Roger Sedarat translating Haji Khavari


Come to the taziyeh;
come see the art of the real
before and ahead of its time.

One day in the life of the Shia’
beating his back for Hussein
in black incensed clouds,

One day in the rhythm of chains
as a cog in divine machinery
of eternal mourning

drowns out centuries of Greeks
with their stoic choruses
in over-staged tragedies.

Come surrender preconceptions
of what it means to worship God
in grand aesthetic forms.

The green and red flags sway
as if to limit
transcendence in air.

Come in black like one
of so many human letters
transcribing the divine story.

Come like an actor to play
your part in a spectacle 
of true suffering.

Upon the Actor’s Longing for the Alienation Effect

Though larger than life
the actor lived in fear and trembling
behind the literal screen,
cutting a sliver into the white square
to watch the public watching him
in the debut of his new film.
Unknowingly he looked,
at times, through his own eye,
like a painting in a haunted house
without its power of the gaze,
reactions to his acting
owning his sense of self.
If they laughed or cried on cue,
he still doubted his value,
longing to tear the screen away
and risk approval
beyond performance
of his overpaid identity. 

De-Revelation of the Somorg

The scholar’s son ripped page
after page from the great book
(Attar’s Conference of the Birds)
marked with his daddy’s notes.
Just four years old, he saw the text
as zebra stripes to decorate
a cereal box he cut
into a diamond, hole-punching it
to tie with string and fly
about the old man’s bald head,
lines of the poem
the poor bastard memorized
mocking him like a flock
of illiterate birds
refusing to settle
in their symbolic nest.

Poem for the Police State

The crux of lyric tension
in the poet’s rap sheet:

Haji Khavari, aged 25,
charged with corrupting youth
by citing Nietzche’s “God is dead”
in a eulogy for tradition itself.
Said poet called all laws
symbolic coffins,
declaring he put himself
in his own prison,
co-opting the sentence
of the Islamic court
with his own sentences.
Said poet has made copies
of this police report,
submitting it for publication
with his mug shot
for an author photo.
As if to mock convention
he signs the last line
like a final ghazal couplet
with his thumb print
used for booking:

   print here

Translator's Note

I first met Haji Khavari during my last visit to Iran a few summers ago. My cousin, knowing my interest in translating Persian poetry, introduced me to him at a party of artist types much younger and cooler than me.

At that time, Haji showed me a few handwritten poems, and though they were far inferior to the ones I’ve translated here, I found them refreshingly edgy, reflective of Iran’s educated and rather restless youth. Given my own predilections, I was even more intrigued with his use of architecture and philosophy in his verse. He was at the time studying these subjects in college. In a follow up email upon my return home, when I learned of his interest in Jean Baudrillard, I knew this was the beginning of a worthwhile correspondence.

Khavari, like modern Persian poets who came before him, retains much of his own tradition while eagerly absorbing others. At times it’s almost as if he's bringing a kind of western art criticism to his own culture, as in the poem about the taziyeh, while in the more universal depiction about an actor longing to foreground his own artifice, he references Brecht.

Of course such inter-textual allusions of literatures warrant foregrounding, but for such a vast poetic tradition predicated on musicality, it’s important to also include music. While Forough Farrokhzad had her Beatles, Haji Khavari listens to songs from Radiohead to the Ramones. I can’t say if the reader of his poems in the original or in translation can overtly hear such influences, but they certainly are felt in what I would call his intellectual yet intransigent sensibility.

As for the process of translation, almost all work is done by email correspondence. Like so many young Iranians, he speaks and reads English relatively well, so at times my renderings become a kind of collaboration. I’ve offered to share credit, but he insists that I’m doing the real translation work. We send drafts back and forth for some time, highlighting and noting problem areas.

As of now, he has yet to publish his first collection in Iran, but based on what he’s shown me, I’d say one should be forthcoming soon.

Roger Sedarat

Roger Sedarat is the author of two poetry collections: Dear Regime: Letters to the Islamic Republic, which won Ohio UP's 2007 Hollis Summers' Prize, and Ghazal Games (Ohio UP, 2011). His translations of selected verse by the modern Persian poet Nader Naderpour is forthcoming from Cambria Press. He teaches poetry and literary translation in the MFA program at Queens College, City University of New York.

Haji Khavari

Haji Khavari, age 25, was born and raised in Shiraz, Iran. He completed a BA in architecture at Yasouj University. Named a finalist in a recent poetry competition in the category of best young modern poet, one of the judges called him “an Iranian Borges.” In addition to writing poetry, he plays guitar in a rock band and edits a “zine” of postmodern literature.