Between Lives is Nilofar Shidmehr's second collection of poems. Shidmehr is an Iranian-Canadian poet, writer and a scholar of arts-based qualitative research focused on poetic inquiry. Her first book of poetry in English Shirin and Salt Man was nominated for a BC Book Prize in 2009 and her first book of poetry in Farsi Two Nilofars: Before and After Migration has received worldwide recognition among the expatriate Iranian community. Nilofar is a cultural and educational activist and a part of the Iranian women?s movement.
Nilofar earned a PhD in education and an MFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia. Her next scholarly project is to investigate how the lyrical and performative modes of inquiry can be included in discourse analysis, literary criticism, and critical reading and writing practices to integrate and advance literacy. Her next creative project is to write a collection of short stories about the lives of Iranians in Iran and Canada. She lives in Yaletown with her husband.
Review by Roger Sedarat, Associate Professor, MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation, Queens College, City University of New York:
Dedicated to “all who live a diasporic life,” Between Lives surveys the poet’s Iranian-Canadian background through images that reveal the complexity as well as the tension of the hybrid space in which she lives. The physical artwork that divides sections further complicates and intrigues her subjective position. Upon first opening the book, I wanted to see even more of it.
The first two sections track much of the author’s family background in accessible language akin to reportage. Early on, the speaker tragically records reports for disaffected women in Iran on a typewriter, much like she details the eggplant-shaped bruise on her mother’s face as she cooks baddemjaan for her abusive husband. Even more personal poems read like diary entries reminiscent of an adolescent Forough Farrokhzad.
The most lyrical moments occur when rendering the female Persian body into metaphor, as in “Maheen’s Collage,” when her mother deconstructs her and her sister to make a feminine ideal from The Desperate Housewives,” wherein “The unwanted parts go to the garbage/like our umbilical cords.”
In the final section poems become shorter and demonstrate more lyric power, as though the poet has gone through her past and emerged to even more fully claim her formative voice. The entire collection is well worth reading, both for its depiction of the struggle to live between two lives as well as for the beauty one ultimately finds there.
Review by Jam Hamidi, poet:
Niloufar's poems reveal the inner world of a young Iranian girl, exotic and familiar at the same time, Freudian in its preoccupations with a mother's submissiveness, and a father's remote (and perhaps repulsive) sexuality. Where she shines, in my opinion, is in the abrupt and powerful endings of her stories, the last high note of an orchestra that, instead of bringing a timely conclusion to a theme, leaves the listeners with a single image burned in the back of their skull like an afterimage that will not fade too quickly.
Her construction is simple and effective. The stories, her young adulthood in Iran, and later experiences in Germany and Canada, flow unhindered by too much style. The perfect entrance into a lucid psyche.
— People say that only diamonds cut through diamonds
and we did she and i two nights after
he came home with
her his second wife
they went into the room—
it was full of food, fruit and sherbet— i had prepared for them—
their bed, covered with
a crimson satin sheet
my mother had embroidered many years ago
for my wedding—
i didn’t go to sleep
alone, in the other room— i sat on the stairs
in the back yard
Then the garden sunk in the dark as the neighbours’ lights faded out noises diminished
stray dogs in the alley
stopped barking and went to sleep the last roguish children went home and stars crept under
the quilt of sky—
i could hear the rhythm of her panting— and her bashful, half-risen screams—
amidst his curses
as i examined the moon’s saber
dangling from the sky