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Posts Tagged ‘Iran’

The Role of the Poet: An Interview with Solmaz Sharif

July 27, 2016 | by

In 2014, I heard Solmaz Sharif read “Look,” the title poem from her debut collectionLook inserts military terminology into intimate scenes between lovers, refashioning hollow, bureaucratic language from the U.S. Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms with a human touch. (Even the collection’s title has an alternate military meaning: per the Department of Defense, a look means “a period during which a mine circuit is receptive of influence.”) At a time when the U.S. automates acts of murder, Sharif insists that war is still personal—perhaps today more than ever. In one of its most quoted passages, she writes, “Daily I sit / with the language / they’ve made / of our language / to NEUTRALIZE / the CAPABILITY OF LOW DOLLAR VALUE ITEMS / like you.” 

By simply placing words from the Defense dictionary in small caps, and deploying them in scenes of intimacy,” John Freeman wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Sharif has begun the process of renaturing them, putting them in the readers’ hands for examination.” Look confirms what I’ve known since 2014: Sharif is poised to influence not only literature but larger conversations about America, war, and the Middle East. I spoke with her about her influences, the role of the poet in today’s world, and the stories behind Look.

INTERVIEWER

In an essay you wrote for the Kenyon Review, you said, “When I am asked to describe my poetry on airplane flights, at dinner parties, I describe it first as ‘political.’ Then, ‘documentary.’ And these two things seem to, for some, preclude aesthetic rigor.” There’s a popular conception that overtly political can’t have aesthetic value—that a political message degrades the aesthetics. Is your work a deliberate effort to rebut this notion? Read More »

How to Look at White Squares, and Other News

July 5, 2016 | by

Robert Ryman, Arrow, 1996, oil on Plexiglas with steel, 13 1/2" x 12". Image via Dia.

  • Abbas Kiarostami, the Iranian director who made Taste of Cherry, Certified Copy, and a host of other poetic films, has died at seventy-six. Mohsen Makhmalbaf, one of Kiarostami’s contemporaries, told the Guardian, “Kiarostami gave the Iranian cinema the international credibility that it has today … But his films were unfortunately not seen as much in Iran. He changed the world’s cinema; he freshened it and humanized it in contrast with Hollywood’s rough version. He was a man of life, who enjoyed living and made films in praise of life—that’s why it’s so difficult to come to terms with his death.”
  • It wouldn’t be a lie to say that Robert Ryman paints white squares—exactly the kind of concept that makes the uninitiated roll their eyes and say, My kid could do that. But your kid could not do this, not even your honor student. As silly as it sounds, Ryman’s canvases force you to reevaluate the whole, like, concept of white: “If you take a close look at the current exhibition at Dia: Chelsea, you quickly realize just how much can be contained within them. With smears and flecks and whorls of paint, built up in some places, washed out in others, the works catch the light in a singular way … The works are best seen when lit by the sun, as filtered down through the Dia skylights. And the light can activate the paint differently during the day, often calling up blue or green undertones.”
  • The web in the nineties was a simpler, uglier place, where color schemes grated, links broke, and a MIDI version of your favorite Third Eye Blind song was always just a click away. What explains our nostalgia for all this? Charles Thaxton writes, “It’s now well established that most Internet users experience the web through a handful of large, enclosed platforms and apps … Was the Early Web any better? The pre-platform, pre-mobile Internet was a web of pages and links and counters. The most essential thing about it is the notion that it looked bad. But the bad-looking web is making a comeback. All of a sudden you’re on that clunky-looking webpage again … Nostalgia for the way the web looked is really a sublimated nostalgia for how it felt, for a time in almost everyone’s life when discovery and openness and joy were all more operable. As much as we want to preserve the early Internet in amber, we want to hold on to the feeling of the early Internet even more.”
  • Boethius was executed in the year 524, but don’t let that deter you: his De consolatione philosophiae, written as he awaited execution, remains a vital read in troubling times. “Boethius’s task was both personal and communal, for in stoically embracing the decisions of the goddess Fortuna he admitted that death would soon come, but as he was also a refugee from a world that was dying, his manuscript served as an ars moriendi for culture, too. And in subsequent centuries his accomplishment was steadfastly maintained by fellow humanists, laboring in monasteries and libraries dotting Europe, making The Consolations of Philosophy one of the most copied texts of late antiquity, a capsule from one culture’s final moments through the eclipse of the next centuries … It’s an interesting question how much someone like Boethius could anticipate that their world was coming to an end; it’s an important question to ask if we are adequately anticipating it right now.”
  • In which John Berger visits a small coastal village in Italy and rhapsodizes about eels: “The women and men of Comacchio are recognizably different from their neighbors. Stocky, broad-shouldered, weather-tanned, big-handed, used to bending down, used to pulling on ropes and bailing out, accustomed to waiting, patient. Instead of calling them down-to-earth, we could invent the term down-to-water. Every year in the first week of October they celebrate a fete known as the Sagra dell’Anguilla (the festival of the eel). The cobbled town center is crammed with stalls of street vendors, come from elsewhere, selling trinkets, rings, seashells, cheeses, madonnas, salamis, dolls at low prices, small pleasures. The inhabitants wander slowly past, fingering the knickknacks, reckoning the small pleasures, and from time to time paying out a few coins. There are also benches and trestle tables where one can drink and eat. There is the smell of food being grilled. Onions, aubergines, peppers, and, of course, eels.”

Authors in Uniform, and Other News

October 25, 2013 | by

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  • From Twain to Wolfe to Tartt: authors in uniform.
  • Fittingly enough, fisticuffs at the Norman Mailer: A Double Life party.
  • The Asterix reboot, set in ancient Scotland, is being hailed by (a few, possibly as few as none) Scottish nationalists as an endorsement in the referendum debates.
  • The Iranian culture minister promises a relaxation of book censorship under the new regime.
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    Day of Kings

    March 8, 2013 | by

    398px-Bayasanghori_Shahnameh_5

    “But all this world is like a tale we hear -
    Men’s evil, and their glory, disappear.”

    ― فردوسی, Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings, completed by Ferdowsi on this day in the year 1010.

     

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    Staff Picks: Henry Darger’s Room, Shelley’s Ghost

    March 2, 2012 | by

    Henry Darger, Study of a Vivian Girl with Doll, mid-twentieth century, watercolor, carbon tracing, and pencil on paper, 12 x 9 inches. Courtesy of the American Folk Art Museum.

    “The dustbin of history was, to the revolutionary of the thirties, what Hell was to the Maine farmer. To fall out of history, to lose your grip upon its express train, to be buried in its graveyard—the conflicting metaphors descriptive of that immolation recurred again and again. But who could have believed that it could happen to so many so young?” So writes Murray Kempton in A Part of Our Time, his series of biographical essays on radicals of the 1930s. First published in 1955, the essays have lost none of their sparkle, and as a great newspaperman (who just happened, sometimes, to write like Lytton Strachey) Kempton can dash off a portrait or render an absolute judgment or paint the entire sweep of the New Deal in a matter of column inches. —Lorin Stein

    I was at the New York branch of the Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya over the weekend, perusing their extensive selection of art publications, and I came across the 2007 book Henry Darger’s Room. The outsider artist’s work will be familiar to most people, but if you haven’t seen images of his tiny Chicago apartment—left intact for twenty-five years after his death and partially reassembled in the Intuit Museum—then have a look at this volume, by his former landlords. The book is somewhere between creepy and magical. —Sadie Stein

    The New York Public Library’s exhibition “Shelley’s Ghost” is a pleasant place to spend an hour after lunch if you happen to be in midtown. You can examine “Ode to the West Wind” and “Ozymandias” as well as Laurence Olivier’s copy of The Cenci (he once contemplated a production). There are also a few Shelleyean relics, some cute and some a little bizarre: the poet’s gold-chased baby rattle, his Neapolitan guitar (see “With a Guitar, to Jane”), and some fragments of skull that survived his cremation near Viareggio. —Robyn Creswell

    Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, a collection of dark and sensual feminist fairy tales based on traditional legends, has me spellbound. —Elizabeth Nelson

    The entire collection of love letters between Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning were put online earlier this month. They aren’t exactly tied in a pink ribbon, but they are fascinating to browse. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

    This Is Not a Film, a collaboration between Iranian filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtamhmasb, opened this week in New York. Made right before Panahi was sent to an Iranian prison on a six-year stint for antigovernment propaganda, the movie is a portrait of a filmmaker in crisis, a yawp over the roofs of the world. —Josh Anderson

    I’m just saying: The Room is playing this Saturday at Landmark Sunshine. Get your spoons out. —S.S.

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    Staff Picks: ‘Bunting’s Persia,’ Dickinson’s Manuscripts

    February 17, 2012 | by

    In you’re in the New York area, tomorrow is the last day to see the unmissable exhibition of rare Emily Dickinson manuscripts and letters at Poets House. This is the first time much of this material has been on view; who knows when it will be again. It’s also worth making the trip to see poet and artist Jen Bervin’s striking quilts, which are stitched according to the symbols and corresponding variant words in Dickinson’s fascicles. —Nicole Rudick

    In the early 1930s, the young English poet Basil Bunting taught himself Farsi with a dictionary and a copy of the Iranian national epic, the Shahnameh, given to him by Ezra Pound. (“It’s an easy language,” Bunting explained, “if it’s only for reading you want it.”) The translations he made are collected in Bunting’s Persia, a slim book, including excerpts from the Shahnameh and lyrics like this one by Sa’di:

    Without you I've not slept, not once in the garden
    nor cared much whether I slept on holly or flock,
    lonely to death between one breath and the next
    only to meet you, hear you, only to touch ...

    I read it on Valentine’s Day. —Lorin Stein

    This week I found myself fascinated by the New York City Graffiti & Street Art Project, an experiment by the library of Lewis & Clark college that charts the most interesting examples of street art across the city, sorted by neighborhood, media type, subject, and more. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

    I just stumbled upon this breezy interview with cartoonist Lee Lorenz from last year. Part of The Comics Journals “Know Your New Yorker Cartoonist” column, the conversation is an endearing remembrance of a life in pictures, with the added pleasure of some insider gossip. —Josh Anderson

    Try Pär Lagerkvist’s The Dwarf for a healthy dose of fiery medieval homuncular misanthropy. Great reading material for long, slow queues, crowded subway rides where even the conductor is exasperated, and angry times in general. —Emma del Valle

    Seventeenth-century love letters, Latin bibles, a Shelley manuscript, and English children’s stories: I’ve suddenly discovered the Morgan Library’s blog. —D.F.M.

    It’s official: I have an extreme case of Linsanity. —Natalie Jacoby

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