Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The Summer Day by Mary Oliver


by Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver / Día de verano

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The Fish by Mary Oliver


 Mary Oliver / El pez

The first fish
I ever caught
would not lie down
quiet in the pail
but flailed and sucked
at the burning
amazement of the air
and died
in the slow pouring off
of rainbows. Later
I opened his body and separated
the flesh from the bones
and ate him. Now the sea
is in me: I am the fish, the fish
glitters in me; we are
risen, tangled together, certain to fall
back to the sea. Out of pain,
and pain, and more pain
we feed this feverish plot, we are nourished
by the mystery.


Monday, September 20, 2021

The Uses of Sorrow by Mary Oliver


by Mary Oliver

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Legends of the fall / The biggest books of autumn 2021


Louise Glück

Legends of the fall: the biggest books of autumn 2021

by Justine Jordan and Katy Guest
4 September 2021



All the Names Given by Raymond Antrobus
A eagerly awaited collection from the Folio prize-winner explores language, deafness, conflicting identities and the weight of history.


Winter Recipes from the Collective by Louise Glück
Glück’s first collection since winning the Nobel prize last year is an intimate and haunting work full of “recipes for winter, when life is hard. In spring / anyone can make a fine meal”.


Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman
A new collection full of hope and healing from the young American poet who electrified the world when she read “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration. JJ


Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Treasure trove' of unseen Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney writing found

Ted Hughes and Barrie Cooke pike fishing in Ireland, 1978-9. Photograph: Aoine Landweer-Cooke


Treasure trove' of unseen Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney writing found

Alison Flood
14 November 2020
This article is more than 10 months old

Affectionate friendship between the two poets and artist Barrie Cooke, united by a love of fishing, revealed in a collection of correspondence that was believed lost

Alison Flood

Saturday 14 November 2020

A “treasure trove” of unseen poems and letters by Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney and the artist Barrie Cooke has revealed the depth of a close three-way friendship that one Cambridge academic has described as a “rough, wild equivalent of the Bloomsbury group”.

Cooke, who died in 2014, was a leading expressionist artist in Ireland, and a passionate fisherman. Fellow fishing enthusiast Mark Wormald, an English fellow at Pembroke College, Cambridge, came across his name while reading Hughes’s unpublished fishing diaries at the British Library. He visited Cooke in Ireland, and discovered the close friendship between the three men.

“Barrie told me that ‘outside Seamus’ family, I’m the closest man to Seamus alive’. And he said, ‘Ted and I have fishing in common, and Seamus and I have art and mud in common’,” said Wormald.

The academic visited Cooke again years later when the artist had developed dementia, and read to him from Hughes’s fishing diary, written in February 1980, detailing the moment the poet laureate landed his first Irish salmon.

“The diary ended: ‘It’s the most beautiful fish I’ve ever seen, said Barrie.’ And Barrie, who’d been listening rapt, said, ‘I did say that, Mark.’ And then he said, ‘would you like to see the letters?’” said Wormald.

Portrait of Seamus Heaney by Barrie Cooke, c 1980.
Portrait of Seamus Heaney by Barrie Cooke, c 1980. Photograph: The Estate of Barrie Cooke

Cooke showed him an old cardboard box stuffed with “the most wonderfully expressive letters”, photographs showing the affection the three men held for each other, and 85 poems by Hughes and Heaney, some unpublished; a collection that was believed to be lost, and reveals the direct influence Cooke had on the work of the two poets.

In a letter from Heaney in March 1972, written as he was deciding to embark on life as a freelance writer, his friend: “Your confidence in us engendered confidence in ourselves and it is strange how the secret will to change burgeoned after that morning’s walk at Luggala and then, more irresistibly, in your kitchen on the Saturday night when we ate the pike. The first supper!”

There were 25 letters from Hughes, written over 30 years; a poem by Hughes titled Trenchford on Dartmoor, written for Cooke and his then-partner Jean Valentine; and a sketch by Hughes called The Dagda Meets the Morrigu on the Unshin Near Ballinlig, an angler’s retelling of Irish mythology.

When Hughes spent time with Cooke, his head and heart turned “Irishwards” towards a “freedom and flow”, he wrote; finding an “inner freedom” that made him and his son Nick “completely happy”, as he told Heaney.

“For Ted Hughes, tortured soul, controversial figure, to find that complete happiness is pretty remarkable,” said Wormald.

The friendship between the three men was already known: Heaney and Hughes worked together, while Cooke is credited for suggesting and illustrating Hughes’s poem The Great Irish Pike. But the collection also contains “wild” images of Hughes’ work Crow, and shows that their collaboration went back to the early 60s.

Ted Hughes cartoon of the Morrigu eating the Dagda, plus marginal notes and poem Trenchford on Dartmoor in the guest book of Cooke and Valentine.
Ted Hughes cartoon of the Morrigu eating the Dagda, plus marginal notes and poem Trenchford on Dartmoor in the guest book of Cooke and Valentine. Photograph: Mark Wormald/The Estates of Ted Hughes and Dennis O’Driscoll and of Julie O’Callaghan

“For both Heaney and Hughes, evasiveness was a really significant principle of their work and they needed to protect their privacy. They regarded Barrie as a kind of secret friend … an exemplary devotee of art, and drew huge strength from that. And they knew that basically it was under the radar,” said Wormald, who has co-edited two books on Hughes, and whose book The Catch: Fishing for Ted Hughes is due to be published in 2021.

“The tenderness of the letters between these men takes my breath away, and it transforms what we know about their work and personal lives. Hughes emerges as an absolutely devoted father, a wonderfully generous friend, and someone who lived and breathed nature through fishing. And Cooke’s influence on Heaney, as an artist who was completely committed to the natural and mythological history of Ireland’s waters, was real and enduring, as was the nourishment Heaney took from their friendship.”

Cooke’s daughters gave Pembroke College, Hughes’s alma mater, first option to acquire the collection.

In a video by Cambridge University about the acquisition, the academic describes the “deep triangular friendship” as “a rough, wild equivalent of the Bloomsbury group, but completely unrecognised”.

Pembroke College will now catalogue and curate the collection in its library, with a series of exhibitions to follow.


Sunday, September 12, 2021

The Afghan Pashto Poet Rahman Baba / Philosopher and Poet of the Heart

Rahma Baba


The Afghan Pashto Poet Rahman Baba

Philosopher and Poet of the Heart

Suspected radical Taliban have attacked a shrine to the memory of Rahman Baba, the best known and best loved Sufi poet in Afghanistan. Rochsana Soraya spoke to the Afghan journalist and literary critic Mohammad Zarin Anzor about the poet's life and work
photo: AP
Rahman Baba's grave was destroyed in an attack on March 5th. The shrine at the site was severely damaged

​​Mr Anzor, as one of the best known literary critics in Afghanistan who has written academic studies of Rahman Baba, how would you present him to an international public?

Mohammad Zarin Anzor: Rahman Baba, is one of the great Afghan poets of the seventeenth century; his writings are devoted to the awareness of God and the Sufi Muslim mysticism. I believe that no other classical Pashto poet has won so much affection as he has: he is celebrated, loved and honoured. That's why he's known as Baba, little father or grandfather. This is a title which is only awarded to elders who are worthy of honour in our society.

Rahman Baba's poetry is also wonderfully expressive of love and affection, and his poems are not just loved by religious people and dervishes, but also by women, young people and all kinds of people who love life. His poems also portray the world view of the Pashtuns of the time; that ought to be of great interest to people.

What makes Rahman Baba stand out from other great Pashto poets?

Anzor: Beside Rahman Baba, there were many other great Sufi poets, like Mirza Khan Ansari, Daulat Luani, Wasel Rokhani and Mullah Arzani in the sixteenth century, Abdul Qader Khattak in the seventeenth), or Pir Mohammad Kaker in the eighteenth, just to name a few. The topics of mysticism and awareness of God are central to Pashto literature up to modern times. But Rahman Baba's mystical poetry is different from that of the others because it is not entirely dedicated to God, but also reflects the wishes of the people of his time. Rahman Baba deals with social issues and other important topics which concern everyone. For example, you can find in his Diwan the following lines:

Greater than building Abraham's Qaaba
Is it, to heal the wounded heart of another.

What are the typical characteristics of his poetry?

photo: AP
Rahman Baba's shrine after the attack. Rahman Baba's Diwan, a collection of poems, is his only work. It has only recently been fully translated into English

​​Anzor: Rahman sees awareness of God as part of human evolution. How can human beings free themselves from the animalistic world and reach a higher spiritual status? Another characteristic is the moral aspect of his poetry, from which people can take examples for their own lives. Most of his poems are Ghazals; he almost always stuck to this form, whatever the content of his poems. There are a few examples of Mokhamas (five line poems) and Qasida (poems with over 15 lines).

People are so fond of Rahman Baba's poems because the language as well as the images and metaphors are very simple. It's only when you take the poem as a whole that you find a highly complex philosophical view of the world.

Orientalists who have translated Rahman's work, like Major Raverty in the nineteenth century or Annemarie Schimmel in the twentieth, emphasise the aspects of love and praise of God in his poems. How far can Rahman Baba be seen as a socially critical poet?

Mohammad Zarin Anzor (photo: private copyright)
Mohammad Zarin Anzor says than Rahman's poetry is marked by a subtle rhythm and a musicality

​​Anzor: Like Khoshal Khan, Rahman Baba lived and wrote during the period of Mogul rule. Khoshal fought against the Moguls after he'd been imprisoned by them, and he incited a revolt against Mogul domination. Some of his poetry deals with this issue. But Rahman Baba is not a poet of national resistance. He never submitted to any rulers, or worked and wrote under them. He dealt with all the social issues of his time in a critical manner. He belonged to the Momand tribe, but in one of his poems he writes:

I am a lover and I concern myself incessantly with love
I am not a Khalil, not a Daudzai, not a Momand

For Rahman, it was humanity which stood at the centre of his thoughts, and not the more or less random membership of a particular group.

Western academics often see Rahman's poems as being in the tradition of the Persian-language Sufi poetry of Jalal ud Din Rumi. The topics of Rahman's poetry and his manner of expression have something timeless and universal about them. Can one not see in his poetry the values of the kind of spiritual and philosophical development which later became known in Europe as humanism?

Anzor: In oriental writing, and especially in that which deals with awareness of God and mysticism, there are common values and metaphors shared by Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Indian and Afghan lyrical poetry which are not totally unknown in Western poetry and literature. Some of the metaphors belong to the cultural heritage of humanity. It would be an offence against the principles and values which characterise Muslim mystical and love poetry if one were to draw clear borders.

From the point of view of an international readership, what is the literary value of Rahman's Diwan? Is it world literature which still has to be discovered?

Anzor: Aside from its importance for Pashto literature, Rahman Baba's Diwan is of great value for an international public. But it's not just the Diwan – it's also the works which were written before and after Rahman Baba of which people need to become aware. People will see that the Afghans were able to develop a complex value system and philosophical depth. That will help the world to grow together a little more and it will remove another empty space on the map of world literature. The whole world is looking towards the Pashtuns, but no-one is taking any interest in their cultural heritage.

Interview Rochsana Soraya

© 2009

Mohammad Zarin Anzor is an Afghan journalist, literary critic and writer who is currently living in Germany. He studied journalism and Pashto literature at the universities of Kabul and Peshawar.


Thursday, September 9, 2021

Another Birth, Other Words / Queering the Poetry of Forough Farrokhzad in Translation


Another Birth, Other Words: Queering the Poetry of Forough Farrokhzad in Translation

The following is a guest post by Nazila Ghavami Kivi, an editor of Danish queer feminist magazine Friktion, where the piece was originally published in Danish. 

In the piece, Kivi discusses the challenges of translating poetry from the gender-neutral Persian language into Danish and the queering potential of poetry that transcends language, time and traditional gender roles. 

Recently, the Swedish Academy responsible for the dictionary of Swedish language added the new gender neutral pronoun hen to the newest edition of their work. The news reached international media and reaffirmed the idea of Scandinavian countries as being the ‘frontrunners of gender equality.’

The application of the gender neutral pronoun isn’t all that new, though. It has been a subject of debate among feminist-leftist circles since the 1970s. Swedish kindergarten Egalia even applied the use of hen back in 2011. Egalia’s mission to undo gender stereotypes entailed among other things the substitution of the gendered pronouns han and hon (he and she) with the gender-neutral neologism hen.

The Scandinavian narrative of progressiveness and gender equality isn’t without its challenges and controversies, however. Internal disputes within leftist-feminist circles suggest that some see the gender neutral pronoun as a liberating panacea, bound to revolutionize binary gender roles, while others view it as an unrealistic utopian project that will only serve to blur actually-existing inequalities. Semantics won’t fix the lived experiences of sexism, they argue.

The meeting of Rumi and Shams, as depicted in an Ottoman miniature from 1600.
The meeting of Rumi and Shams, as depicted in an Ottoman miniature from 1600.

What those opposed to linguistic gender neutrality forget, however, is that this trend is often not nearly as ‘exotic’ or foreign a phenomenon as is often cast. You don’t have to travel farther than Finland — Sweden’s neighbor — before you encounter a gender-neutral language, where the neutral (and only) 3rd person pronoun is hän. This word has served as an inspiration for the Swedish equivalent: hen and the Danish: høn.

Even further afield, another language remotely related to Danish with shared Indo-European roots is Persian, in which some of the oldest and most influential literature in history has been written. Throughout history, Persian’s lack of gendered pronouns has allowed for the production of subversive texts that have confounded and enchanted readers and leaders alike.

The world-renowned Sufi poet Jalal ad-Din Mohammad Molana Rumi, who lived in the 13th century and wrote in Persian, is often brought forth as an example of this subversive poetic tradition, where the Persian neutral pronoun ou (او) allows for a wide array of interpretative possibilities. His object of desire could be a monotheistic God, a deity of the earth, a woman, or his friend and mentor Shams-e-Tabrizi.

Although some read his poems as homoerotic, there is no known proof that Rumi was homosexual or had a physical relationship with his mentor, Shams. What is beyond dispute, though, is their intense love and admiration for each other.

While some call it wishful thinking or a product of the ‘modern queering’ of Rumi to read his poetry as if it was written by a contemporary gay or bisexual man, it is equally reasonable to question the heteronormative readings of 13th century poetry, written long before the dominance of 19th and 20th century binary gender identities. The possibility of Rumi having been read and translated in a heteronormative light becomes even more probable when considering other cases of heteronormative interpretations of historical sources.

Modern Assyriologists’ readings of ancient Babylonian poetry suggest that transgendered or gender transitive identities have often been erased by Orientalist readings of the original writings. Instead they have been re-cast as prostitutes, eunuchs, or “hermaphrodites” according to the Orientalist views of the ‘East’ as sexually deviant and perverted.

These ambiguities and different modes of interpretation are not limited to older literature. Modern Persian poetry, she’r-e no, that was first introduced by Nima Youshij (1895-1960) during the early part of 20th century brought new rhymes, rhythms, and techniques as well as more social and political subjects to Persian poetry.

While Youshij is considered the founder of modern Persian poetry, one of the most well-known and internationally acclaimed representatives of Iranian modern literature is the controversial poet and filmmaker Forough Farrokhzad.

Born in Tehran in 1934, Farrokhzad managed to challenge all reigning norms, both in her private life and in her work as an artist. She divorced at 18, wrote poems about desire and eroticism, shunned literary traditions, and directed the acclaimed documentary The House is Black about life in a colony reserved for lepers in Iran. She died in a car accident at the young age of 32.

I spoke to poet and writer Shadi Angelina Bazeghi about the challenges in reading and translating Farrokhzad from a gender neutral language to a gendered one. Along with Danish author Mette Moestrup, Bazeghi has written Kun stemmen bliver tilbage (Only the Voice Remains), the first thorough introduction to Farrokhzad for a Danish audience, including some of Farrokhzad’s prose and her two last poetry collections. Bazeghi has been in charge of the translation and expands on the possibilities of a gender-neutral language:

“When, as a poet, you are not limited by the restraints of writing of a certain gender, it opens up to new nuances in language. Not only is it liberating to the artist themselves to be able to write from numerous positions, but also the object is divorced from gender and can claim many parts, both relating to gender, but also relating to who is object and subject in the poem.”

Shadi Angelina Bazeghi is also familiar with the expanse of interpretative possibility in classical Iranian poetry. Sticking with tradition, she will sometimes crack open a random page in Hafez’s (1320-1390) poetry collection and read a “favorite.” According to folklore, Hafez will give the exact answer to any question posed.

“The poem often consists of two figures, a narrator and a recipient. And due to the gender-neutral nature of the language, it is difficult to discern who is subject and who is object. Multiple people are referred to with the pronoun ou, and it’s actually pretty nuts that I sometimes can’t discern if one or the other is a man or a woman. That’s the potentiality that language contains. Classic poets like Hafez and Rumi have also utilized it — there is an expansion of a poetic space where the task of “gendering” is on the reader, be it as a man, woman, queer or…”

According to Bazeghi, many poets whose poems can be interpreted as erotic, like Hafez and Rumi, switch up the relations between gender, physical versus spiritual being, and geographic-national senses of belonging.

Dervishes at the tomb of Rumi in Konya in central Turkey.
Dervishes at the tomb of Rumi in Konya in central Turkey.

“Rumi writes himself out of a gendered body that belongs to East or West, any religion or nation etc. Instead he defines himself as an un-gendered body that belongs to love, and is intoxicated, spiritually elevated, by love itself.”

“That might be one of the reasons why so many Iranians read poetry, regardless of gender. This is especially true of Forough Farrokhzad. Her poems can be read in different ways, and part of this stems from the gender-neutral language. This makes the content much more relatable to larger groups of people. How you, as a reader, are situated in the poem is not a given. Thus, all poetry becomes more engaging.”

“This is not to say that the language is completely devoid of gender,” Bazeghi notes. “For instance, ‘the lover,’ meaning the active part, has traditionally been male, whereas the ‘the beloved’ e.g. the passive, was female.”

But even in the dominantly gender-neutral language, Forough manages to experiment with these positions by using a traditionally female word for the obviously male object of desire. One could say that she’s queering up the heterosexual hierarchy, where roles are given based on a person’s assigned gender within a binary system, like women being passive and men being active. Forough doesn’t comply with that, but manages to challenge it boldly.

But how does one go about translating these lingual finesses?

“As a Danish translator, I have to make some choices. In Persian, the word for the beloved, ma’shough (معشوق) is oftentimes associated with ethereal love or the feminine, even if the word is technically gender-neutral — seeing as the word ma’shoughe (معشوقه)  means female lover. Even so, Forough chooses to use the word ma’shoughe man (معشوق من) i.e. my beloved to speak of the object of the poem. She could easily have chosen a different word that is solely associated with the masculine.

Forough deliberately seeks to overhaul the traditional roles, and it is the male role in the erotic play that she wants to rattle, and by extension that of the female, which she clearly identifies with. At the same time she equalizes the carnal and the ethereal love, the latter having commonly been thought of as superior.”

In Danish, the word has become min elsker. In principle, this is a male lover in Danish, because there is a female equivalent with a feminine suffix. However, it can be viewed as somewhat neutral, like “my beloved” in English. Bazeghi has, because of the way she reads Farrokhzad, been forced to sometimes use gender specific pronouns.

“It is limiting to transition from a gender-neutral to a gendered language. This is not to say, however, that a neutral language solves all problems. Outside the sphere of poetry, people are still targets of harassment, sexism, and homophobia no matter if they live in a gender-neutral or gendered language speaking area. But in the literary realm the gender-neutral facilitates an inclusive community where lived experience can be shared across gender lines.”

“Some people refer to it as “playing with language”, but for me, it’s important to get across that to Forough, this certainly was not a game. It was an earnest experimental process concerning language and poetry, and an opposition to traditional norms and values – both inside and outside poetry, and she did that with tremendous costs to herself, personally.



I asked Shadi Angelina Bazeghi to re-translate the poem Connection, from Another Birth 1959-1963, with the English gender-neutral pronoun ze to give readers an idea of how it changes the expression.

Emma Holtens has translated the poem to English from the Danish version by Shadi Angelina Bazeghi:


The dark pupils, oh,

my plain lonesome Sufis

had lost their temper

in ze’s eyes ritual attraction

I saw ze billow across my body

Like a scorching reddish flame

Like the ripple of water

A quivering brimming cloud

A sky of the seasons’ heated breath

Ze stretches

Till infinity

Till the other side of life

I saw my material being


By the gust of ze’s hands

I saw that ze’s heart’s adrift resonance

Had enchanted my heart

The clock flew

The wind seized the curtain

I had embraced ze

In the glow of fire

I wanted to say something

But gaped

Ze’s eyelashes

Were like threads of silk

Motioned in the depth of dark

After a protracted desire

And a quiver, a fierce quiver as if into death,

Toward the end of my lost I

I saw my release

I saw my release

I saw my skin crack from the expanse of love

I saw my flaming substance

Melting so slowly

And currents, currents, currents

Into the moon, the moon that lingered by the depth, the restless

And fuzzy moon


We had cried in each other

We had, like the mad, endured

The fusing’s erratic moment in each other