How does a thirteenth century poet born in the Persian Empire speak to us today?
Recognised as the greatest mystical poet of his age, he composed over 70,000 verses of poetry over a twenty-five year period. His poetry connects over the centuries with its mystical and philosophical themes, exploring love and personal freedom.
Appreciation of his work has been growing in the West and he is now one of the most widely read poets in America. He is quoted and translated and the directness of his thoughts and imagery strikes a chord in our times, when spirituality seems to be taking over from religion.
So this album consists of a selection of Rumi’s poems, interpreted by three individuals who are in perfect positions to illuminate his work.
Their power of three creates a very special way of sharing his thoughts and insights.
Poetry can be inspiring and entertaining, it can also be incomprehensible and confusing.
Since the days of the Beat Poets in the fifties there has been a move towards combining poetry and music, from jazz to post punk, via the acoustic singer songwriters with their deep and revealing lyrics. Think Allen Ginsberg, Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith and John Cooper Clarke, to name a few. Their approach has made recordings of recited poetry far more widely acceptable.
This recording brings together the most experienced translator/interpreter of Rumi’s words, a poet who traces his roots back to the Beats and a contemporary American Iranian poet.
Coleman Barks has reinterpreted the poems, paraphrasing rather than translating, transforming the original Persian, which is heavily rhymed and metered, into free verse. Barks has been a follower of the Sufi religion since 1977, which gave him access to Rumi’s poetry. He doesn’t speak or read Farsi, but he holds an honorary doctorate from Tehran University in recognition of his work in spreading the word about Rumi and Sufism.
His versions of the poems are read by Jack Hirschman (image above), American poet and social activist, now in his eighties. Raised in the Bronx, emeritus Poet Laureate of San Francisco, he is also a founding member of the Revolutionary Poets Brigade and started the San Francisco International Poetry Festival. He was fired from his teaching role at UCLA for his anti Vietnam War stance. Jim Morrison was one of his students there. He is an active street poet. His connection with the Beats and his appreciation of the potentially political nature of poetry makes him a perfect voice for this ecstatic love poetry which transcends politics and identity. It sounds so contemporary in every way.
Mahnaz Badihan is a poet known for her ability to use poetry to bridge the gap between western and eastern cultures. She writes in Farsi and her delivery of the original versions of Rumi’s poems reveals all the music of the traditional verse forms, with their repetitions, rhyme and alliteration. It’s a very different delivery, in style and tone. It can be enjoyed as an experience for the senses. It isn’t important to understand or recognise the words.
There’s something daring and experimental in this recording. It takes a risk, putting poetry out there in this way, contrasting the original with the contemporary interpretation, the male and the female voices, exploring themes of love and death, science and theology with startlingly modern images.
It’s an experiment worth exploring. This is exactly how a thirteenth century poet can speak to us across the centuries.
Review by: Nicky Crewe
Like This! is released on March 18th 2016 via One Little Indian
Pre-Order via Amazon
Photo Credit: Jack Hirschman
Christopher Michel [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons