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'These Basijis in Me': Roger Sedarat's 'Ghazal Games'


23 Aug 2011 20:55Comments

In hybridity, you'll find me in the

Hyphen: Iranian (-) American.

9780821419502_cover.jpg[ spotlight ] Roger Sedarat's poems reflect his mixed identities as an Iranian American. Using the formal characteristics of the ghazal, he masterfully recreates the qualities of classical Persian verse in the English language. He could be considered a successor to poets such as Agha Shahid Ali (1949-2001), a Kashmiri American who authored several collections of ghazals in English. Sedarat brings the musicality of the ghazal into the lighthearted atmosphere of his English verse. He has an enviable command of language and creates narratives that are imaginative and sincere.

Am I reared rude enough in the U.S.

To violate the sacred ghazal form?

For Persian speakers, the ghazal form evokes both love and mysticism, both Hafez's highly cultivated phraseology and Saadi's sublime imagery. To more traditional readers of poetry, Sedarat's new collection, Ghazal Games, may constitute a violation of cultural reverence. Sedarat's transgression is not limited to the nonchalant tone of his ghazals, but is found as well in the nature of his themes. Sedarat uses his verse to voice his unwavering opposition to the Iranian government's crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. Traditionally, poets and other writers in Iran whose literary expression mirrors their political views have been overlooked, disdained, and at times banned from reading and publishing.

Made-up American superheroes

Prove no match for real martyrs of Iran.

Playfully, humorously, Sedarat confronts issues such as religious hypocrisy and dogma head on. In "The Persian Poet's Recipe for Qormeh Sabzi," he writes, "Pure agency, I arrive in Mecca / Both here and there: the world is my Qur'an / Oh, Hallaj, your blaspheming the Qur'an / Affirms your close reading of the Qur'an." This is surely a reference to Mansur al-Hallaj, a Persian mystic writer who was publicly executed in 922 for his democratic understanding of Islam and exceptionally open, candid tutelage of his students. Today, many suffer around the world due to a narrow-minded, authoritarian interpretation of the Qur'an, which has brought renewed attention to the legacy of al-Hallaj.

Though Ghazal Games may appear a broadly experimental endeavor at first, its tone and carefully crafted phraseology remain consistent throughout. It is an excellent educational tool for creative writers and, as the following selections demonstrate, a delightful read.


Ghazal Game #1

Think of the greatest love you've ever had ( ).

Write his/her name in the space provided_____.

As long as you reiterate this name,

The semblance of this ghazal is complete:_____!

Don't doubt, no matter what terror may come,

That God will fill your emptiness with Dear_____.

For me, Janette. For Dante, Beatrice.

For Rumi, Shams-y-Tabriz. And for you?_____.

Space makes the greatest rhyme. Sufis know this,

In spite of their lust for someone just like_____.

Now burn your useless books! You'll learn much more

Inside schoolhouses of desire taught by_____.

Is it so silly, making readers work?

Doesn't most poetry ask you to find_____?

"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here

To join (state your full name) and (state his/hers)_____..."

Computer code, universal language,

Breaks down when translating the essence of_____.

Would you obsess over your petty shame?

Instead, substitute it with a kiss from_____.

All maps lead you to bliss. Your G.P.S.

Just estimates the time and distance to_____.

Before the loggers come for the last tree,

Write this last line with a sharp knife: I ♥ _____.

At this point, do you think you really chose_____?

Before you were born, you were chosen by_____!


Sonnet Ghazal
for Janette

Hafez, the baker, could see what I mean;

If she were a spice, she'd be cinnamon.

It's both terrifying and exciting,

The idea that she'd see other men.

Oh God, I'd sell my soul to watch her walk;

Hear my prayer, and grant me this sin. Amen.

I heard the great poets of Shiraz sing

Through olive vein-lines of her Persian skin.

I know; this ghazal objectifies her,

Ignoring feminist criticism.

Reversing the Cinderella story,

She turns all princes into cindermen.

"Your next patient, doctor. It's Roger S."

"The one love sick for his wife? Send him in."



An online album of friends on Facebook.

Why go to parties? Stay in on Facebook.

"Kids finally asleep. Mojito time!"

(Lara, my fifth-grade girlfriend on Facebook.)

I never, as a rule, talk politics

Or show off my kids, but when on Facebook...

You age well here: it's easy to save face

And you don't have to weigh-in on Facebook.

Some protesters in Iran have vanished.

I last saw these long-lost friends on Facebook.

Though my wife and I always work at home,

It's hard to poke her (even on Facebook).

People don't really look how they appear.

Plato's Republic would frown on Facebook.

She calls herself Emily Dickinson

This hot Egyptian woman on Facebook.

Call for poems: "Found Poetry from Friends'

New Updates: A Collection on Facebook."

It's not a competition, but I have

A couple hundred more friends on Facebook.

To get to know cultural artifacts

Of our time, "friend" the iPhone on Facebook.

"Welcome to the worst time suck of your life."

My first greeting from a friend on Facebook.

"Roger's writing couplets about posting

Thoughts about the postmodern on Facebook."


Protest Ghazal #2

No movement stops these Basijis in me.

(Protests strengthen these Basijis in me.)

By claiming the hatred in his own heart

Ghandi knew well these Basijis in me.

"Hey, Ayatollah, get out of Texas!"

They speak English, these Basijis in me.

I tried cocaine, overeating, and porn:

Vain attempts to freeze Basijis in me.

I'm Persian (half at least). Can I offer

Half a glass of tea, Basijis in me?

He's lost in the forest. He cannot see

The forest through trees, Basiji in me.

My shrink says trauma opens doors to heal.

Have you seen my keys, Basiji in me?

More than the terror, guilt over mourning

Those who die fuels these Basijis in me.

The running from you and kicking through fear

Brought me to my knees, Basijis in me.


Roger Sedarat was born in Normal, Illinois, and grew up in Texas. He holds a Ph.D. in English from Tufts University and received a scholarship to the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. He teaches poetry and literary translation at Queens College. His verse has been featured in New England Review, Atlanta Review, and Poet Lore. He has published two books of poetry, Dear Regime: Letters to the Islamic Republic (2008) and Ghazal Games (2011). Sedarat has translated the works of contemporary Persian poets such as Nader Naderpour, and is currently undertaking a translation of Hafez's ghazals. For more information, visit his website, sedarat.com.

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Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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