Posts Tagged ‘Rumi’

Poets Kooser, Rexroth, and Glück describe their experiences with telescopes looking at the stars

April 28, 2019

Poets have written about the night sky and how it’s transformed them. Pulitzer Prize winner (2005) and U.S. Poet Laureate (2004-2006) Ted Kooser read from his poetry before a standing-room only audience in Campbell Hall at UC Santa Barbara (August/2005). In his introduction to this poem, Telescope, Kooser describes how he wakes up early every morning to write. William Stafford used to do the same thing.

Telescope

This is the pipe that pierces the dam
that holds back the universe,

that takes off some of the pressure,
keeping the weight of the unknown

from breaking through
and washing us all down the valley.

Because of this small tube,
through which a cold light rushes

from the bottom of time,
the depth of the stars stays always constant

and we are able to sleep, at least for now,
beneath the straining wall of darkness.

Ted Kooser, Delights and Shadows, p. 6

As part of the Pulitzer Centennial Campfires Initiative, the South Dakota Humanities Council commissioned a series of essays about prize winners. Christine Stewart-Nuñez wrote about her poetry teacher: Ted Kooser: A poet of connection.

Kenneth Rexroth also wrote about the cosmos looking through a telescope and how it changed him in this poem, The Heart of Herakles.

My body is asleep. Only
My eyes and brain are awake.
The stars stand around me
Like gold eyes, I can no longer
Tell where I begin and leave off.

Louise Glück in her poem, Telescope, describes a similar loss of body awareness as she identifies with the enormity of the star-filled night sky.

You’ve been stopped being here in the world.
You’re in a different place,
a place where human life has no meaning.

You’re not a creature in a body.
You exist as the stars exist,
participating in their stillness, their immensity.

Poets Rumi and Octavio Paz also open our minds to a cosmic perspective. In The Essential Rumi, Coleman Barks translates his poem:

I am so small I can barely be seen.
How can this great love be inside me?

Look at your eyes. They are small,
but they see enormous things.

Paz’s poem, Brotherhood, translated with Eliot Weinberger, is an homage to the ancient astronomer, Claudius Ptolemy.

I am a man: little do I last
and the night is enormous.
But I look up:
the stars write.
Unknowing I understand:
I too am written,
and at this very moment
someone spells me out.

In that blog post I conclude with my haiku, Forest Flowers, and mention my poem As Above So Below. Both describe relationships between the individual and the universal. 

Mark Strand in his poem, My Name, also lay in the grass looking at the great distances above him and felt the vast star-clustered sky as his own. I included that full poem in this memorial post: Poetry helps us imagine what it’s like to be human. ~ Mark Strand (1934–2014).

Selected Wise Words From Rumi

February 28, 2015

There are many wise sayings from Rumi. Some were posted on the blog: something to tell. I copied a few thoughtful and instructive ones:

Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.

When someone is counting out gold for you, don’t look at your hands, or the gold. Look at the giver.

Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.

You are not just the drop in the ocean. You are the mighty ocean in the drop.

Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.

See more quotes and images from this blogger at rumi’s wise words.

You may also enjoy Two kinds of knowledge about living and learning.

Here’s another one: Poems by Rumi and Octavio Paz open our minds to a more cosmic perspective. Also see several inspiring poems by Hafiz.

 

Poets Kenneth Rexroth and William Wordsworth Experienced Transcendence and Self-Awareness

December 3, 2014

Transcendence and a self-referral awareness are described by great poets when they interact deeply with nature. In the process, they experience their own inner nature. Their poetic expressions describe a state similar to what practitioners of Transcendental Meditation experience, where the body is deeply restful, more than deep sleep, and the mind is highly alert, peaceful, unobstructed by thoughts, unbounded.

Kenneth Rexroth

Kenneth Rexroth describes this experience in his poem, The Heart of Herakles, (The Collected Shorter Poems of Kenneth Rexroth). Looking up into the night sky through a telescope, he sees the enormous constellations and soon loses his sense of self. “My body is asleep. Only my eyes and brain are awake. … I can no longer tell where I begin and leave off.” In this expanded state he becomes aware of different aspects of nature being collectively self-aware with an “eye that sees itself.”

The Heart of Herakles

Lying under the stars,
In the summer night,
Late, while the autumn
Constellations climb the sky,
As the Cluster of Hercules
Falls down the west
I put the telescope by
and watch Deneb
Move towards the zenith.
My body is asleep. Only
My eyes and brain are awake.
The stars stand around me
Like gold eyes, I can no longer
Tell where I begin and leave off.
The faint breeze in the dark pines,
And the invisible grass,
The tipping earth, the swarming stars
Have an eye that sees itself.

You can hear Kenneth Rexroth read The Heart of Herakles in this July 13, 1955 recording, from 27:36 to 28:13, posted by The Poetry Center.

William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth describes a similar experience of an inner physical suspension along with a deep seeing and joyful knowing while recalling a transcendental experience in his poem, Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour. July 13, 1798. Here are some excerpts from that long poem.

That blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened: — that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on —
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul;
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.

His initial experience of transcending within his own mind has matured as he recognizes that same transcendental essence throughout nature, thereby unifying his inner Self with the same Self of all conscious things.

And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.

(more…)

Poems by Rumi and Octavio Paz open our minds to a more cosmic perspective

June 27, 2014

Rumi and Octavio Paz on Discovering a more Cosmic Perspective

Rumi

I am so small I can barely be seen.
How can this great love be inside me?

Look at your eyes. They are small,
but they see enormous things.

(The Essential Rumi by Coleman Barks)

~

Octavio Paz

Brotherhood
Homage to Claudius Ptolemy

I am a man: little do I last
and the night is enormous.
But I look up:
the stars write.
Unknowing I understand:
I too am written,
and at this very moment
someone spells me out.

(Collected Poems by Octavio Paz, translated with Eliot Weinberger)

~

Here is a haiku I wrote that shares a similar sentiment. It was published in 13 Ways to Write Haiku: A Poet’s Dozen for The Dryland Fish, and in Five Haiku for This Enduring Gift.

 Forest Flowers

tiny white flowers
a constellation of stars
so low yet so high

© Ken Chawkin

 ~

An even more cosmic understanding our relationship to the universe comes from the Vedic Literature — “Yatha pinde tatha brahmande, yatha brahmande tatha pinde” — “As is the individual, so is the universe, as is the universe, so is the individual” or “As is the atom, so is the Universe” or “As is the human body, so is the Cosmic Body” or “As is the Microcosm, so is the Macrocosm”, or succinctly as “As Above, So Below.” See my poem As Above So Below.

Another expression is “Anor aniyan mahato mahiyan — “Smaller than the smallest is larger than the largest” i.e., our essential nature, our Self, is beyond measure, infinite, unbounded, transcendental.
 

Craig Pearson on KRUU FM show, Writers’ Voices, discusses his new book, The Supreme Awakening

February 26, 2014

Craig_Pearson

Craig Pearson, PhD

Enjoy this interview with author Craig Pearson, PhD and his latest book, The Supreme Awakening: Experiences of Enlightenment Throughout Time  – and How We Can Cultivate Them. If you click on the links you’ll read more about the concept and structure of the book. See the website for The Supreme Awakening book here, where you can read comments by David Lynch, Norman Rosenthal, and others, chapter headings, and the first chapter, Moments of Awakening. See a mailer for the book.

Here is an interview that took place last Friday on a popular KRUU FM radio show in Fairfield, Iowa called Writers’ Voices. Monica Hadley and her mother Caroline invited Dr. Pearson to discuss his book The Supreme Awakening. Craig is truly an inspiring speaker! Click here to listen: Writers’ Voices – 20140221 – Craig Pearson. Monica writes on her blog:

The_Supreme_Awak_52d4535363d15This week on Writers’ Voices, Monica and Caroline welcome MUM Executive Vice President Craig Pearson to discuss his recently released book, “The Supreme Awakening: Experiences of Enlightenment Throughout Time  – and How We Can Cultivate Them.” The product of research Dr. Pearson did for his doctoral dissertation, this book allows the reader to share the enlightened experiences of people throughout history. By gathering these many stories from across history, from saints and mystics, writers, world leaders, even athletes, Dr. Pearson provides a unique perspective on what is obviously a universal experience.

Many of the people profiled within are expected, people who are well-known for their spiritual experiences – Buddha, St. Teresa of Avila, Thoreau, Rumi. But there are many surprises here as well – Anwar Sadat, Einstein, Plato and many more.  I was most fascinated by these stories.  It made me realize that the accomplishments of many great persons may have been a direct result of their experiences with other states of consciousness.

Dr. Pearson is also the author of The Complete Book of Yogic Flying.

Craig Pearson was also interviewed on The Alan Colmes Show on FOX News following Writers’ Voices on Friday. Another interview aired on KHOE’s A Chat With The Dean by Dr. Cathy Gorini on the new book. You can also listen to a presentation Dr. Pearson gave in Dalby Hall on the book, which was recorded for broadcast by KHOE.

I posted an interview and series of articles you can link to by Dr. Pearson on my blog: Craig Pearson interview and articles on awakened consciousness, transcendence and enlightenment.

Here is a video of Dr. Pearson’s recent presentation on his book, The Supreme Awakening, in Dalby Hall on the MUM campus seen on the MaharishiUniversity channel.

Craig Pearson interview and articles on awakened consciousness, transcendence and enlightenment

February 22, 2013

Since the theme of The Uncarved Blog deals with Transcendental Meditation, consciousness & enlightenment, and poetry, I’d like to introduce someone to you who has been studying these ideas in great people’s lives for some time now and has complied them all in a book.

Craig Pearson-EECraig Pearson, Ph.D., is the author of the forthcoming book, The Supreme Awakening, Experiences of Enlightenment Throughout Time — And How We Can Cultivate Them. He has spent many years researching the expression of higher states of consciousness in the writings of great philosophers, saints, scientists, artists, and writers. Find out more here: http://craigpearson.mum.edu

Dr. Pearson is the Executive Vice-President of Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. He has served the University in a variety of roles over the past 33 years, including Dean of Faculty, Dean of Students, Director of Maharishi University of Management Press, Director of Freshman Composition, and Professor of Professional Writing.

In this interview for Issue 5 of Enlightenment Magazine, Linda Egenes asks Craig Pearson about humanity’s age-old quest for enlightenment. Dr. Pearson highlights his answers with examples of exceptional people throughout history who had described experiences of higher states of consciousness. Here is an excerpt from The Quest for Enlightenment: Transcendence in the Lives of Great Seers and Thinkers.

Enlightenment: What is the relationship of enlightenment and human potential?

Dr. Pearson: Enlightenment is a term that has been used for thousands of years, in traditions east and west, to refer to the most fully developed expression of human potential, far beyond the ordinary.

Enlightenment: How common is it?

Dr. Pearson: Although this extraordinary experience has been described by individuals in different cultures over the millennia and is celebrated in the world’s spiritual traditions, it seems to be exceedingly rare. But obviously it lies within the realm of human potential.

Enlightenment: What has Maharishi contributed to the understanding of enlightenment?

Dr. Pearson: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is often credited with reintroducing the concept of enlightenment in a systematic manner in our modern age. He has put forward a comprehensive understanding of enlightenment that embraces the great traditions and thinkers who have described this experience across time. Maharishi was also the first to promote scientific investigation into enlightenment, bringing the phenomenon of spiritual development into the arena of modern science.

Enlightenment: How does Maharishi describe enlightenment?

Dr. Pearson: For Maharishi, enlightenment is the ultimate development of one’s inner potential as a human being. It means being established in the highest state of human consciousness.

Enlightenment begins with experiencing the reality of your innermost Self as unbounded and eternal and being established at that level. This means the consciousness of an enlightened person is no longer subject to the ups and downs of emotions, mind, and body but steadfast, anchored in inner silence.

Enlightenment brings the ultimate unfoldment of one’s creativity and intelligence. It means living in harmony with all the laws of nature and easily fulfilling your desires. It means being of maximum use to yourself and others and creating a powerfully nourishing effect in one’s environment.

At the highest stage, enlightenment means experiencing the universe as the expression of your unbounded Self. It is a state of perpetual freedom and bliss, supreme fulfillment.

Enlightenment: Can we relate this in any way to our day-to-day experience?

Dr. Pearson: Although this vision of human development may seem idealistic, we have all had experiences in this direction. Some days we just feel happier inside, more appreciative of others—life is easier, fuller, richer, and more rewarding. We may have moments of enhanced mental clarity or heightened levels of creativity, when we surprise ourselves with how quickly the solution to a problem may come. Athletes sometimes experience the zone—periods of peak performance that are effortless and euphoric.

At these times we are using a bit more of our potential. But enlightenment is far, far more than this. It goes far beyond just having a good day. People who have had experiences of enlightenment report that words simply cannot capture the sublimity of the experience.

Enlightenment: You have researched how individuals from different historical epochs and different parts of the world have shared this same experience. Can you talk about that?

Dr. Pearson: In traditions throughout time we find remarkably similar descriptions of this extraordinary experience of human life lived to its fullest—in the writings of great philosophers, religious figures, artists, scientists, and writers, as well as in the great religious traditions of the world. The terminology may vary from tradition to tradition and age to age. But when you have the clear and precise description of enlightenment provided by Maharishi, it becomes easy to appreciate what these people are talking about.

Enlightenment: So the experience is universal?

Dr. Pearson: Yes. And the recognition that many have shared this experience throughout history is not new either. Some scholars have called it the perennial philosophy or the primordial tradition. The perennial philosophy holds that although various spiritual and philosophical traditions appear different on the surface, at their core all traditions share common, universal principles.

Enlightenment: What are these universal principles?

Dr. Pearson: The perennial philosophy has three basic tenets: (1) Underlying the diversity of the world is a field of unity. (2) We can subjectively experience this field of unity deep within us. (3) The purpose of life is ultimately to experience and live this inner, divine reality of life.

This inner field goes by different names. Laozi called it the Tao. Plato called it the Good, the One, and the Beautiful. Aristotle called it Being. The Greek-Roman philosopher Plotinus called it the Infinite. In Judaism it is called Ein Sof, in Christianity the kingdom of heaven within. In more modern times, Ralph Waldo Emerson called it the Oversoul.

These different names are not referring to mere philosophical or spiritual ideals. They point to the inner reality of life—a reality that can be experienced directly and, when experienced, brings fulfillment beyond words.

Enlightenment: How does Maharishi talk about this inner field?

Dr. Pearson: Maharishi characterizes it as an unbounded field of pure consciousness, an all-pervading ocean of creativity, intelligence, and bliss, beyond space and time. Maharishi asserts, moreover, that this field of pure consciousness is identical with the unified field of natural law that modern physics describes mathematically. Thus the inner field that gives rise to all our thoughts and feelings is the same field that gives rise to the entire universe.

Enlightenment: And we can experience this inner field of pure consciousness?

Dr. Pearson: Every human being has the natural ability to experience this field. It simply requires “diving within,” allowing the mind to settle inward, beyond the thinking process. This is called transcending.

People throughout history have described and celebrated this experience. It is a simple and natural experience—but by most accounts seems to be rare and fleeting. People have lacked a technique for experiencing it systematically. This is the gift Maharishi has given us—the Transcendental Meditation technique, a simple, natural, effortless procedure by which anyone can dive within at will.

Until Maharishi started teaching in the West, the understanding of how to transcend had for the most part been lost. The Transcendental Meditation technique, which has its origin in the ancient Vedic tradition, provides direct experience of pure consciousness. It is easy to learn and practice, validated by hundreds of scientific research studies, and practiced by millions of people throughout the world.

Read the rest of this fascinating article, which includes experiences from Rabindranath Tagore; Alfred, Lord Tennyson; Hakuin Ekaku; and a woman known as Peace Pilgrim.

Many other experiences have also been written up by Dr. Pearson and posted on the TM Blog. Here they are, from recent to earlier posts:

‘Freedom and Self-Realization’: Excerpts from Jack Forem’s book on TM
Howard Thurman: Experiencing “the Great Silence” within us
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook: Connecting with the “deep soul”
The Buddha: Rapturous Joy Transcending Any Other
Meister Eckhart: It is in the purest thing that the soul is capable of
D.H. Lawrence: Sitting in a Timeless Stillness
St. John of the Cross: Transcending all knowledge
William Wordsworth: We are laid asleep in body, and become a living soul
Emily Dickinson: The Soul’s Superior instants
Albert Einstein: There is Neither Evolution nor Destiny; Only Being
Zhuangzi: Why don’t you try wandering with me to the Palace of Not-Even-Anything
St. Teresa: A state of great quiet and deep satisfaction
Johannes Brahms: In tune with the Infinite
Rumi: I have passed beyond all thoughts
Plato: And this state of the soul is called wisdom
Jesus: The kingdom of God is within you
Henry David Thoreau: We become like a still lake of purest crystal
Ralph Waldo Emerson: Within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty
Walt Whitman: The luminousness of real vision
Alfred, Lord Tennyson: A state of transcendent wonder
Helen Keller: I feel the flame of eternity in my soul
Laozi: His mind becomes as vast and immeasurable as the night sky

Update: Craig Pearson’s book, The Supreme Awakening, is now available. Executive Vice President Dr. Craig Pearson was interviewed on KHOE’s “A Chat With The Dean” by Dr. Cathy Gorini on his new book, “The Supreme Awakening – Experiences of Enlightenment Throughout Time, and How You Can Cultivate them.”

Listen to a presentation Dr. Pearson gave in Dalby Hall on the book, which was recorded for broadcast by KHOE.

Listen to Dr. Pearson on KRUU FM, Writers’ Voices recorded Feb 21, 2014.

Listen to Craig Pearson on KRUU FM show, Writers’ Voices, discussing his new book, The Supreme Awakening.

Here is a video of Dr. Pearson’s recent presentation on his book, The Supreme Awakening, in Dalby Hall on the MUM campus seen on the MaharishiUniversity channel.

Craig Pearson has since updated his book with new entries. Here is an informative interview by Jeanne Ball, April 20, 2016, in the Huffington Post: The Supreme Awakening: What Did Buddha, Emerson, Einstein and Saint Teresa Have in Common?

What Turkish Sufi poet Yunus Emre realized — everything was found within his cosmic body

February 28, 2012

Ever come across a poem that encapsulates what you’ve read lately or thought about in the past? I found one today in a book I was sampling on Amazon, The Drop That Became the Sea: Lyric Poems, a collection of poems written by Yunus Emre, (1240-1321), translated by Kabir Helminski and Refik Algan.

Yunus Emre was the first in a great tradition of Turkish Sufi troubadours who celebrated the Divine Presence as the intimate Beloved and Friend. Called the greatest folk poet in Islam, the songs of this Sufi dervish are still popular today.

He was a contemporary of Rumi, who lived in the same region of Anatolia. Rumi composed his collection of stories and songs for a well-educated urban circle of Sufis, writing primarily in the literary language of Persian. Yunus Emre, on the other hand, traveled and taught among the rural poor, singing his songs in the Turkish language of the common people.

A story is told of a meeting between the two great souls: Rumi asked Yunus Emre what he thought of his great work the Mathnawi. Yunus Emre said, “Excellent, excellent! But I would have done it differently.” Surprised, Rumi asked how. Yunus replied, “I would have written, ‘I came from the eternal, clothed myself in flesh, and took the name Yunus.'” That story perfectly illustrates Yunus Emre’s simple, direct approach that has made him so beloved.

The poem I’m referring to begins, We entered the house of realization. Inside they find the earth and sky, night and day, the planets, the many veils in the body, what the scriptures say, and more. In that realized state, the poet witnesses everything inside the body; the infinite within the finite, the eternal within the temporal. His body is cosmic, an expression of totality.

It reminded me of the work of Maharaja Adhiraj Rajaraam (Professor Tony Nader, MD, PhD), a neuroscientist and Vedic scholar. Under the guidance of His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Professor Nader showed how the individual is cosmic.

The body, he says, is a manifestation of Natural Law—the Veda and Vedic Literature—the underlying blueprint that creates the individual body and the cosmic body, the Universe, a microcosm of the macrocosm. Yatha pinde tatha brahmande. See link to video at end of this article.

One aspect of the Vedic Literature is Jyotish, Vedic Astrology. Dr. Tony Nader shows a precise one-to-one relationship between the fundamental structures and functions of human physiology (Individual life) and the fundamental structures of Natural Law (Cosmic life). These fundamental structures of Natural Law connect individual intelligence with cosmic intelligence — the basic structures of the human nervous system with their cosmic counterparts. In this chart, the nine Grahas (planets), are shown where they are found in the different aspects of our physiology and their influences.

This first book by Dr. Nader, Human Physiology — Expression of Veda and the Vedic Literature, discusses all 40 aspects of the Vedic Literature and their expressions in the body.

Over a decade in the making, Dr. Nader’s new book, Ramayan in Human Physiology, reveals an understanding of the underlying unity that makes us human — the eternal reality of the Ramayan in the structure and function of the human physiology. Surprisingly, the Ramayan is not just a mythic tale assigned to an ancient culture in a distant past, but a description of the universal transformations continually taking place within our own bodies. Here is a book preview.

Yunus Emre expresses a similar understanding in poem #4, page 20, chapter I, The Dervish Way, in The Drop That Became The Sea.

We entered the house of realization,
we witnessed the body.

The whirling skies, the many-layered earth,
the seventy-thousand veils,
we found in the body.

The night and the day, the planets,
the words inscribed on the Holy Tablets,
the hill that Moses climbed, the Temple,
and Israfil’s trumpet, we observed in the body.

Torah, Psalms, Gospel, Quran—
what these books have to say,
we found in the body.

Everybody says these words of Yunus
are true. Truth is wherever you want it.
We found it all within the body.

A related example was highlighted by Dr. Nader in a press conference when he referenced ‘Abdu’l-Bahá [quoting The Imam Ali], from The Secret of Divine Civilization: “Dost thou think thyself only a puny form, when the universe is folded up within thee?”

Speaking of microcosm-macrocosm, here is an interesting saying from The Conversations (Maqalat) of Shams of Tabriz (Hazret Shams al-Din of Tabriz), Rumi’s master, which gives you a different perspective on the internal life of a saint:

The microcosm is hidden in the creation of man
and the macrocosm is the outer universe.
But for prophets the outer universe is the microcosm
while the inner universe ıs the macrocosm.

These two videos of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi answering questions from the press: As is the cosmic life, so is the individual life, and I am the Self, I am the body, I am the Veda, I am the universe, I am totality, explain the cosmic significance of these Vedic expressions and their practical applications in our daily lives.

See this New Video: Dr. Tony Nader speaks about the Ramayana in Human Physiology, which explains how the whole body is made of Veda, which also structures the cosmic body, the universe, and how the activities described in the Ramayana are a scientific description of the growth and evolution of the human physiology to it’s fully developed enlightened state.

See Sufi poet Hakim Sanai says transcend belief to enter into the mystery.

See Yunus Emre says Wisdom comes from Knowing Oneself — a Singularity that contains the Whole

Persian Poetry Gets the Blues

September 10, 2011


MUSIC
AUGUST 30, 2011
Persian Poetry Gets the Blues
By EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH
New York

Sitting at a chic wine bar in the Flatiron district, Rana Farhan lounges back in her chair—a cup of hot black tea in her hand on this balmy August day. “It’s very hard to take classical Persian poetry and make it sound like Al Green or Billie Holiday,” she says in her husky voice. But this has been the Iranian jazz singer’s pursuit since 2005, when she stumbled upon an intoxicating and utterly fresh musical combination: singing the exquisite Persian verses of mystical poets like Rumi, Hafez and Omar Khayyám to the rhythms of cool American blues, jazz and soul.

Her latest album, “Moon and Stone,” is an expressive tribute to soul music. “I’ve been listening to a lot of Teddy Pendergrass and Otis Redding lately.” Through her raspy Iranian accent, she adds, “Oh, and Sam Cooke. I love him.” On Saturday, Ms. Farhan will be celebrating the release of her CD with a performance at Caffe Vivaldi here, followed by a tour in the coming weeks with stops at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles and  Yoshi’s Jazz Club in San Francisco.

While Ms. Farhan has been a renowned musician in Iran for several years now, it was not until 2009 that she grabbed the attention of the international scene with her sultry jazz song “Drunk With Love.” The song was prominently featured in the heart-wrenching Iranian movie “No One Knows About Persian Cats.” The film, which won an award at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, tells the story of Iran’s underground indie-rock scene.

Sung passionately in Farsi, “Drunk With Love” is from a Rumi poem that celebrates a sensual—even erotic—passion for the divine: “Oh love . . . the king of kings has gotten drunk, / Get up, grab his curls and pull him near. / Every thought that comes into my heart speaks of the Lover, / I’ll put my life before him, I want to kiss him and fill his mouth with gold, / face like a rose, voice of a nightingale, / I want to fulfill all his desires. . . .”

This is a far cry from the heartless Islam of Iran’s anti-American mullahs. But Iran was a different country during Ms. Farhan’s youth—it was the place that stirred her jazzy muse; it was her home. During her carefree childhood, before the Islamic Revolution, Western media could flow freely into Iran’s urban centers. One of Ms. Farhan’s haunts back then was a “cool” used-record store in Tehran called Beethoven. There, she could get her hands on the latest American sounds—Janis Joplin, the Rolling Stones and Johnny Winter, for instance.

“I fell in love with the blues early on,” she tells me. Specifically, she fell intensely in love with Billie Holiday. “I’ve read every single biography of her.”

Ms. Farhan says that she “was constantly trying to figure out how to sing Persian poetry to the blues.” In Iran, classical poetry is a cherished part of the traditional music culture, the same way that jazz and blues define U.S. music culture. Even Iranians who cannot read or write grow up learning the poems of Rumi by heart. Ms. Farhan says she and her family would read classical Persian poetry together on their vacations. “The way I see the poems as blues really comes from my father,” she says.

But Iran’s 1979 revolution changed life completely for Ms. Farhan, who was a student at the Tehran University of Fine Arts at the time. With the establishment of an Islamic theocracy, women’s freedoms were radically and suddenly restricted. Today, women are not allowed to perform before mixed-sex audiences.

So Ms. Farhan fled her home country and came to New York, carrying in her mind a trove of Persian poetry—and her childhood desire to blend it with raw American blues.

Years later, she finally managed to get these two unlikely lovers together. It was 2005 and she was living in Manhattan when she stumbled across a guitar case sitting in a pile of trash on the sidewalk outside of her apartment. Inside the case was a beat-up guitar. Ms. Farhan was offended that someone had thrown away a perfectly good instrument, so she took it to her producer, the guitarist Steven Toub, and the two of them cleaned it up and put new strings on it.

“Then,” Ms. Farhan begins, “Steve started randomly playing a blues riff on it. Rumi’s book was laying open nearby, so I started singing in Farsi [the poem] ‘Rumi’s Prayer.'” To their astonishment, they had a sexy blues number on their hands. It was Lady Day meets the 13th-century Islamic world. And, like so many of Rumi’s poems, the song was about God, the Beloved.

They promoted the track to their friends and fans, and as Ms. Farhan recalls, “the whole thing exploded. Everybody loved it.” With that enthusiastic response from both U.S. and international listeners, Ms. Farhan and Mr. Toub released a full-length CD of Persian jazz in 2007. The album, called “I Return,” featured the poetry of Hafez and Rumi. “That year was Rumi’s 800th birthday, and it was like—yeah! Rumi wanted jazz for his birthday,” Ms. Farhan says with a laugh.

Finishing up her tea and cookies, Ms. Farhan notes that mixing “the best of Iranian culture” with “the best of American culture” is not as far-fetched as it seems. “Rumi and Hafez were the blues of their time.” Humming a melody from her new CD, she explains, “When you put their verses with the blues, it’s like they’ve always belonged there.”

Ms. Smith is managing editor of the Hoover Institution journal Defining Ideas and assistant editor of The New Criterion.

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Every War Has Two Losers, a Haydn Reiss film on poet and conscientious objector William Stafford

October 18, 2009

EVERY WAR HAS TWO LOSERS

A Poet’s Meditation on Peace

A FILM BASED ON THE JOURNALS OF WILLIAM STAFFORD

Haydn Reiss (producer/director) has been making independent films for twenty years that often focus on writers and poets. As a producer for hire his clients include organizations working on the front lines of education, the environment, culture, human rights, politics and health. In 1998, Reiss directed the award-winning RUMI: Poet of the Heart, which was seen on over 100 PBS stations and screened in festivals around the world.

EVERY WAR HAS TWO LOSERS tells the story of how one man, William Stafford (1914-1993), chose to answer the call to war. It is a story of confronting beliefs that swirl around war — Isn’t war inevitable? Even necessary? What about the enemy? Stafford refused to fight in World War Two and served four years in camps for conscientious objectors. Later he was the winner of the National Book Award for poetry.

Other participants appearing in the film include Coleman Barks, Robert Bly, John Gorka, Maxine Hong Kingston, Michael Meade, W.S. Merwin, Naomi Shihab Nye, Kim Stafford, and Alice Walker.

Director Haydn Reiss first met Stafford in 1990 and later produced a one-hour documentary, William Stafford & Robert Bly: A Literary Friendship. That film chronicles the similarities and differences between these two close friends and great poets. Approaches to writing, teaching and the meaning of poetry are all explored in this lively and engaging film. (The film is included as a DVD extra on EVERY WAR HAS TWO LOSERS)

Interview with Haydn Reiss:

Q: What’s the genesis of the film?

HR: In 2006, I read the book the film is based on and that was edited by his son Kim, “Every War Has Two Losers: William Stafford on Peace & War” (Milkweed Editions 2004). It’s fifty years of excerpts from Bill’s journals related to war and reconciliation. As with all of Stafford’s writings, there is a sense of a deep intelligence at work that stays human and available to the reader. There’s humor, heartbreak and a general sense, or assertion, that we human beings are capable of doing better with each other. I’m a father of young children and I have to believe that’s true. More importantly, I had to try and make a contribution to that effort and that’s what I attempted with the film.

Q: How does the book differ from the film?

HR: Obviously there’s a lot more writing and poems in the book than the film. The challenge was to pull journal entries that could be arranged in some form or fashion and create an overall arc to the film. A beginning, middle and end has not been much improved upon in the world of storytelling. All the material could be endlessly mixed since there was no inherent order to it other than chronological. So mix it we did some untold number of times until the cylinders seemed to line up and my editor and I had something we liked. The film brings in its own ingredients of music, images and a remarkable collection of participants.

Q: What do you hope the film does for the viewer?

HR: It would be very satisfying to think that after viewing the film you would ask yourself, at a deep level, what you really believe about war. And the follow-up question of “How did I come to believe that?” I think we have been very successfully indoctrinated into accepting that war is a given, it’s what human beings do. The distinction is, and I think this is what Stafford is saying, is “Yes, we do and can make war. But what else can we do?” The undiscovered possibilities in human behavior are what we should pursue. The die is not cast; imagination and creativity are not in short supply. That this is the real, pragmatic work of the world.

View trailer, download PBS station airings August-September 2010, bios, and purchase a DVD of Every War Has Two Losers.

Also see PEACEFUL POETS: Filmmaker Haydn Reiss on Rumi and Stafford and the Power of Words and A Fascinating Approach to Peace.


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