Poets are an important theme of Tanavoli's work that implies the freest soul of human kind. Beginning with 1962, the Poet series includes some of the greatest works of the Iranian sculptor that can be found in major collections such as MoMA in New York. Architecture and poetry combine in Tanavoli's Poets- the figures are built of components which recall those of Islamic architecture, whilst parts of the body are covered in an illegible poetic text. A cage forms the chest of this bronze figure which alludes to the home for a nightingale. However in the present example the cage is empty. The absence of the nightingale symbolizes the disappointment experienced by the poet who must by necessity suppress his passion for poetry within his oppressive surrounding environment. This void in his chest leaves him with a profound sense of loss. Surmounting the cage between two short projections is the head of the poet, which closely resembles a Safavid palmette, a motif dating back in sixteenth century Persia. The palmette would have been seen atop ceremonial cut steel 'alams, the processional standards carried especially during Muharram and also the finials which would mark the tomb in the shrine of a holy imam. The inscriptions, ornaments and articulations of Islamic buildings tend to lighten their solemnity giving them an appearance akin to large-scale jewellery. Likewise, the inscriptions and orifices that appear on Tanavoli's bronze sculptures enhance the quality of the artwork embellishing them with a special delicacy, so that they are more than mere geometrical shapes.
"My goal with architecture is not to reduce it or even to use its combination of elements or proportions, but rather to home in on its essence, which I hope to synthesize with the essence of poetry in order to produce something genuinely new. Though far from easy, this was not impossible, since I quickly found a common link between these two seemingly unconnected elements: the cage. The cage is found both in the poet's chest and, in larger dimensions, in religious places, known as the tomb (zarih)."
Latticework grilles, and important feature of Iranian architecture have thus influenced Tanavoli. With the dual function of protection and of letting in the light, not only do they appear in modest form in rural huts or ordinary houses, these openings appear in mosques as visually striking structures with arabesques and other finely-crafted ornaments. The light that pours in through these slots gives the space an air of sanctity. Another form of orifice appears in the grilles found in saqqakhanehs, (sacred fountains), imamzadehs (shrines) and other buildings. The most complete of these grilles is the tomb (zarih) in the shrine, resembling a large cage placed in the centre of a room. Pilgrims circumambulate the tomb and, seizing hold of the grilles, pray or make pledges and resolutions. They commune with the tomb and confide in it as though it were a living thing. They treat the large cage as the dwelling place of a supernatural being.
This behaviour bears a great affinity to the life of the poet, who likewise has associations with the cage that link him in turn to the supernatural. Tanavoli's Poets mostly carry their cages within their breasts, in which a single bird is held captive. This bird, represented by some poets as a restless nightingale, is constantly agitated and impatient, pining for a nameless beloved who, though not entirely unattainable, is won only after tortuous ordeals. Cognizant of these ordeals and anguished by the desire to be united with his beloved, the nightingale, or poet, spends the night as a warbler and the day as a nameless recluse. The Sufi poetry of Persia is nothing other than an expression of the tumult within the poet, who is sometimes spoken of as a captive bird; a caged nightingale. The significance of the cage in literally sense has grown. Whereas earlier it was a place to confine a supernatural being, it developed into a place of safety, a santuary of sorts.
Poets, along with Prophets, Lovers, Walls and Heech are among the main series of Tanavoli's sculptures, in which the artist has fully grasped the relationship between the aesthetics of poetry and the arts, and offers such visual equivalents for literary concepts. Persian poetry is more concerned with subjective interpretation of reality than with its external manifestations. Consequently, it treats real objects not so much as entities in themselves, but as abstractions of themselves. Hence, the Persian poet is not interested in individual traits, as he tends to deal with 'types' rather than individuals. These types embrace a wide range: the Lover, the Beloved, the King, the Prophet and the Poet, all of which are subjects of Tanavoli's sculptures. For him the Poet appears to be the enunciator of freedom, peace and love, while the Prophet propounds invariable laws and principles. These two personalities could represent the two faces of the same coin: the Poet concerned with inner freedom, myths, poetry, serenity and dreams; the Prophet advocating inner reform and the observance of social relationships. In line with the concept of abstraction, Tanavoli reduces elements to simple geometric forms that give few clues to the viewer. Although many of Tanavoli's bronzes depict human figures, as demonstrated both through their statuary forms and their titles in works such as Poet in Love (1962), Standing Poet (2007), The Poet and the Cypress Tree (2007) and Poet and Cage, he obliterates distinctive facial features, poses or hand gestures, all of which carry the expression of sentiment.