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Event | The Conference of the Birds


13 Oct 2012 04:25Comments
61IUleDqktL.jpg61+phBZDWMLnoncrop.jpg[ spotlight ] Like many Iranian Americans, I grew up in a house full of Persian poetry. From Rumi, to Hafez, to Saadi, every inch of our house was always filled with poetry, each wall covered with books stacked on our bookshelves. We would wake up on weekend mornings to the mystical sounds of the harmonious melodies of the great masters that my dad would often play on the stereo. It was then that I first heard of the 12th-century Persian poet Farid ud-Din Attar's The Conference of the Birds, a 4,500-line epic poem.

My father would wake us up on weekend mornings as he would sing along with the great Jalal Zolfonun's masterpiece, "Hud Hud." The "hud hud," or hoopoe, is a Eurasian bird found in many desert climates. As Zolfonun would play his tar and my father would sing along, he would emphasize the part of Attar's epic tale in which the hoopoe searched for her king. This beautiful poem was recently retold exquisitely as a children's book by Alexis York Lumbard and sublimely illustrated by the artist Demi.

The story centers around the "hud hud," who embarks on a quest to find the King Bird, Simorgh, the wisest of all birds. In the course of her journey, she encourages swans, owls, cranes, ibises, hawks, ducks, vultures, sparrows, quails, woodpeckers, peacocks, pheasants, kingfishers, and many other birds to join her quest. Along the way, the birds struggle with inner obstacles that jeopardize their journey. Each of these obstacles parallels a human personality and spiritual flaw, reflected through the characteristics of the birds. As each obstacle is challenged and overcome, the wise hoopoe encourages the birds to conquer their infirmities and to continue on with the grand mission.

Lumbard's extraordinary ability to stay within the traditional Persian poetic theme is coupled with exquisite artwork by Demi, whose miniature ancient Persian-style paintings illustrate and celebrate the beauty of Persian art. The gorgeous paint strokes allow for each of the birds to come to life, each page filled with a rich palette of colors that is celebrated in the Persian art of miniature paintings.

When I received my copy in the mail, I rushed over to my dad, woke him up from his nap, sat right next to him on the couch, and shared with him our tradition of Attar, 20 years later through a children's book.

Meet author Alexis York Lumbard at ISBCC on October 13 from 2 to 3 p.m. for her reading of The Conference of Birds, 100 Malcolm X Blvd., Roxbury Crossing, MA 02120

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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