14 August 08 | Chad W. Post

I had the pleasure of spending a couple of days with Niloufar Talebi at an American Literary Translators Conference in Montreal a few years back, when she was still translating the poems for Belonging and looking for a publisher.

(To be frank, I knew immediately that I was going to like Niloufar, when, after an ALTA dinner, she came up to me and said that she’d always wanted to meet me since coming across a Reading the World display in City Lights. Flattery from an attractive member of the opposite sex about one’s literary activities goes a really long way . . . )

Niloufar is incredibly energetic and ambitious. In addition to editing and translating Belonging: New Poetry by Iranians Around the World, (just out from North Atlantic Books) she runs The Translation Project, which is dedicated to bringing Iranian literature to the world through a variety of activities, including an Iranian Literary Arts Festival and ICARUS/RISE a multimedia theatrical performance. (The link above goes to a few YouTube videos of the performance.)

We’re planning on running a review of Belonging in the not-too-distant future. In the meanwhile, it’s great to see the book—and Niloufar—receiving some good attention, such as this interview by Omid Memarian of the Inter Press Service.

She says this anthology reflects the great stylistic variety among expatriate writers. “In my research for the anthology, I was able to find 140 poets living outside Iran and reciting in Persian. No doubt this is a partial list, from which I translated about 35 poets, and eventually featured 18 in ‘Belonging,’ six from each of the three generations reciting. [. . .]

“Bottom line, the literature in translation has to find readership in order to have presence and impact. So the questions to ask are whether enough work appears in translation, whether they are the ‘right’ works for the readiness of the receiving culture during a particular historical and aesthetic period, and whether the translations are effective. Then there is the question of the editor/publisher’s willingness to publish and invest in works of translation – which compose only 0.3 to 3 percent of books published annually in the US.”

Talebi feels this is a particularly good time for a volume of expat Iranian poetry to appear on the market, evidently for reasons unconnected with the ongoing political tensions between the American and Iranian regimes.

“Immigrant or exiled writers who continue to write in their mother tongue don’t always have the opportunity to communicate their work to readers in their host countries, since language is the tool of their metier,” she said. “‘Belonging’ opens a channel of communication between readers of English and Iranian poets who live outside Iran and recite in Persian.

The collection is beautifully produced and looks fascinating. In addition to the poems themselves, one of the features I really like is the “Partial List of Iranian Poets Around the World” that can be found at the back and used as a sort of guide for future reading. In fact, I wish more anthologies had something like this. It would help build a wider context for international authors.

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