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InFocus | Vahid Davar

Award-winning poet and University PhD researcher Vahid Davar on his life as a refugee, academic, and poetic prodigy

 

Iranian-born poet and PhD researcher Vahid Davar joined the St Andrews community in 2019, and since his arrival, he has enriched the town with his poetic excellence, passion for education, and inspirational backstory. Davar is the author of two critically acclaimed volumes of poetry in Iran and in 2022 published a self-translated poetry pamphlet, Something The Colour of Pines on Fire. In a remarkable showcase of his talent, Davar’s epic poem ‘Nassim’s Testament’, amongst other literary projects, has been exhibited in the British Museum. Davar works in the Modern Languages Department at the University and is studying for his PhD in Persian studies. This month, he has been playing an active role in the Dundee-based Art Exhibition ‘Sharing, Not Hoarding’, featuring drawings and excerpts from his published poems and PhD thesis.

 

Mr Davar first arrived in the UK in 2013 as an asylum seeker who had fled from Shiraz, Iran and was given refuge in the city of Liverpool. In an exclusive interview with The Saint, Davar recalled his experience: “When I arrived in Liverpool as an asylum seeker, I was, in the metaphorical sense, half-scorched, half-burned,” he said. “I came with my scars and my many traumas. I entered that land as a concept, not as a human being. I needed to fight for my identity and to show that I was, like everyone, a human being.”

 

After securing his asylum in the UK, Davar earned a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from the University of Liverpool and worked as an interpreter in a legal firm for asylum seeker cases. Adjusting to life in the UK was a relatively smooth process for Davar, and he drew parallels between his hometown of Shiraz and his British residence of Liverpool as cities both “full of poets.” Similarly, Davar recalled a key memory from roaming the streets of Liverpool one day: “I saw daffodils. These yellow daffodils reminded me of the Narcissus flowers in Shiraz,” he said. “It was like running into blood relatives.” Immersed in this emblematic environment, Davar poured his emotions and experiences into his poems, intertwining his personal narrative into the poetic fabric of Liverpool. 

 

The catalyst that led Mr Davar from Liverpool to St Andrews occurred when, after “feeling hopeless” having experienced a rejection, he won a full scholarship to the School of Modern Languages at the University. Reflecting on the emotional memory, he revealed, “The moment I received the email I was reduced to tears.”

 

In tandem with his current PhD research in Persian studies and continuous poetry projects, Davar teaches Persian modules to undergraduate students in St Andrews and hosts weekly Persian Language Café sessions. This club is open to anyone in St Andrews who is interested in learning the Persian language and culture. When asked about his professional career as a teacher, Davar redefined the job title. He stated to The Saint, “I cannot consider myself a teacher. I, like my students, am a co-learner.” 

 

Davar’s poetic success has proven boundless as in 2022, Davar won the esteemed Jafar and Shokoh Farzaneh Prize, awarded by the University of Oklahoma, for the best article on Persian literature — one of the most prestigious prizes in the field. His article piece, “Az Peyvastegi ta Peyvastan: Pish-Tarhi baraye Hamase-ye Now (From Relation to Relating: A Sketch for the New Epic)”, paved a refreshing path for exploration of modern Persian poetry and the need for a reorientation of Persian literary imagination, according to the judging committee.  

 

Nassim’s Testament (original title in Persian Ahd-e-Nassim), is Davar’s most notable poetry book and is a literary depiction of a “dreamlike journey” of two asylum seekers from Shiraz to Liverpool. The poetic book was written in 2022, in honour of Liverpool, the city of his refugee and setting for his poems, as well as a tribute to his deceased poet friend, Alireza Nassimi, to whom Davar gives a “textual resurrection” in the elegiac epic. Davar spoke to The Saint about the deep symbolism underpinning the creation of the epic, explaining, “I wanted to write my dear friend an elegy, but I didn’t want it to be artificial. The epic is a celebration of his life, not a lament.”

 

What Davar articulated as the “pinnacle of his poetic journey” was the housing of his elegiac epic in the British Museum from October 2022 to February 2024. Nassim’s Testament is included as a bilingual text in Atlas of the World, an artist book that Iranian poets Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, Hesam Rahmanian, and Vahid Davar produced collaboratively. In this artistic book, the curators reordered the maps in the Atlas to mirror the itineraries of asylum seekers in the world. Davar’s other contribution to the Atlas is A World with a Nomenclature of Its Own, which is a commentary on Nassim’s Testament and was acquired by both the British Museum and the Museum of Art and History in Geneva. 

 

Davar, “on top of being such a humble literary genius”, as described by one of his students, Ottavia Morfino, has not only given life and meaning to his poetry masterpieces, but he has simultaneously created a powerful and inclusive environment in St Andrews that both represents and celebrates Iranian identity. Mr Davar plays an active role in organising annual events for the University of St Andrews’ Persian Society as well as having been a key activist for the Iranian ‘Women, Life, Freedom’ movement. Second-year IR and Persian student, Taraneh Sanat, told The Saint, “As an Iranian student, I find Vahid an amazing example of all the things that make me proud of my culture.”

 

When asked about the importance of sharing his Iranian identity and culture in Scotland, Davar embraced his poetic tendencies, and by referencing the book of Psalms, articulated to The Saint, “During these years in the UK, I have always thought of my mother tongue and land as my loaf of bread. My classes in the Persian Department give me an opportunity to cast my bread on the waters.” Ava Pourfallah, an Iranian-American graduating psychology student shared her admiration for her former Persian teacher, reminiscing how “Vahid speaks in the same lyrical way as his beautiful poetry” and is the type of mentor who “demonstrates an authentic concern for us students”, echoing her peers.

 

Treasurer of Amnesty International St Andrews, Shona McCallum, a third year Arabic and Persian student expressed to The Saint, how Vahid and her both share some complaints about St Andrews, that it can feel “like an isolated and isolating place”, but emphasised how like a parent or close friend, “Vahid makes it feel familiar.” She continued that “Vahid is a testament that we find home not always in the place, but in the people and communities we are in.”

 

Summarising Davar’s impact on the St Andrews student body, first-year student Miki O’Connell fondly voiced, “I am happy that someone as pleasant, kind, and caring as Vahid exists in this world, and I hope we all become more like him.”

Reflecting with gratitude and humility on his literary success, Davar concluded by sharing his perspective that “my life has been a life of many miracles.” He added, “Being in this multicultural space, having students from all different corners of the world, I have been given a beautiful chance to create a community, that as a refugee, I at last feel I belong to.”


Image by Vahid Davar





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