Magazine article World Literature Today

Two Poems

Magazine article World Literature Today

Two Poems

Article excerpt

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

[Sidebar]

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.

Translating Humor

Three Questions for Roger Sedarat

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. …

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