Persian Poetry, Boston Style

By Mary Marks (Kerman, 1964-66)

A bustle of chairs scooting, people chattering, papers shuffling, fills the air as I claim one of the last seats in the crowded Boston conference room. I watch Mostafa Rahbar and Maryam Shafiee take seats at the front table facing us, then I glance over the two-page handout—poems by Hafez from the 14th century and Shamloo from the 20th, in Persian and English. Thank heavens there are translations! My Farsi’s a little shaky after all this time. Maryam gives a brief introduction to Hafez, one of Iran’s most revered poets, and begins to read, her voice melodious and smooth. My ears absorb the rounded tones of formal Farsi, my eyes follow the English; the words, the rhythm, it’s all so familiar, so Iranian. Shamloo is a modern poet, writing within Iran’s revolutionary culture, Maryam tells us. His poem, “The Fish,” has many layers of meaning for today’s youth. My finger traces the English on the page. I’m thrilled I still recognize the Persian.

A murmur of understanding rises around me. We’ve been there; this is the Iran we remember. Mostafa stands, introducing the poetry of Khayyam, Saadi, and Rumi. Translations, he stresses, are always inadequate. But the English versions he reads first are beautiful, reflecting the Iran of our imaginations. His voice soars as he recites the work of the masters in eloquent Persian tones, carrying us with him as the Iranians in the audience join in the familiar phrases, lines they grew up with, recited with their friends. Eyes grow moist; tears trickle. Our memories of Iran are mixed, but poetry rises above all, existing on a different plane. The program is winding down when Charlie Duncan (Tabas, 1965-67) speaks up. “I memorized some poetry when I was in Iran.” As he repeats the verses he learned decades ago, Maryam, Mostafa, and others join him, famous lines from Bafghi and Saadi resounding through the room. At that moment we’re together in the Iran of our dreams.