Sunday, April 3, 2011

Reading Rumi & Faiz @ Carlsbad Library

For four years a circle of about a half dozen poets have celebrated National Poetry Month with a reading of mystic poets at the Georgina Cole Library in Carlsbad. Poetry from Dickinson, Neruda and Hafiz have been featured every year, making National Poetry Month international.
with along with Rumi, the Persian poet.
    This year, the poet Rumi will be featured. I'm blessed to read his “The Grave Is a Veil,” which considers the human beyond life. The impulse to imagine beyond the physical is perhaps the essence of mystic poetry. It isn’t about knowing but believing there is something to know. One of Rumi's metaphors is that existence is like the sun: just because it can’t be seen after what we call “setting,” the sun goes on; dawn will be a “reunion,” Rumi tells us. Rumi uses The Old Testament story of Joseph being cast into the well as an example of negation of the self that leads to a fuller understanding of the total self. Although the poem is in translation, the evocation of “nowhere air,” still startles me with its certainty.
On that fatal day when my casket rolls along,
don't think my heart is in this world.
Don't cry, don't wail in anguish,
don't fall into a hole the demons have dug.
That surely would be sad.

When you see my procession, don't say I'm gone.
It will be my reunion.
As you see that lowering down,
think of rising.

What harm is in the setting moon or sun?
What seems a setting to you is a dawning.

Though it may seem a prison,
this vault releases the soul.
Unless a seed enters the earth it doesn't grow.
Why are you doubting this human seed?
Unless the bucket goes down,
it won't come up full.
Why should the Joseph of the spirit resent the well?

Close your mouth here and open it beyond,
and in the nowhere air it will be your song.

This year Rumi will share the reading with the Pakistani poet Faiz. Although Faiz is often thought of as a political prisoner (imprisoned for allegedly plotting against the Pakistan government although charges were later dropped). As a communist, Faiz subscribed not to Islam but to humanism, which might seem antithetical to mysticism. What’s the connection between Rumi and Faiz?
    The poet who organizes the reading (Shadab Hasmi—author of The Baker of Tarifa) says that mysticism is often about the glory of ordinary things. In Neruda it is the marvel of socks or onions praised in his odes. In The New Testament it is Jesus’ parables of simple things--loaves, water, mustard seeds--that become imbued with something ineffable.  The notion that humanists do not perceive or allow for the ineffable because their belief system is not based on a theism seems to set up a false dichotomy. Although there are many things written about his personal life and the balance between Marxism and Sufism, I'll let Faiz speak through his art albeit in translation. In his poem "Before You Came," Faiz addresses one who changes physical reality by imbuing it with an unbearable vision of an essence beyond the corporeal:
Before you came,
things were as they should be:
the sky was the dead-end of night,
the road was just a road, wine merely wine.

Now everything is like my heart,
a color at the edge of blood:
the grey of your absence, the color of poison, of thorns,
the gold where we meet, the season ablaze,
the yellow of autumn, the red of flowers, of flames,
and the black when you cover the earth
with the coal of dead fires.

And the sky, the road, the glass of wine?
The sky is a shirt wet with tears,
the road a vein about to break,
and the glass of wine a mirror in which
the sky, the road, the world keep changing.

Don't leave now that you're here--
Stay. So the world may become like itself again:
so the sky may be the sky,
the road a road,
and the glass of wine not a mirror, just a glass of wine.

The reading is free and begins at 2 p.m. on Sunday April 3rd at The Cole Library just east of I-5 on Carlsbad Village Drive.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Seeking Peace in Sacramento: "Gulag Guantanamo" at Poets for Peace

This grizzly guards the governor's office.

While in town to help with Poetry Out Loud, I read at the Poets for Peace commemoration of the 8th year of troops in Iraq. It was a crowd of veterans from the Cold War, and since I was in Sacramento, I read "The Reagan Memorial Poem" to recognize our former governor's contributions to peace. They were also seasoned enough to get all the allusions in "The Compassionate Conservative Blues" and "Hymn of Enough."
The tough thing about poems with citations to fact is that fact often grounds the discord in a reference instead of in the imagination. The inverse of this flaw is a poem contained in the imagination can be blind to the significant events of its time.

That said, I offered up "Gulag Guantanamo," a new song that considers the progress of Castro no longer being the number one violator of human rights on the island:  
If the law’s a crime in Gulag Guantanamo
make no scars that show, so no one can really know

Chained until you piss yourself,
chained until you tell
the names of all your neighbors,
the woman at the well.

The water knows the answer[s]
that’s why we poured it in your lungs
and breathe question in your ear.
So let the answer come, the one[s]
we want to hear.

Since the law’s a crime in Gulag Guantanamo
make no scars that show, so no one can really know.

Wine turned to water
for this cruel communion
Sheik al Libi’s mind broken
to State the Union…

Along archipelago from black sites to Bagrham
we've sown a bitter crop
and the harvest just comes & comes.


Tough town at the heart of it. It cost the guy in the painting his hair and it isn't done with him yet.