16 May 14 | Kaija Straumanis

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by Heath Mayhew on The Oasis of Now: Selected Poems by Sohrab Sepehri, translated by Kazim Ali and Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, published by BOA Editions.

Heath is not only a loyal Open Letter subscriber, but has also previously reviewed for Three Percent. And to tote Open Letter things a bit more, one of the translators of this beautiful collection of poetry is Kazim Ali, who was one of the translators of Marguerite Duras’s L’amour, which Open Letter published last year. Also, BOA Editions is another local Rochester, NY publisher, and operated by great people. So this is really like one big group hug—that you’re all welcome to join!

Here’s the beginning of Heath’s review:

I have wanted to read Persian poetry ever since having heard so many good things about it from my Palestinian friend. Sohrab Sepehri’s collection, The Oasis of Now: Selected Poems, however, sounded quite new-agey—as if the poetry was canned lyricism awash in love, peace, and overly sensual descriptions of nature—and this worried me. I feared that Sepehri’s poetry would surely turn me off to anything Persian for a long time. Even when I started to read the first lines of the opening poem, “Water’s Footfall” (the title already felt like a distasteful personification), I felt depressed to have been selected to read the book. Very quickly, however, I began to shed my misgivings.

While Sepehri is not especially well known in the West, he is one of the five most popular Persian poets of the modern Persian poetry movement known as “New Poetry” (the other four being Nima Yushij, who is considered the father of modern Persian poetry, Ahmad Shamloo, Mehdi Akhavan-Sales, and Forough Farrokhzad; “New Poetry” is most notably characterized as having no meter or rhyme, which is a break from traditional Persian poetry). Sepehri was not even particularly popular in his own time—this has, however, changed since then. Philosopher Soursh Dabbagh explains, “Inclinations towards more abstract thoughts subjected him to criticism by his contemporary literary critics such as Shamloo, [Rezi] Barahani, and [Dariush] Ashoori.” Recently, Sepehri has become an emblem of justice and peace. During the 2009 Iranian election protests, the closing lines of his poem, and title of this collection, “The Oasis of Now”, were used on signs and banners and stitched into people’s clothing. They read, “If you look for me, / come soft and quietly, lest you crack the glass heart / that cups my loneliness.”

For the rest of the review, go here.


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