Belonging: New Poetry by Iranians Around the World

Belonging: New Poetry by Iranians Around the World

by Niloufar Talebi (Editor)


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Recent political developments, including the shadow of a new war, have obscured the fact that Iran has a long and splendid artistic tradition ranging from the visual arts to literature. Western readers may have some awareness of the Iranian novel thanks to a few breakout successes like Reading Lolita in Tehran and My Uncle Napoleon, but the country's strong poetic tradition remains little known. This anthology remedies that situation with a rich selection of recent poetry by Iranians living all around the world, including Amir-Hossein Afrasiabi: “Although the path / tracks my footsteps, / I don’t travel it / for the path travels me.” Varying dramatically in style, tone, and theme, these expertly translated works include erotic divertissements by Ziba Karbassi, rigorously formal poetry by Yadollah Royaii, experimental poems by Naanaam, powerful polemics by Maryam Huleh, and the personal-epic work of Shahrouz Rashid. Eclectic and accessible, these vibrant poems deepen the often limited awareness of Iranian identity today by not only introducing readers to contemporary Iranian poetry, but also expanding the canon of significant writing in the Persian language. Belonging offers a glimpse at a complex culture through some of its finest literary talents.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Niloufar Talebi’s accomplishment in gathering the poetry of the Iranian diaspora is unprecedented and breathtaking. It is as if she has, by force of commitment and vision, and by way of cultural hunger, bequeathed a new literary heritage to Iran and the world. Here is a lyric symphony of utterance in the voices of exiles, immigrants, refugees, and expatriates. That Talebi assembled such an extraordinary collection is impressive enough—that she translated most of these poems herself is nothing short of remarkable.”
—Carolyn Forché, editor of Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness

“In Belonging, with literary skill and passion, Niloufar Talebi has made a major contribution to the recognition of contemporary Iranian literature in the West, to the appreciation of diaspora poetry by Persian speakers everywhere, and to the important project of producing good translations from rich but underrepresented literary canons for the anglophone reader.”
—Nahid Mozaffari, editor of the PEN Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature

“Poetry is a world art because of brilliant editors and translators like Niloufar Talebi ... Here are the poets, in all their power, defiance, dignity, wildness, and lyric grace, scattered across the earth, yet united in this book. Here is proof that poetry humanizes: now contemporary Persian culture has a face, and the Persian tongue a voice, for those of us in the English-speaking world, and we are all richer for it.”
—Martín Espada, Pulitzer Prize nominee and author of The Republic of Poetry

“After reading her introduction and the first few sections of Belonging, I realized that Talebi had accomplished perhaps the greatest service that a translator of Iranian poetry for American audiences can provide: she made the Iranian poetic landscape feel familiar. Not only familiar, but modern, full of laughter, rich with wonder, completely joyful and terrible and worthy of revisiting multiple times."
—Peter Conners, Three Percent

“Niloufar Talebi has accomplished the ultimate magic trick in her clean and modern translation. She has made the work of modern Persian poets read like original English ... an unparalled contribution.”
—Willis Barnstone, author of With Borges on an Ordinary Evening in Buenos Aires

“The poems speak of lost places and missing people; of the fear and freedom that come with new surroundings; of love, sex, and passion; of prison and protest; of the commonplace and the universal; and of subjects classical, political, and taboo… In form and imagery these poems often allude to works of Persian classical literature, but they are also the heirs of Rimbaud, Lorca, Dante, Shakespeare, and the literatures of adopted countries… Talebi’s translation process included thorough review and collaboration with the poets themselves… While one can always find phrases with which to quibble, the translations are of consistently high quality… not only do the poems work in English, but they adhere closely to the originals in tone, content, and format.”
Harvard Review Online Journal

“If you will trust me though, and don't want to read my justification, you can know that this is simply one of those books you need to have on your shelves, one you can look for and find at a party, and hand to one of your closer American friends and smilingly say, ‘Here Bradley, this will explain everything!’”

"This collection is impressive by making a good sample of contemporary Iranian poets in the diaspora so beautifully accessible to English readers and by presenting them so deservingly as a part of world literature today."
World Literature Today Magazine

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781556437120
Publisher: North Atlantic Books
Publication date: 08/05/2008
Series: Scala Translation Series
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

Shahrouz Rashid was born in the northeastern part of Iran, in Fars-Abad of Dashte Moghan near the Caspian sea in 1960 to a tribal family. He believes living a nomadic life, with its spirit of transience and innate lyricism, has profoundly affected his poetry. He left for Germany in 1984. He is the author of more than ten books of poetry, prose, and translations, including poetry books Berlin Elegies, Circles and Never, and The Book of Never. He is the editor of an online literary magazine, Ketabe Siavash. His work has been translated into German and Swedish. A CD of his poetry set to music is called Landing.

Though his work is not political, it has a social conscience. His profound awareness of his exile does not narrow his poetic potential, but it endows him with a historical context. Rashid is of the generation whose youth was spent on the revolution—without the desired results—but the tumultuous events of his early adulthood do not limit the scope of his work; instead they leave traces for the reader, echoes of historic events in the scenes he creates. Iran’s rich poetic history, both its classical and modern poetry, is a significant tradition for a poet to emerge from. Rashid not only gives us poetic elements such as attention to language, imagery, and symbol, but beyond creating beauty in lyric form, he gives us ideas.

Rashid came of age after he left his country, equipped with references of both his Eastern and Western lives. He claims the Western literary and historical tradition as his own and at his disposal as they shape his work. In his poems, he addresses Dante in a journey to hell, as Dante conjured Virgil as his companion. He writes of Hamlet, Shakespeare and borrows from Hafez, Rimbaud, Marx, Shamlou, the Bible, the Koran, the myth of Sisyphus, the myth of Icarus.

His is a personal-epic poem, a blend of what Eastern-Islamic and Western-Greek cultural imaginations present him to deliver us what speaks to our blended imagination.

“Seasonless Years,” “Downfall on the Horizon,” and “Icarus” are excerpts from three long poems, narratives about falling, both vertically and horizontally.

Seasonless Years

We have landed from the heights of our flight
And there is no seed by the trap

Neglect and vanity have cultivated our lives
Even our sleep doesn’t benefit from our fatigue

Our mending ways rot under the audacious sun
Charting our separation is an age-old habit.

Sterile wounds, we will not be avenged.


Yesterday has us memorized.

Do you remember
When we blindfolded night

With my purple scarf?
And in our dreams ran toward a sea

Without a shore?
It dawned because of our mischief

five hours early,
Do you remember?

I am not the restraint of forty dervishes
Nor is the earth a meager sheath.

The stars and the senate do not obey us,
For we are not Caesars.

We are the red rose in the wine tavern
On nights of avarice, in hellish cities.

Who made you into such a locust
That you chew yourself, chew,

Chew and spit
Yourself onto passersby

In the stammering day?
In square rooms

Infinitely reflected,
A poet is on fire.

Downfall on the Horizon

At times, at dusk you see a man
Standing on his terrace

Heavy-headed, with a bitter mouth and lost words
Staring at passing colors

In the impenetrable narcotic air.
Could you, for a second,

In the flustered flow of a fall river,
Address his ceramic eyes?

Could you?

I am tired.
I wish I could become a bench this afternoon

On this thirteenth bright-eyed weariness,
Catch my breath, leave the body

To become a drop of stone, hard, released, cold
And appeal to earth, dreaming of snow.

Something is always forgotten in the empty house.
A little thing like a small mirror,

A freckle-faced doll, a piece of agate,
A line of poetry on the hem of a floral handkerchief.

A small thing,
Keeper of smells and memories.

A few people always remain outside the circle.
There is always one person weeping in the wet abandoned

Fields in the sting of a white December.
There is always one person denying his country

Refusing to be the guardian of a crestfallen land,
Errant on disinherited earth.

There is always one person stretching to smell the red rose
In the steepest slopes, in the state of descent.

All seats are taken
And there is no room to sit.

I will sit on the loins of a stone
Under the shadow of a thistle

On the edge of the pit that separates us
And I will watch the world’s little characters and heroes

In days lost in fog
In nights narrowed by rain,

And I shall weep the flares of your pain
In the verses of a winter’s solstice.

Customer Reviews