Poets Today The snooty grandfather, his head filled with more books than a university library, admonishes his grandson: "Poets today think if they smoke the same cigarettes as Shamloo they'll become as great as him. Why not memorize the Qu'ran and aspire toward Hafez?" "That's too much work," replies the teenage kid. "I'd rather just smoke Shamloo's cigarettes." "Do that," replies the old man, "and you're little more than an advertisement." "Mmmmm ... Shamloo ..." says the intransigent punk (pretending to take a drag), "There's a verse in every puff!" Political Limits on Verse To write against the religious establishment, the poet grew then shaved his beard, pasting dark curlicue whiskers into text that mocked a mullah who filled his walking cane with wine. When finished, as always, he showed his wife. "That would be profound," said the woman, "if it weren't so disgusting."
Translations from the Farsi
By Roger Sedarat
Three Questions for Roger Sedarat (see page 34)
Q Translating humor across cultures is particularly challenging. What difficulties did you confront while translating these poems and how did you resolve them?
A Humor in the Persian culture can become quite tonal, which makes it hard to render into a new context. There's an expression that sums up a lot of what's so funny among Iranians--ba-namak--meaning "salty" or what in English we might call dry. Fortunately, these two poems are relatively straightforward, though I did have to spend some time setting up the impudent teenager's final reply as well as the wife's terse critique. I think more than anything it was capturing the immediacy of the humor, which involved honing the language and tightening the line breaks.
Q The New York Times quotes Myrsini Gana, saying, "I feel that when the translator is laughing, the humor will manage to get across." What in Haji Khavari's writing made you laugh?
A Hands down it's the playful challenge of authority, both of the old and snooty erudite man and the earnestness of the postmodern poet. These poems are really short, but the familiar dialogic elements (teenager vs. elder and husband vs. wife) resonated with great humor upon first reading. We laugh at that with which we identify, and I so have had versions of such interchanges with my own Iranian father and with my Iranian American wife.
Q Is it possible to fully convey the humor in the original, or are some things simply lost in translation?
A I think it's somewhat a question of text complexity. I continue to translate the ghazals of Hafez, and there some things, arguably the best things like formal elements of rhyme and puns, that will simply stay lost. The contemporary poems here, however, I think come through. Of course, the reader who remains unfamiliar with how significant the late Shamloo has become for young Iranian writers (and how an older generation might dismiss his rock-star status) won't fully appreciate the implications. But hopefully the idea comes across enough, and the humor along with it.
Haji Khavari, age twenty-three, was born and raised in Shiraz, Iran. He completed a BA in architecture at Yasouj University. He was named a finalist in a regional poetry competition in the category of best young modern poet. One of the judges called him "an Iranian Borges." He currently does performance poetry and edits a zine of postmodern literature, Plastic Rose.
Roger Sedarat, an Iranian American poet and translator, has published English renderings of both classical and contemporary Persian poetry in such journals as World Literature Today, Drunken Boat, and Ezra. His most recent poetry collection is Ghazal Games (2011). He teaches poetry and translation in the MFA Program at Queens College, City University of New York.
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|Publication:||World Literature Today|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2014|
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