Yadollah Royai, born in 1932 in Damaqan in the northeastern Semnan Province of Iran, is a seminal figure in modern and experimental Iranian poetry. Part of the early generation of Iranian free-verse poets, he is one of the great modernists of the prerevolutionary period. His early books, such as Sea Poems (1966) and The Melancholies (1968), are rich with symbolic imagery and intricate metaphors and conceits. The Melancholies, which includes the poem "Closed Umbrellas," uses the desert as a unifying conceit. Later books, including Seventy Gravestones (1998) and The Past Me: Signature (2002), are even more conceptual, focusing on gravestones and signatures as markers of death and remembrance.
Royai relies on ambiguity and wordplay to create multiple meanings and connotations. His work is linguistically and philosophically complex. Although his poems are not overtly political, some do deal with sociopolitical themes in subtle and philosophical ways. He also spent time in jail as a political prisoner after the 1953 coup.
Royai founded the important hajm movement, also known as espacementalisme, and his writings and discussions on poetry have been influential for new generations of Iranian writers. His work was pivotal in directing prosody discussions away from meter and rhyme toward other formal elements. A number of books have been written in Persian about his work and influence. Royai has also won many awards, been honored as a Chevalier by the French Ministry of Culture, and been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. His books have been translated into French but not English. Although he lives in exile, he continues to publish in Iran and remains in regular contact with younger Iranian poets.