Thursday, June 4, 2009


A few years ago, I read an article about one of my favorite poets, Naomi Nye (author of NINETEEN VARIETIES OF GAZELLE POEMS OF THE MIDDLE EAST). The article, written by Robert Hirschfield in “The Progressive” magazine, mentions that Nye, who is American-born but of Palestinian descent, writes poetry that reflects a deep listening quality. He also talks about Nye’s admiration for Shirin Ebadi, Iran’s Nobel Prize winner, and he quotes Ebadi: “When countries are in conflict, political conflict, it is more important than ever to share culture, to share literature.”

Nye’s postscript to this remark is simple counsel: “Read Rumi…poetry humanizes us in a way that news or even religion has a harder time doing…” I’ve read and re-read those lines many times, and a short time ago, inspired by Nye's comments, I wrote a volume of poetry about my sojourn in Iran during the 70’s. I had written two other books about my two-year experience there, but this was the first collection of poetry about this mideastern country that I had composed.

Next month, Border Press will issue a new chapbook of poetry entitled THE HOLY PRESENT and FARDA, two collections in one volume; the latter one being the book of poetry about Iran. Again, the cover of the book is a painting rendered by my brother Paul and designed by my grandson Martin. The painting above is by Oscar Ortiz and is actually the cover of my first book, IRAN: IN A PERSIAN MARKET (now out of print).

Here is a foretaste of my new chapbook, the last poem that appears in FARDA:


Sa’Di retired on the hill of Pahandez,
orator, poet, pilgrim to Mecca,

twice smashing idols in temples there,
not unlike His Holiness Christ in Jerusalem,

and not unlike St. Francis
he fed the poor, birds, and animals,

yet, was adored by Shiraz princes.
His mausoleum destroyed and built again,

a compound, underneath flowing
spring water as pure as his moral counsel,

pumped to the surface for his rose garden.
Sa’Di, an Isaiah of Persia,

chiding the kings to show justice and equity,
spoke with the heart of a deacon,

serve humankind, he exhorted,
protect the weak and oppressed,

penning 1300 pages of ethical verse,
moral excellence,

studied by Indian and Turkish monarchs,
proclaiming in intrepid lyric,

if we are unaffected by the afflictions of others,
we are not worthy to be called human.

As I write this, a news alert from "The Washington Post" informs me that President Obama, now in Cairo, says that "America and Islam share common principles of justice, progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings." Shades of Sa'Di?
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