Saturday, June 20, 2009

Hafiz says

I've been following events in Tehran via Twitter and learning a lot about that networking site in the process. One of the people in Iran getting clear, consistent and insightful tweets out is a woman using the name oxfordgirl. Obviously a born leader, her tweets are a combination of advice to those on the streets and in Iran and reports to those outside. For those of you who don't use Twitter, a post is limited to 140 characters, so the messages are by definition brief.

The picture emerging from her messages and those of others is of massive police force meeting the planned protest at 4 pm, scattering protesters into side streets where fighting has occurred with rock-throwing, and protesters being badly beaten. Police have used water cannons, tear gas and something acidic sprayed from helicopters. Shots have been fired and at least one body was carried away. Moussavi has addressed the crowd saying he is prepared for martyrdom.

An estimated 2,000 people had been arrested before today. It seems this crackdown is sparking a heightened, emboldened resistance. Why am I reminded of being in Berkeley during the anti-Vietnam War protests? Excessive police force is always a poor response to protest. As Gandhi said: "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win."

Opened the Divan of Hafiz again today - this is a tradition well-known in Iran, seeking advice from Hafiz - and this is what I first read:

Tis the ambush-place: and very swiftly thou goest. Be sensible: do not go swiftly lest from the broad king's highway, should ascend the dust of thee.

Be brave but be safe.

Friday, June 19, 2009


I'm green on Twitter and glued to the screen. Someone just said, "If Iran sleeps tonight, it will sleep forever." But it doesn't appear that is the case, with cries of "God is great" echoing through Tehran. I wonder what is happening in other Iranian cities, and how many months it will be before we know what is the import of all of this. I have a friend who contends the demonstrations are incited by the U.S., but it's hard to view all the videos of hundreds of thousands and imagine that so many people could have been made so passionate by espionage manipulations.

I think of the Persian poet Hafiz and his Divan, so I opened it at random and saw this:

If the Sultan's justic asketh not the state of the oppressed ones of love,
For those corner-sitting, it is necessary to sever the love of ease.
(Wilberforce-Clarke translation)

Hey, don't blame me -- I didn't make this up. Blame Hafiz, who as a friend recently said, nails it again.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Duende & Saudade in American Poetry

Edward Hirsch's excellent Poet's Choice column yesterday has me thinking about these neglected dimensions in discussions of contemporary poetry, what I think of as the question of a poem's emotive undertones. It reminds me of Emily Dickinson's reply to Thomas Higginson as to how she defined poetry: “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry."

Duende is of course Lorca's term for the experience of the reader being seized by "dark" qualities in the work, by which I understand him to mean mysterious, indefinable qualities. Saudade is a Portuguese term that is sometimes (poorly) translated into English as "the blues." And yet a Brazilian bossa nova song can have plenty of saudade, though it makes you want to get up and move.

Interesting, thought-provoking article.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Outrageously wired

We are all so addicted to our devices, and naturally poetry, like every other form of communication, seems to have taken a quantum leap into the virtual. I mean, you can now tweet a poem.

As I perused the thinnest Sunday newspaper I have ever received, then read a report on publishing trends and how magazine sales are triumphantly less down than the rest of the retail sector, I get the feeling that everyone's showing up here. At the same instant.

Is poetry gridlock possible? Has anyone counted the number of new zines that appeared this year to date? No one's clocking the trends on free content. And here's a personal gripe: my CD, A God You Can Dance, somehow went viral and is listed on all these indie music sites. Now that's all well and good, but with downloadable tracks for 99 cents on almost all of them, not a single penny has come to me. It could well be that nobody's listening. Or ... am I slow to get this? Music is less and less sold and more and more ripped. Somehow.

The publishing of poetry has already gone down the path of willing-to-be-ripped. And now that you can read so much for nothing, are all the authors and poets and musicians going to be artists in their spare time? Puzzling. Enlighten me as to where this all goes.