poems: the face of love in the face of oppression. The title also indicates some of the difficulties of translation (but I’d far rather emphasise their joys and gains):
‘Khodjat’ carries the meanings of proof and last chance and equally the sense of religious and legal injunction. There is, I’m sure, a term within papal law or some word in the history of the English language that would carry the weight of these senses better than my present working title of ‘Last Words’. But I hope both the sustained lyric qualities of Esmail Khoi’s poetry and some sense of our friendship have managed to sing through a little from Persian to English in these translations.
– Stephen Watts