I first met Haji Khavari during my last visit to Iran a few summers ago. My cousin, knowing my interest in translating Persian poetry, introduced me to him at a party of artist types much younger and cooler than me.
At that time, Haji showed me a few handwritten poems, and though they were far inferior to the ones I’ve translated here, I found them refreshingly edgy, reflective of Iran’s educated and rather restless youth. Given my own predilections, I was even more intrigued with his use of architecture and philosophy in his verse. He was at the time studying these subjects in college. In a follow-up email upon my return home, when I learned of his interest in Jean Baudrillard, I knew this was the beginning of a worthwhile correspondence.
Khavari, like modern Persian poets who came before him, retains much of his own tradition while eagerly absorbing others. At times it’s almost as if he’s bringing a kind of western art criticism to his own culture. Of course such intertextual allusions of literatures warrants foregrounding, but for such a vast poetic tradition predicated on musicality, it’s important also to include music. While Forough Farrokhzad had her Beatles, Haji Khavari listens to songs from Radiohead to the Ramones. I can’t say if the reader of his poems in the original or in translation can overtly hear such influences, but they certainly are felt in what I would call his intellectual yet intransigent sensibility.
As for the process of translation, almost all work is done by email correspondence. Like so many young Iranians, Khavari speaks and reads English relatively well, so at times my renderings become a kind of collaboration. I’ve offered to share credit, but he insists that I’m doing the real translation work. We send drafts back and forth for some time, highlighting and noting problem areas.
As of now, he has yet to publish his first collection in Iran, but based on what he’s shown me, I’d say one should be forthcoming soon.
– Roger Sedarat
“Some confuse the poem with a
vague rumor of their own Ego,
others see in it only a social function
(or fiction)–but the poem always
escapes our conditioned and aleatory conceptions.
The poem is an already-future…”
The French poet, essayist, and translator Alain Suied passed away in 2008, alas, well before his time. His poetic voice was exceptional, perhaps the most distinctive and moving poetic voice in our present epoch. His was at once a lyrical and a philosophical poetry, a poetry of exemplary generosity, resonant and abundant always with an intelligence which brought forth the most beautiful kind of existential and intersubjective magnanimity. His was a poetry of enchantment, of an ever sustained and sustaining openness to and celebration of the vivacities of life and of living and a poetry also and always–and necessarily–acutely sensitive and sensible to the anguish of existence, of being itself. The poem for him was always a No to violence and a Yes to conviviality, knowing always that poetic language, if it is to be able to avoid renunciation and despair, must nevertheless always place itself–it is the sole possibility of its truly being, of its truly rendering, of its truly imparting the most important–at the heart of its own fragility, and, in this sense, of our own.
– Steve Light
From 1995 to 2001, Afghanistan suffered from unrelenting drought, bringing great difficulty for many of the country’s most vulnerable populations–predominantly its poor farmers. In her poem “Appeal,” Nadia Anjuman pursues the horrible reality of drought in earnest: the earth’s “lips are dry, her heart on fire / It is like looking at death.” Every stanza provides another image that links the parched land with fire, with death, with upheaval. The most remarkable image in the poem appears in the second stanza, where Anjuman writes: “Come, for the emerald mountains of the city / have worn mourner’s clothes for ages.” She offers us the beauty of verdant hills, only to take them away from us in the next line–the dead flora itself providing the signifier for the mountain’s (and the people’s) mourning.
A rough sequence of events in Afghanistan from 1995 to 2001 indicates that the incredible drought the country suffered coincided with Taliban rule:
1995: The Taliban begin to gain power and support in Afghanistan
1995: An extensive drought throughout Afghanistan begins
September 1995: The Taliban take over Herat
September 1996: The Taliban take over Kabul
October 2001: The United States begins “Operation Enduring Freedom”
November 2001: The Taliban falls from power
Winter 2001: The drought ends with a major snowfall
It’s hard not to read the timing of these events as more than mere coincidence, or at the very least, a terrible one. Indeed, they influenced one another, as the combination of violence and lack of rain often led to displacement within the country. The many-year droughts, which only began in recent history after the rise of the Taliban, continue to plague Afghanistan. The most recent finally abated in 2011.
Nadia Anjuman wrote a handful of poems that address the drought, and my inclination is to read them as metaphors for the more sinister issue of Taliban control. This is not to say that the drought was not terrible and very much worthy of lamentation in verse; its effects were indeed vast and devastating. Yet the drought, as metaphor, may have enabled the poet to address other sources of oppression indirectly. We can only speculate. At the very least, a direct link between the perpetual terrors imposed upon the population by its government and those imposed by its environment was forged in many of the people’s minds.
– Diana Arterian
A Hunting Party tells the story of Tristan, a sensitive young man who has been persuaded by his wife to go on a hunting trip in order to “fit in” with the men of their town. In the beginning of the book, Tristan accidentally shoots a rabbit, but when he discovers that the animal is still alive, he hides it in his gamebag with the intention of letting it free when no one is looking. This proves difficult, however, in the atmosphere of guns, blood, and aggressive masculinity. But when the leader of the group has a serious accident, Tristan is left alone with him while the others go for help–just as ominous storm clouds appear overhead. The intimidating situation leads him to reflect on his struggles with his mother’s death, his experience abroad as a teenager, and his disintegrating marriage. These flashbacks are interspersed with his present difficulties of battling a storm, keeping his companion occupied, and debating philosophical notions with the rabbit in his gamebag.
– Christiana Hills
In January 2014, I went to Cuba under a visa from the Cuban Ministry of Culture. Part of the work that I was doing in Cuba involved collaborations with Cuban writers. I had the chance to work personally with Ricardo Alberto Pérez on these poems. Born in 1963, Ricardo is among the first generation of writers raised with the Cuban Revolution. His work has not appeared in English, though it is known and lauded in Cuba and throughout the Americas.
– Daniel Borzutzky
In Jean Lorrain’s small book, Contes pour lire à la chandelle (1897), the stories about Madame Gorgibus appear under the subheading “Tales for sick children.” But these grotesque narratives about an eccentric loner also amuse us as adults—until our laughter is stifled by a cruel prank. Madame Gorgibus is a marginal character, a victim of public condemnation for her odd life and gaudy fashions, much as Lorrain himself had been. We are chided for our preconceptions when, despite accusations of misogyny, Lorrain sympathizes with the sad closed lives of old women who have suffered reversals of fortune.
The stories charm a reader with their rhythm and rhyme as well as the visual appeal of Madame Gorgibus’s outdated fashions and furnishings, and her raven’s behavior as both threatener and victim. Online image libraries were invaluable while translating; it was easy to find photos of the Dresden china statuettes popular in the mid-eighteenth century, or to learn that Madame Gorgibus’s preference for puce began with a trend set by Marie Antoinette. Images of ramparts and ravens, quincunxes, capes and capuches helped me translate the past in which Madame Gorgibus was still living.
– Patricia Worth
Carlo Carabba’s poetry embodies two of the more exemplary qualities we find in Italian poetry: a clear and serene diction coupled with a philosophical train of mind and experience at once imbued in and yet derived from the durations and trajectories of everyday life in all its various and variegated immediacies. An especially pleasing verve animates a verse that sparkles with all the vivacities of lyrical and poetic discovery. A philosophical poet? In Anglo-Saxon countries this kind of characterization can produce certain refractory responses. But it is because the term, the category, this manner of poetic being are invariably misunderstood. After all, poetry is always reflection, and the more admirable, the more consequential poetries are those whose gifts to us are not limited solely to the realms of affectivity, but to the realm of lived and ideational effectivities as well.
– Steve Light
These five translations are all taken from Anna Margolin’s first and only book of poetry, published in 1929 and simply titled Lider, which means both “poems” and “songs” in Yiddish. While this book was well received by Yiddish readers and critics, following its publication Anna Margolin stopped publishing poetry and eventually became a recluse. Nevertheless, Lider has gone on to become a classic of Yiddish-language literature, with some of its poems even being set to music.
– Maia Evrona
Elena Andreyevna Shvarts (1948-2010), a legendary Russian poet, until 1989 was published in samizdat (self-publishing) and abroad (New York, Paris, Ann Arbor). Born in Leningrad, where she lived her entire life, Shvarts attended the University of Tartu, where her first poems were published in the university newspaper in 1973. After that, however, she did not publish for another decade in her own country; her work began to appear in émigré journals in 1978, and she published two collections of poetry (Tantsuyushchii David and Stikhi) and a novel in verse (Trudy i dni Lavinii) abroad before a collection (Storony sveta) was allowed to be published in the Soviet Union. Birdsong escaping from a cage is a metaphor running though her work. Shvarts was awarded many prizes: in 1979, the Andrey Bely prize; in 1999, the Northern Palmira (Severnaya Palmira); in 2003, the Triumph, and others. In 2002–2008, a four-volume edition of her work was published in Saint Petersburg.
– Ian Probstein
Benjamin Aisenshtadt (1921-1999) chose the pen name Benjamin Blazhennyi, “Benjamin the Blessed.” In Russian the word blazhennyi can mean a freak, a jester, or a saint. The Soviet authorities treated the poet as a fool, a freak, an utterly unpractical person. Needless to say, none of Aizenshtadt’s poems was published until late 1980s. After the war, the poet was not allowed to finish his education because he was not a member of the Communist Party. Moreover, for his anti-social behavior he was from time to time put in a mental institution. Otherwise he worked in a facility for the disabled and took care of his wife, a disabled veteran of WWII. For the last 20 years of his life, he barely left his apartment in Minsk, Belarus. Beginning in the late 1980s, his poems started to appear in periodicals and immediately startled the critics who did not know how to classify them: Blazhennyi did not fit into any school or trend. It was well after the time of so-called perestroika when poets, critics, and publishers frequented his tiny apartment, taking interviews and asking for poems. This activity led to his books being published in Belarus, Russia, and Israel under the pen-name of Benjamin Blazhennyi (the Blessed).
It is notable that St. Augustine is called “Augustine the Blessed” in Russian. Therefore “the blessed” is a saint, the one who communicates with the Divine spirit. Blazhennyi’s poetry is full of powerful images: it is both pious and iconoclastic, sacred and profane, tranquil and full of fury.
Benjamin Aisenshtadt was born in 1921 to a Jewish family in the small Byelorussian shtetl Kopys’. His father Michail was an unpractical man as well. As the poet wrote:
My father Michail Aisenshtadt was the biggest fool in town:
He claimed that wolf and lamb had soul.
He claimed that a mosquito and a fly had soul as well
He wore worn-out trousers and never learned to sell.
When a Jew was sorry for a wounded nestling of a jackdaw,
He did not need a store. Why would he need a store?
Before World War II, Benjamin finished one year of a pedagogical college, majoring in history. Since he had poor health, he was not drafted into the army. His family managed to escape to a small village in Gorky oblast (now Nizny Novgorod) where he taught history at a school. He discovered a rich library there untouched by Bolshevik purges, and began copying books into his notebooks. After the war, he visited his favorite poets, Boris Pasternak and Arseny Tarkovsky, in Moscow. Pasternak was reluctant to meet with young emerging poets, perhaps fearing the ungifted who had the nerve to get a reference to publishers from famous authors. After reading Blazhennyi’s poems, however, Pasternak not only welcomed him, but initiated a lifelong friendship and correspondence. Blazhennyi eventually wrote essays and memoirs about Pasternak.
– Ian Probstein
The Brooklyn Rail welcomes you to our web-exclusive section InTranslation, where we feature unpublished translations of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and dramatic writing. Launched in April 2007, InTranslation is a venue for outstanding work in translation and a resource for translators, authors, editors, and publishers seeking to collaborate.
We seek exceptional unpublished English translations from all languages.
Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry: Manuscripts of no longer than 20 pages (double-spaced).
Plays: Manuscripts of no longer than 30 pages (in left-justified format).