Poetry: A World for Conventions, and Transgressions
Anyone who has organized a poetry event knows that you will only find out how large [or small] your audience is ten to fifteen minutes into the program. That was the case when PCC/SDSU hosted Roger Sedarat, the author of “Ghazal Games“, on Thursday, April 19th. However, as an organizer, I could not have asked for a more diverse and engaged audience, albeit small.
Professor Sedarat read from his new translations of Hafez as well as his own English ghazals. Poetic themes varied from reciting about one’s lover, hybrid identity, and the concept of “perfect translation” itself. Sedarat has an unmistakable gift in connecting with his audience, mostly through his humility and charisma.
He explained the structure of the Persian ghazal to his audience, identifying its distinct differences from the English sonnet (ghazal was called the Persian sonnet by poets such as R.W. Emerson). The sonnet works as a unit, hence offers little flexibility to move lines around. Ghazal is very different in this sense, each beyt (equivalent to a line) has a rhyme and refrain (ghafiye va radif), with a capacity for playfulness and transgression.
Sedarat’s hybrid identity allows him to easily move between cultures and traditions, and draw comparisons between Walt Whitman who unabashedly used the poetic form of the Old Testament to describe men bathing or Emily Dickinson who denies the existence of God using the music and form of religious hymns otherwise sung in praise of God to the transgressive figures of Persian poetry, Masnur Al-Hallaj, Hafez, all the way to Nima and Forugh.
Following his reading, the audience asked pointed and interesting questions. Comments varied from the danger of offering aspects of “Eastern” culture to “Western” audiences who may misuse or misunderstand them (namely the controversy behind Daniel Ladinsky’s popular poems misleadingly framed/sold as “translations” of Hafez), the place of metaphor in Perso-Arabic poetry, the close affinity of music with Persian poetry, and the celebrity-like place of poets in Middle Eastern societies.
Roger Sedarat’s visit to San Diego was fruitful, adding nuances to our understanding of hybrid identity, challenging the notion of preserving Persian literary culture as “original and authentic” as possible, away from transgressions. Cultures are only authentic in their absolute sense of inauthenticity. I look forward to witnessing the development of a hybrid Iranian culture in the U.S, and its impact on literary Persian tradition as more creative minds such as Roger take on the task of recasting Persian poetry. Roger Sedarat’s ghazals, in my opinion, offer a promising future.