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Rumi Birdsong: Fifty-Three Short Poems by…
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Rumi Birdsong: Fifty-Three Short Poems

by Jelaluddin Rumi

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Although my sister and her partner (who I consider intelligent readers of poetry) have enjoyed Rumi for years, I have avoided him, probably because he has become so popular he seems like a fad. And though what I say about my sister and her partner is true, they are also seekers of spiritual wisdom in ways that I am not and I associated Rumi with nuggets of spiritual wisdom more than poetry--without actually reading any of his work.

Ok, so there is my initial statement of prejudice. I also find I'm going to have to separate my experience of the poems in this book with the method by which they were written.

Response to poems:
I enjoyed many of them. Fifty are presented. Yes, some are more wisdom nugget than poem but many are simply poems, responses to the world (a bit too often about love), wisdom or not.

Sometimes I call you wine, or cup,
Sunlight ricocheting off those,
or faintly immersed in silver.

I call you trap and bait,
and the game I'm after, all
so as not to say your name.

Juxtaposition of opposites and questioning of opposites is common in his poetry.

One who does what the Friend wants done
will never need a friend.

There's bankruptcy that's pure gain.
The moon stays bright with it
doesn't avoid the night.

A rose's rarest essence
lives in the thorn.

So some of them are Koan-like, some of them simply seem like poems, and some are more explicit nuggets of wisdom. The more I read, the more I was reminded of Dickinson with her twists within short poems and her humor, or Cavafy, perhaps because of the emphasis on love, and even Whitman because of the persistent message to embrace life. And of Guiseppi Ungaretti's very brief poem:

I hear a dove
from other floods

But . . .

Skepticism about the way they were written:
At the end of the introduction, there's a little note that these are reworkings of the translations of another person. And then I read a bit more thanks to wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coleman_Barks). I'm going to be a poor scholar and assume what is written there is essentially correct.

So it seems to me that Barks is an interpreter of translations rather than a translator. So when I'm reminded of Dickinson, is that because of Barks' American processing of Rumi? Or Barks' love of Dickinson? Because the example of direct translation is not at all brief, is more Whitmanesque in style though not at all Whitmanesque in subject matter and its preference for vagueness. So is the koan-like quality a product of Barks and his assumptions about what Eastern and/or religious poetry should be like, not Rumi.

It raises a lot of questions. I feel in the end that I don't know much about the poetry of Rumi, but I like Barks' poetry that was inspired by Rumi (but processed with such a heavy load of American preferences and ways of thinking that it's something entirely different from Rumi).

The wiki entry indicates that Barks received an honorary doctorate from the U. of Tehran. I'm not even sure what to think of that. Does that mean that they feel his poetry is an accurate representation of Rumi--or sufi thought--or are they simply honoring him for making one of their own more popular in the English-speaking world?

I'll be curious to hear if anyone else has a more informed perspective on this. ( )
  jppoetryreader | Apr 28, 2012 |
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