Posts Tagged ‘roger sedarat’

Tattoos and the (interdisciplinary) Art of Persian Poetry

Saturday, August 27th, 2011
DerrickTattoos, unlike smoking, remain pretty cool. They’re also here to stay (and in keeping with the loose Persian connections, please allow the pun). I thought of introducing a brief collage of poetry tattooed on strangers and friends. Of course I suspected something like this had been done before, but I had no idea of the quality nor the extent of such projects.

Before briefly exploring some Persian connections and implications of this topic, I want to thank writer Facebook friends for introducing me to a couple of great publications: Editors Kim Addonizio and Cheryl Dumesnil have created an anthology of fantastic writers that capture the art of tattooing in various ways in Dorothy Parker’s Elbow: Tattoos on Writers, Writers on Tattoos. Also of interest is Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor’s The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos for Bookworms Worldwide, a great coffee table book featuring great photographs of literary excerpts tattooed on various body parts.

I also want to mention too that my Queens College Early Americanist colleague Sian Roberts advises researching into “moko,” which,” she says, “is deeply integrated into Maori and Polynesian culture (fun fact: ‘tattoo’ originated as a Polynesian word.)”

In thinking about this topic in relation to things Persian (my commitment for my week of blogging), I also got to know those already in my life by various poetry on their skin. I didn’t know, prior to this entry, that my friend Jason Tougaw, a Comp. Rhetoric specialist (also at Queens College) has a Cocteau drawing of Orpheus, which explains in part why he seems to embody a kind of poetry.JasonStefanie Simons, who I got to know at Pen America, has tattooed part of an Aracelis Girmay poem on her body (yet another significant reason Stefanie is such a cool young writer). Getting more serious with things—and hopefully I can put a few pics up of what I’m seeing—Claire Van Winkle, poet and translator (and new MFA student at Queens) has this on her arm from Jorie Graham “The longing is to be pure. What you get is to be changed. ~JG” Always, or usually, the arms of these writers carry the words of writers, as if literally connecting to some key influence.

TarainkBy way of transition to the Persian, Tara Mokhtari, an Iranian-Australian poet and critic who I recently met during her visit to NYC, has the following lines in Perisan on her arm from the modern Iranian poet Sohrab Sepehri (about whom I hope to blog soon). She offers the following loose translation: “Live large, and alone, and modest, and unyielding.” Most people, she notes, get a little disappointed when she explains the “alone” part. Writers, however, would surely understand.

I offer these tattooed lines as a greater transition to the well-known early trendsetting images of Iranian artist Shirin Neshat, who radically politicized the female body with words from poetry as well as other sources. Like Neshat’s work, Mokhtari’s words both attract and subvert attention, as the latter explained how men during her trip to NYC hit on her by using the foreign lines as an entry into the conversation (making the message of valuing aloneness all the more significant).

Those unfamiliar with Neshat’s postmodern treatment of the feminine post-Islamic Revolution—especially following her visit to her country of origin in the 1990’s—might find it worthwhile to check out her Women of Allah seriesNeshat1She co-opts a kind of communal or group definition of the Persian woman in the context of the Islamic Republic of Iran, reproducing a seeming empowerment with guns, for example, though also rendering the women with little individuality (re-imposing the mystique of the veil, so to speak).

There are far too many things to say and theorize upon as one considers the implications of these seminal images. In a pithy blog entry, it’s perhaps best to let the art speak for and against itself, so I’ll refrain from what will only become a reductive analysis. One overriding question that Neshat’s work continues to brilliantly bring to the surface relates to appropriation and issues of Orientalism.Neshat2

Obviously the Persian script on female bodies (the artist used her own body in much of this work), like Tara’s tattoo, means something different to Iranians than to those, say, in the English speaking world. The latter can’t help but find another layer in their resistance to understanding, and I read that some have mistakenly assumed they must be lines of the Qu’ran. What does it mean to know, or to not know, that often this amazing calligraphy are the words of the first modern feminist poet Forugh Farrokhzad?

A prodigious amount of tension derives from the dichotomous reception of eastern vs. western audience. Insofar as Robert Frost famously claimed “Poetry is what gets lost in translation,” he was pulling a fast one, and his elusive irony gets aptly demonstrated here. The meta-statement itself is poetry, an epigram of sorts, meaning in locating the dislocation Frost paradoxically finds poetry. In her own way, through the resistance of translation and the resulting loss of meaning, Neshat too makes poetry in the English speaking world by allowing the loss.  Neshat3

Of course there is a lot more going on in Neshat’s earlier work here (not to mention her more current projects with video and film). To a certain extent interjecting the images in the framework of poetry tattoos might seem like forcing a comparison. However, when considering these indelible impressions as well as a kind of permanence through the use of impermanent artistic media, they remain another kind of tattoo pictured on the artist.

Towards an Iranian-American Reading List

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

My week of blogging concludes with a brief recommended bibliography of Iranian-American writing. Of course there is much more than this, and I’m sure to regret missing some books as soon as I post. (Fellow Iranian-American writers, please don’t hate me if I leave you out; this is not easy, and keep in mind I’m basically a house husband when I’m not writing, with 2 young boys intent on destroying the house unless supervised). By all means add on in the comments section with other recommendations. Like the content of my brief updates, these selected texts vary in their investment in Iranian and/or American culture, as well as the degree to which they inhabit the formative hyphen between “Iranian” and “American.” Anyway, here it goes:

SonsSons and Other Flammable Objects, by Porochista Khakpour.
This was a favorite of both my graduate and undergraduate students in sections of Middle Eastern-American literature I taught last semester in the Queens College English department. It was a New York Times’ Editor’s Choice Award and has won almost too many awards to list here. There are better reviews than I can post, but I mention as a key take away Khakpour’s ability to seamlessly underpin a contemporary post-911 story of an Iranian-American family with Oedipal drama from classical Persian antiquity. It’s also just great storytelling, and the Iranian connection is never forced, meaning it’s integral to the narrative.

septembers_of_shirazSeptembers of Shiraz, by Dalia Sofer
This novel, based mostly in Iran but written in English, has also been reviewed so widely and so favorably that it’s especially reductive to offer further acclaim here.The story localizes the harsh political effects of the Islamic Republic of Iran soon after the Islamic revolution by focusing on a Persian Jew imprisoned because of his class and religion. It came as no surprise when I read that the author cited Ha Jin’s Waiting, as an important influence. Though in its own way, Sofer’s novel reads with such great passion and clarity.


Sin: Selected Poems of Forugh Farrokhzad, translated into English by Shole Wolpe.
There are a lot of great translations of Persian poetry out there, and this is one of them. I cite this particular book, winner of the Lois Roth Persian Translation Award, because it better translates the work of the first real modern feminist poet as poetrythan some other more academic attempts. Of this I remain rather opinionated, having read far too many scholars attempting to give life to ancient and modern Persian verse though ultimately settling too much for meaning without sufficient attention to style. Wolpe uses her skills as a poet to bring both together here.

When Skateboards Will Be Free, by Said Sayrafiezadeh Skateboards
Like translations of Persian poetry, there are a plethora of memoirs by Iranian- Americans. I  post this one for two reasons: 1). As ethnic genre, the Iranian-American memoir is almost monopolized by females, and so having a male perspective is worth noting. 2). This one is especially exceptional. Focused on providing a lucid perspective of his childhood in a household defined by communist sensibility, Sayrafiezadeh’s book offers great humor as well as insights into the dynamics of family. The author has recently won a Whiting Award, had a story appear in The New Yorker, etc. If that weren’t enough reason to envy him, all of my female students have crushes on him. (Bastard).

World betweenA World Between: Poems, Short Stories, and Essays by Iranian-Americans, Edited by Persis Karim and Mohammad Mehdi Khorrami.
While other Iranian-American anthologies have followed (and even more are on there way), I cite this one because with it these two editors really defined—even founded—what has come to be called “Iranian-American” writing. (Persis Karim is also the founder of The Association of Iranian American Writers, about which I blogged yesterday). The range of genres and voices provides a great perspective on what it can mean to live as an Iranian-American (even the brief forward offers great insight into such a hybrid space).

DemocracyThe Ayatollah’s Democracy: An Iranian Challenge, by Hooman Majd
Majd thinks, and writes, like a true intellectual, looking deeper into surface level analysis on the political state of affairs in Iran. He especially excels at making insightful connections of culture, people, and specific events within the Islamic Republic of Iran, such as the last contested presidential election. I daresay if you are looking for one recently published book to understand the current situation of Iran, this is it.

The Drama of Ezzat Goushegir Ezzat
Though she writes in several genres, I especially want to plug the plays and  monologues of this Chicago- based author. We read together on a panel at last year’s AWP panel, and she performed a piece about an older Iranian woman struggling with her life as she worked behind a cosmetics counter. This 15 minute monologue had impeccably timed humor and a very authentic voice that consistently emerges in Goushegir’s other work as well.

Ghazal Game Reviews

Friday, August 26th, 2011

PBS Frontline: Tehran Bureau:
by Aria Fani
[ spotlight ] Roger Sedarat’s poems reflect his mixed identities as an Iranian American. Using the formal characteristics of the ghazal, he masterfully recreates the qualities of classical Persian verse in the English language. He could be considered a successor to poets such as Agha Shahid Ali (1949-2001), a Kashmiri American who authored several collections of ghazals in English. Sedarat brings the musicality of the ghazal into the lighthearted atmosphere of his English verse. He has an enviable command of language and creates narratives that are imaginative and sincere.
Read full review

by Tara Mokhtari
“Experimenting with traditional poetic form is not a new concept. John Keats wrote his poem ‘On the Sonnet’ warning of the dangers of constraining the ‘muse’ to strict form. Imagist poets like Ezra Pound and Amy Lowell adapted the haiku form to English-language verse. Where there are rules, there are rebels.
Read full review

Ghazal Games – new book just out by Roger Sedarat

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

Available now online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble .

Ghazal Games

Ghazal Games


In his new collection of poetry, Roger Sedarat strikes the perfect balance between Eastern and Western expression, between the modern and the medieval, and between the sacred and the profane. A delight on every page, one can’t help but imagine that if Hafez, Rumi, and other Sufi mystic poets — even Goethe — were transported to the twenty–first century, their tweets might read something like this.
–Hooman Majd — author of The Ayatollahs’ Democracy: An Iranian Challenge

These poems are to be savored in their audacity — in turn witty, erotic, ludic, learned, engaged. Roger Sedarat’s ghazals bridge the form’s (and the poet’s) Persian sources to American demotic language, and open couplet windows on transnational reality.
–Marilyn Hacker — winner of the National Book Award and author of Names: Poems

Ghazal Games overflows with intelligent charm: its well-formed couplets, fueled by iconoclasm, are blessed with clarity, goodheartedness, pizzazz, and prankishness. Let’s crown Roger Sedarat the king of Carnival; long may he reign.
–Wayne Koestenbaum — author of Best–Selling Jewish Porn Films

From Roger Sedarat’s collection of poetry Ghazal Games

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

Ghazal Game #1

Think of the greatest love you’ve ever had ( ).
Write his/her name in the space provided_____.

As long as you reiterate this name,
The semblance of this ghazal is complete:_____!

Don’t doubt, no matter what terror may come,
That God will fill your emptiness with Dear_____.

For me, Janette. For Dante, Beatrice.
For Rumi, Shams-y-Tabriz. And for you?_____.

Space makes the greatest rhyme. Sufis know this,
In spite of their lust for someone just like_____.

Now burn your useless books! You’ll learn much more
Inside schoolhouses of desire taught by_____.

Is it so silly, making readers work?
Doesn’t most poetry ask you to find_____?

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here
To join (state your full name) and (state his/hers)_____…”

Computer code, universal language,
Breaks down when translating the essence of_____.

Would you obsess over your petty shame?
Instead, substitute it with a kiss from_____.

All maps lead you to bliss. Your G.P.S.
Just estimates the time and distance to_____.

Before the loggers come for the last tree,
Write this last line with a sharp knife: I ? _____.

At this point, do you think you really chose_____?
Before you were born, you were chosen by_____!