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The legendary Iranian poet who gives me hope

(From Lit Hub. Link to the complete article given below)

I grew up in a house with very few books, but there was one that came with my family from Iran and never let me go: a slender, battered book of poetry my mother displayed on the mantle, next to photographs of our family and the country we’d been forced to flee. The cover showed a woman with kohl-lined eyes and bobbed hair, and the Persian script slanted upwards, as if in flight from the page. That book wasn’t an object or even an artifact but an atmosphere. Parting the pages released a sharp, acrid scent that was the very scent of Iran, which was also the scent of time, love, and loss.

I wouldn’t know this for a long time, but Forugh Farrokhzad, the author of that book, died in a car crash eleven years before my family left Iran for America. She was just 32 and when she died she was the country’s most notorious woman. Her poems were revolutionary: a radical bid for self-expression and democracy written in a time and place which showed little tolerance for either, particularly when women voiced the desire for them.

Like the thousands of other Iranians who left Iran in the late 1970s, my family escaped the country in a hurry. It was 1978, a year on the edge of political upheaval. Soon there would be gunfire and tanks and dead bodies heaped in the streets. In 1978 no one could know that, but many people—especially the poets and artists—sensed it.

That was almost 40 years ago. I was five, and yet the details are strangely vivid: my grandmother sitting me on her lap to watch the pop diva Googoosh on television while my mother packed our suitcases. It was winter, and the snow was falling fast that night in Tehran. “We’ll be back soon,” my mother kept saying, but something in her made her walk over to the bookshelf and pick up her favorite book—a book of poems by Forugh. Something in her must have known she would need it.

Read more at the Lit Hub link here

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Sick: An interview with Porochista Khakpour

(From Tin House. Link to the full article given below.)

Porochista Khakpour’s staggeringly beautiful memoir Sick is a travelogue of sorts. As it moves from Tehran to New York to Santa Fe to Los Angeles, each destination exquisitely rendered, the roads it travels—some pot-holed, some dirt, some shiny and quick—are Porochista’s traumas and redemptions. An addiction to benzos. Being hit by a truck. Broken love affairs. A family in distress. Sexual assault. And at the center lies a grim compass, an unbearable illness, one that, especially in the beginning, doctors refuse to believe is real: Lyme disease. Porochista lays all this bare in an effort to discover the roots of her illness.

….

Jane Ratcliffe: “I’ve never felt comfortable in my own body,” you write. Yet you go on to say that through chronic illness you began to feel more at home there. It’s easy to imagine the opposite might be true. Can you talk about how that came to be?

Porochista Khakpour: So, I’ve had multiple identifiers that are “marginal.” (I actually hate that term because I feel like it’s like “minority” and in America all of us who are pushed to those identifiers are actually the majority.) They all pose a lot of problems. There was this feeling I had at one point where chronic illness and disability was finally a home where I could be understood—it was not a good feeling, by the way, but one I’d call a dead-end one. I’ve had many of those in my life.  None of my other identifiers seemed acceptable to people around me but illness/disability was a language most people understood, even if they didn’t understand my particular illness or even believe in it. So, my body felt like a settling point. Of course, that settling is temporary, always, but it doesn’t erase that it’s a valid feeling. I am deep in illness all over again now and I do see my body as a home, but a dark cold damp miserable one. I want out of my body all the time, but I am trapped in it, so, well, it’s my unhappy home and I have to make of it what I will.

To read more, go to this link

 


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Kaveh Akbar is poetry’s biggest cheerleader

Ever eavesdropped on two poets having a conversation at a coffee shop? Iranian-American poet Kaveh Akbar has created an online space that lets you do that without leaving your bed.

Akbar runs DiveDapper, which focuses on interviews with major voices in contemporary poetry. It’s packed with profiles of writers like Morgan ParkerOcean VuongWendy Xu, and Max Ritvo — to name just a few. Every other Monday, he posts a new interview transcript.

The site grew out of Akbar’s own life in poetry, and his struggles with addiction. “The oldest recognizable poem in my book ranges back to when I got sober,” Akbar says; his debut collection, Calling a Wolf a Wolf, came out this past September. “I suddenly had 16 hours a day to fill with something new. My entire life up to that point was predicated on the pursuit of this or that narcotic experience. When that was uplifted, I had to find something else.”

Writing became his path out of that old life. “I was so hungry to be having conversations about the poetry that was exciting me, so starved for that sort of dialogue” as he worked towards an MFA and split 60 hours a week between different jobs all while beginning his recovery. “DiveDapper became a way for me to manufacture those dialogues directly with the sources.”

When Akbar started out, he says, he was worried that if he cold-called someone like the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Sharon Olds, she’d be rightfully confused. Now, DiveDapper has become the way Akbar approaches great poets — but what he didn’t expect was that the interviews would turn into real, substantial friendships.

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Back and Forth with Kaveh Akbar

“Poetry is deeply democratic—it can exist in the mind alone, and it’s therefore infinitely potent as a political haven.” Kaveh Akbar

 

Thibault Raoult (TR): Such robust and odd images in “Portrait of the Alcoholic with Shattered Pelvis.” Did these all originally belong to this poem? Might you have a daybook of images? Do images happen to you? Or do you seek them out? 

Kaveh Akbar (KA): Oh, I totally keep daybooks. (I like that word for them.) I’ve dozens of physical notebooks scattered around, as well hundreds and hundreds of digital pages between my phone and my laptop—phrases, misheard song lyrics, lines from other people’s poems, words, thoughts, riffs, etc. I delete them when they go into a poem to avoid reusing things, so that’s hundreds of pages of pristine unused material just waiting for the right poem. And I’m constantly adding.

I think there’s this magic thing that happens for poets—when we spend enough time in poetry, in our poems and the poems of others—where everything we experience in our day-to-day life enters our consciousness through the filter of its poetic utility. Every phrase and interaction acquires the charge of poetic potential. The cruel name your partner calls you mid-fight, the mistranslated item on a restaurant menu, the bizarre instructions a girl on the sidewalk whispers into her cell phone. All of it enters, first, as poem lumber.

TR: I see your poem “Portrait” nodding to Frank O’Hara and Catullus, among others. Which poets/authors inform your rhetorical modes and discourses?

KA: I love, differently, both of the poets you mention. O’Hara for many reasons, but chief among them his notion that a poem is a conversation between two persons, not two pages. That feels immensely useful to me and true to my experience of writing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat around writing a mystifyingly flat poem that ballooned to life only when I realized to whom I was writing. And this is maybe dumb or juvenile or whatever, but I think I love Catullus most for the startle of his filth. I privilege surprise (a form of delight) above pretty much any other craft element in poetry, and what’s more surprising than an ancient Roman poet whose poems are full of bestiality insults and excrement?

To the second part of your question, one of the great breakthroughs of my poet life was discovering Ellen Bryant Voigt’s Headwaters, seeing how taking traditional punctuation out of her poems lent her this incredible control over momentum and inertia. … I’m still kind of in the throes of that, and all my first drafts are still unpunctuated. Sometimes I’ll add punctuation in later, but often I find it to be more distracting than useful.

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