Khalvati, Mimi 1944-

views updated

KHALVATI, Mimi 1944-

PERSONAL: Born April 28, 1944, in Tehran, Iran; daughter of Mostafa Khalvati and Malih Samii; married, c. 1963 (divorced, c. 1965); married, 1970, (divorced, 1985). children: two. Education: Attended a boarding school on the Isle of Wight, the University of Neuchatel (Switzerland), the Drama Centre, London, and the School of African and Oriental Studies, University of London. Politics: Feminist. Religion: None.

ADDRESSES: Home—2 North Hill Ave., London N6 4RJ, England.

CAREER: Poet, actress, and theatrical director. Theatre Workshop, Tehran, Iran, actress and director, before 1979; Theatre in Exile, London, England, cofounder; Matrix (women's experimental theater group), London, England, founder; Slade Poetry School, London, England, director; Poetry Centre, Manchester University, Manchester, England, faculty member. Visiting lecturer, Goldsmiths College; workshop facilitator, Poetry Society; poet in residence, Royal Mail, 2000; freelance tutor and poetry translator.

MEMBER: Blue Nose Poets.

AWARDS, HONORS: Poetry Business Pamphlet award, 1989; Peterloo Poets Afro-Caribbean/Asian Prize, 1990; Orbis Rhyme International award, 1992; Arts Council of England Writer's Award, 1994.


I Know a Place (for children), Dent (London, England), 1985.

Persian Miniatures/A Belfast Kiss (poems), Smith/Doorstop (Huddersfield, England), 1990.

In White Ink (poems), Carcanet (Manchester, England), 1991.

Mirrorwork (poems), Carcanet (Manchester, England), 1995.

Entries on Light (poems), Carcanet (Manchester, England), 1997.

Selected Poems, Carcanet (Manchester, England), 2000.

(Editor, with Pascale Petit) Tying the Song: A First Anthology from the Poetry School, 1997-2000, Enitharmon Press (London, England), 2000.

The Chine (poems), Carcanet (Manchester, England), 2001.

Work represented in anthologies, including Anvil New Poets, edited by Graham Fawcett, Anvil Press (London, England), 1990; New Women Poets, edited by Carol Rumens, Bloodaxe Books (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England), 1990; Sixty Women Poets, edited by Linda France, Bloodaxe Books (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England), 1993; The Forward Book of Poetry, Forward Publishing (London, England), 1993.

WORK IN PROGRESS: "Shorter poems that stand up on their own two feet rather than in a sequence or series."

SIDELIGHTS: Iranian-born British author Mimi Khalvati is probably best known for her poetry; her works include Entries on Light, a book-length poem about how light affects the way one sees the world, and The Chine, in which Khalvati explores her childhood on the Isle of Wight. Khalvati did not begin writing poems until later in her career. She worked in the theater until age forty-two, when she decided to take a class in script writing. By some mistake, she was enrolled in a poetry writing class instead. "They said, 'Oh, go and write a poem,'" she recalled in an interview with Vicki Bertram. "I'm always very obedient, so off I went and wrote a poem! And they said, 'Oh, this is all right. Well, carry on writing poems.' So I went, 'Oh, all right, I'll carry on writing....'I mean, it really was like that. It was weird." Within a few years, Khalvati had decided to devote all of her energy to poetry.

Khalvati was born in Iran, but at the age of six she was sent to the Isle of Wight to attend boarding school. Her parents were separated, and it was all her single mother, a bank employee, could do to pay the school fees, so it was many years before Khalvati could return to Iran for a visit. She soon forgot how to speak Persian, and when she finally did return home for a vacation at age fourteen, "I went and met all these strange people who were family, and I couldn't speak the language," she recalled to Bertram. "It was difficult."

Khalvati returned to Iran when she was seventeen. She had wanted to go to an English university, but her mother couldn't afford it, so she moved home and became a secretary at an oil company. At nineteen, she married a much older man. He was "very Westernised," she recalled to Bertram, "until, of course, the day we were married, at which point he immediately reverted to 'Me Tarzan, you Jane'!" They divorced when Khalvati was twenty-one.

Khalvati then returned to England. She attended the Drama Centre in London and began to work as an actress. A year later, she married an English actor and moved back to Tehran. They stayed there for four years, working in the theater, and only returned to England when their daughter was born. Khalvati eventually divorced her husband, but she continued working in theater until she began her career as a poet.

Mirrorwork, Khalvati's third collection of poetry, was described as "very beautiful and highly demanding" by Christina Patterson in a review for New Statesman & Society. In this volume, Khalvati examines her identities—Iranian, British, female, exile—as well as debating philosophical questions about perception and truth. The work has "a depth and complexity beneath their lyrical surface that demands and rewards rereading," concluded Patterson.

In 2002 Khalvati's Selected Poems was published, including all of Entries on Light as well as selections from In White Ink and Mirrorwork. Reviewing the collection in World Literature Today, Bruce King observed, "A feminist ideology infuses this poetry without becoming polemics or slogans. There is a seriousness in craft as well as in tone and in what it treats." Ranking Khalvati as "one of the best" poets in England, King further remarked, "She not only has traditional poetic technique at her fingertips, but has learned to give form and structure to much of what is thought of as free verse."

Khalvati discussed the content and lyrical nature of her poetry with Magma contributor Mary MacRae: "I'm never actually interested much in content, either in what I read or in my own writing, but I love the way language is used. . . . I suppose I'm tempted to say that [form] is what the poem is for me. I feel that once you've found the form—and that could be in free verse, not necessarily in metrical or fixed forms—but once a poem has found its form it's almost found itself, and then it's more like filling in. . . . I think working with forms is very creative and not just finding the right-sized box to put something in, as is sometimes thought."



Stringer, Jenny, editor, The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Literature in English, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1996.


New Statesman & Society, May 19, 1995, review of Mirrorwork, p. 40.

Poetry Review, spring, 1992, p. 73.

Times Literary Supplement, May 10, 1991, Tim Dooley, review of Persian Miniatures/A Belfast Kiss, p. 23; August 14, 1992, Robert Potts, review of In White Ink, p. 20; March 1, 1996, review of Mirrorwork, p. 29; November 17, 2000, John Greening, review of Selected Poems, p. 24.

World Literature Today, winter, 2002, Bruce King, review of Selected Poems, pp. 152-153.


BBC Radio 3, (April 17, 2002), "Poetry Proms: Biographies: Mimi Khalvati."

Carcanet, (February 28, 2001), Vicki Bertram, "Mimi Khalvati in Conversation."

Cyber Iran, (April 17, 2002), Susan MacDonald, "The Price of Success Far from Home."

Magma, (autumn, 2000), Mary MacRae, "A Certain Kind of Energy" (interview with Khalvati).

Poetry Class, (August 31, 2002), Jean Sprackland, interview with Khalvati.*