Friday, September 25, 2009


It’s disconcerting for me to see a replay of Iran’s President Ahmadinejad ranting at the UN when I turn on the noon news. Then, my feelings go down a tone or two as I listen to the eloquent and impassioned plea for peace from Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu. The difference in personalities is like the Prime Minister’s words: the difference between barbarism and civilization. When I heard the speech, I thought about FARDA, the book I published in July – a selection of poems about the Iran in which I lived, in 1973-75, which I described at the end of the book as “a time not quite so volatile as today…”

I shuddered when I heard Ahmadinejad’s defiant and unjust dismissal of the Holocaust as a fabrication of the Jews, and I wondered if the Israeli/Palestinian (and Iranian) conflict would cease in my lifetime. The poems I wrote in FARDA must seem sentimental in light of the present turbulence in the Mideast, but I am not a social or political commentator – I meant only to provide some enlightenment about the people and their history and how I felt about them when I lived among them, the poems conveying compassion, even a twinge of nostalgia for the country in which I spent two years. Three years earlier, I had read an article about the poet Naomi Nye in “The Progressive” magazine. Nye, of Palestinian origins, is fond of quoting Shirin Ebadi, Iran’s Nobel Peace Prize winner and human activist: “When countries are in conflict, political conflict, it is more important than ever to share culture, to share literature.” Nye’s response was that we should “read Rumi, Arabic poetry…a great Arab scholar, Dr. Salma Jayyusi, said: ‘if we read one another, we won’t kill one another.’” Her remarks prompted me to write FARDA.

I know that my friend Darrell Bourque, poet laureate of Louisiana, writes beautiful poetry that is deeply kind, and I think about how powerful and precious his work is – perhaps cogent enough to sway a country toward peace and away from the sharp edges of Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric. A description of Naomi Nye in the article by Robert Hirschfield, entitled “A Poet Walks the Line,” could well describe Darrell:"…(his) ear is pressed with childlike ferocity to the ground of the world.” Darrell is one of the poets in the universe who should stand on the floor of the UN and recite, in his native French, his poem, “To Be of Use,” a fragment which reads:

“To bend as we are directed to.
To become silk, hold beyond
a strength we know.
To be requisite to the act.
To spin like prayer.
To be part of the making.”

As for FARDA, I repeat a few lines I published in an earlier blog , taken from the end poem, “At Sa’Di’s Tomb":

Sa’Di, an Isaiah of Persia,
chided the kings to show justice, 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."

Poets are proclaiming peace and good will to aggressive humans and power mongers? Well, why not? What better seeds of diplomacy? As I often say, “I stay alive by right of poem.”
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