If you have any comments or questions, please write me at poetryeditor-at-levantinecenter.org. I hope you enjoy these poems so much that you seek out more work by these fine poets.
—Sholeh Wolpé, LR Poetry editor
Cemetery of Dreams (Emerald Book Co. 2010, $14.95), by S. Mostofi
Reviewed by Jordan Elgrably
Like a marriage, Americans have had a long and often difficult relationship with Iran. It began in 1856 when Nassereddin Shah Qajar sent Persia's first ambassador to Washington, and reached its nadir on November 4, 1979, when Islamic students under the magnetic sway of the Ayatollah Khomeini took over the American Embassy in Tehran, where they held 52 hostages for 444 days (Iran's current leader, Ahmadinejad, was said to have been among the captors). Between these historic poles, a CIA and MI5-assisted coup ousted Iran's democratically-elected Mohammad Mosaddegh from power in 1953, and propped up U.S.-friendly Shah Reza Pahlavi for the next 25 years. It was meddling from the West that stoked the fires of discontent among many Iranians, particularly among those students who came to study in Europe and the United States every year, and who would return to participate in what was at first a student-led revolt against Pahlavi's puppet regime.
The young boy—ashamed, dishonored, and fearing the wrath of a vengeful, omnipotent Allah—promised his Pakistani immigrant father with conviction and resolve.
"I promise not to eat during my fast. I will only eat at maghrib, after the sun sets, with every other fasting Muslim."
This previous promise fell victim to a delectable and treacherous "M & M." Like Eve and her apple, the young boy discovered his "fall from grace" stuck to the inner linings of his Husky pants' pocket covered with a still edible chocolate-y goodness. His first attempt at fasting was hijacked by a stale, melted candy.
In his latest outing, Etgar Keret demonstrates how the short story is his playground—a platform of the anthropology of the absurd, the dream and the passion that he portrays. Keret was just awarded the Chevalier (Knight) medallion of France's Order of Arts and Letters in July 2010.
(Suddenly, a Knock on the Door, by Etgar Keret; Kinneret Zemora-Bitan [Hebrew], 179 pages, NIS 84)
With his new short-story collection, Suddenly, a Knock on the Door, Etgar Keret is once again the talk of the town. I have been witness to several conversations about him. They included admiration of his talent, of course; a Keret-style remark about the public relations assault that has accompanied the book's publication; and several complaints too. Two in particular: Why doesn't Keret write a novel rather than keeping on with the short stories—after all, it could be great if he would take the plunge; and another comment about the fact that the new book is meant from the outset for translation into foreign languages: It contains almost no "Israeliness," whatever that means (Humus? Military service? A comment on "the situation"?); Keret is no longer one of us, and we feel somewhat betrayed—now he belongs to the world.
The poems of Hafez have a beautiful and musical quality, which also embody a great spontaneity. In a myriad of poetic ways, he expresses the spiritual experiences of a mystic, in love with his Beloved. Like other Sufi poets, Hafez weaves themes of ambiguity into his poems. Often he will use secular images such as wine, drunkenness and human love, however these are just symbols for the divine experiences which Hafez is alluding to.
You're still a bud, yet hundreds of nightingales surround you.
Hafez is Iran's most beloved, most highly revered, and most frequently quoted lyric poet. He was born in Shiraz circa 1320 and died around 1390. Not much is known about his life except the most general facts. Son of a merchant, Hafez was well educated, married, and had a son. After his talent for poetry became apparent, Hafez became the court poet for most of the rulers of Shiraz during his lifetime.
In Iran Hafez is known by the following name, Khajeh Shams ad-Din Mohammad Hafez-e Shirazi. The word Khajeh is a term of respect which is awarded to someone who embodies wisdom and learning. Shams ad-Din literally means "sun of religion" and was also a descriptive phrase signifying his expertise in the Qu'ran. Mohammad is Hafez's given name. The term "Hafez" is an honorary title given to someone who has memorized the entire Qu'ran. Hence, Hafez's pen name is derived from his knowledge about the Qu'ran. The Shirazi at the end of the name alerts the reader to the poet's hometown. Hafez is believed to have spent most of his life in Shiraz, except for one or two incidents when he was exiled.
The first anthology of writing by women of the Iranian diaspora, Let Me Tell You Where I've Been features over one hundred selections of poetry, fiction and nonfiction from over fifty contributors. This anthology explores through literature the influences of history, revolution, war, exile, and immigration.
We present to you two poets from this wonderful collection, Esther Kamkar and Katayoon Zandvakili.
Submissions to the Levantine Review are accepted year round.
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Zeitoun (McSweeney's Books, 2009), so named for the surname of the main character, is a harrowing, nonfictional tale of biblical proportions—the crux of which takes place in New Orleans immediately following Hurricane Katrina.
Abdulrahman Zeitoun and his wife Kathy are practicing Muslims who own a busy painting company and numerous properties throughout New Orleans. Zeitoun is well-known and heavily utilized, especially at the first warnings of any storm, for in addition to the usual painting jobs his company is regularly called on for the preparatory securing of homes and offices. When Katrina arrives, he feels he cannot abandon the city during its time of crisis. He evacuates Kathy and their four children but is compelled to stay behind. Like a mini version of the flood story, his world is all but drowned. Rather than seeking the protection of an ark, however, this protagonist takes to a second-hand canoe.
"Ghazals for the Homeland"
Syrian American poet/novelist Mohja Kahf makes a rare Southern California appearance at the Levantine Cultural Center, on Wednesday, July 14, where she will read from, sign and discuss her books The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, and E-mails from Scheherazad. As the New York Times wrote, "Mohja Kahf, an Arab-American writer, draws sharp, funny, earthy portraits of the fault line separating Muslim women from their Western counterparts." Read a Mohja Kahf poem, "Ghazal for Iranians Who Don't Hate Arabs."