Tactile, thoughtful quatrains celebrating individual identity and experience, translated from Persian.
For most Western readers, Persian poetry might conjure few associations beyond Rumi or Edward Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Perhaps aware of this, Safdarian (I Want to Follow the Sun, 2011) makes sure to honor his own indebtedness to his better-known forebears: “What I need from the universe: a nice time…yes, / a bit calm, and a friend with a flute, / that we may read The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam / and drink together a little wine.” This vignette also serves as an invitation and instruction on how best to enjoy Safdarian’s poetry. Composed in the traditional Persian do-bayti couplet style and set with the original Persian facing Safdarian’s English translations, these 192 quatrains feel simultaneously foreign and familiar. There’s a touch of exoticism in Safdarian’s soft mysticism—“and I have to be beyond my body. / I have to be the power of thoughts from all varieties”—and in his references and cadences: “He was looking for you from Shiraz to Rasht / in alien roads and fields. / Although he could not find you during daylight, / he continued to look for you even at night.” His English translations can strike both the eye and ear as distinctly non-native, a problem he acknowledges: “A living person gave birth to a poem. / A translator killed the poem through translation.” Nevertheless, Safdarian’s primary mood is passion, and passion, it seems, does translate well. Though he writes about a myriad of subjects—war, poetry, racism, the importance of honoring the individual—this passion ensures that his romantic poems, of love gained and lost, are the best of the bunch. Even the unsure English that emerges can be read as an understandable loss of coherence by the stricken narrators. His take on loss is often powerfully direct and always felt in a deeply corporeal way. In “End,” the narrator, crying, laments the loss of a lover—“My eyes left me after you. / My heart stayed in my chest and decayed”—while in “The Time 2,” the narrator’s undoing is the appearance of the beloved: “I saw you; my heart unclenched, was lost.”
The translations are not without their awkward moments, but when writing about those moments that transcend language, Safdarian seems to find exactly the words he needs.