Tag Archives: Hafiz

A Virtual Interview with Roja Chamankar


Thursday, April 13, 2023 7:15 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Event Registration: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bookwoman-2nd-thursday-poetry-reading-and-open-mic-w-roja-chamankar-tickets-556253197287

Persian poet Roja Chamankar will join us via Zoom for this hybrid in-store/Zoom event. Born in Borazjan in southern Iran in 1981, Chamankar is a poet and filmmaker with an academic background in Dramatic Literature and Film Studies. She has published eleven books of poetry in Iran, co-written four books for children, and translated two collections of poems from French into Persian. Her works have been translated into several other languages and have won a number of national and international awards, including the Greek Nikos Gatsos prize in 2016. Roja has participated in numerous poetry readings and festivals in Iran, France, Sweden, Austria, Malta, and the United States. A collection of her poems titled Dying in A Mother Tongue was published in November 2018 by the University of Texas Press.

The Interview

CH: What is your first memory of poetry? How did poetry figure for you during your childhood?

RC: I cannot remember my childhood without poetry. I grew up among books. Before I learned how to read or write, my ears were accustomed to the sound of poems and stories that my parents told me. I have a tape from when I was 3 years old, when I had made several rhythmic lines and recited them! My mother used to record or write the lines I “creatively” said. Maybe these were the first steps toward what can be called poetry years later.

CH: What first prompted you to write poetry? What encouragements and obstacles did you find as a young female poet, growing up in Iran in the years following the revolution?

RC: As I said, my first encouragement came from my family because both my parents have been very interested in literature. But yes, my generation was born and raised at a complicated historical moment in a Middle Eastern country, where the revolution had changed all rules—at least on the surface. Moreover, a short while after the 1979 revolution, an eight-year war began between Iraq and my country, Iran. All of this must have had a direct effect on my life, as well as my generation. One might find this effect in my poems. At the same time, I was lucky to be raised in a family where my family taught us (me and my siblings) that there is no limit for you, there should be no limit for you, regardless of who you are. They taught me to fight for whatever I want, and this has been the dominant force in my life compared to the sociopolitical powers in the environment I grew up in.

CH: I understand your educational background includes the study of Dramatic Literature and Film Studies. What motivated you to steer your education in the direction you took? How easy or difficult was it for you to follow this path?

RC: In high school, my diploma was in mathematics. But I did not want to follow its path (which would go toward academic majors such as mathematics, engineering, etc.) because I just loved literature and arts. A love for moving images was concurrent for me along with a love for literature. But I did not want to study literature (Persian literature) at the university level, because the path I wanted to take in literature was different from what the universities at the time could offer. Especially because the academic major in Persian literature was mostly concentrated on classic Persian poetry. I had come to the conclusion that studying film would provide new dimensions for me, for my poetry, that I could not find in other majors.

CH: As a Persian poet, you draw on a rich literary of which the ghazal form and the 13th and 14th century poets Rumi and Hafiz are probably best-known in the United States.  What traditions in Persian poetry most influence your work? Which contemporary Persian poets inspire you?

RC: As you said, Persian poetry has a one-thousand-year-old history, with great poets such as Hafiz and Sa’adi and Khayyam and Rumi who form part of the Persianate identity (for Iranians and other people from that region). My first “serious” poems were also in the classical forms (such as ghazal and masnavi and quadruples), influenced by the works of these pillars of Persian literature. My first poems all had classical rhythms and followed the specific rules for classic poetry. But then, I discovered contemporary poets, or the modernist movement in Persian literature that is known as “she’r-e no” or New Poetry. Nima (the father of New Poetry), Forough Farrokhzad (an iconoclast who was the initiator of a new path for Iranian women, in the content and form of her poems), Ahmad Shamlou, and several other poets who rose into power in the 20th century were all very inspiring. I was still a teenager when I switched from classic to the new, ‘freer’ forms of New Poetry. But then I passed this stage too, and for a long time now I have relied mostly on the natural music of words in a structure that I think is a result of my own life, experiences, and circumstances.

CH: In addition to writing eleven collections of poetry in Persian, you’ve translated two from French to Persian, and your own poems have been translated into several different languages. How has the experience of translation influenced how you approach your writing? What are some of the challenges of having your work translated into a language in which you are not fluent?

RC: Translating poems (from French into Persian) has mostly meant challenging myself. I believe in free translation, compared to faithful translations, and I think a translator of poetry must have the ability to “recreate” the poem in the second language. That is why translation for me means re-reading, discovery, and creating a poem from a new in another language. Whether as a poet whose works are being translated or as a translator of other poets into my mother tongue, the pleasure of this new “reading” is what makes translation worth it. I have never translated my own poems, but I have been fortunate enough to be in contact with my translators in their process of translation. The main challenge in translations, in my opinion, is to convey the cultural weight of a word to another kind of readership. This is something beyond the issue of “meaning.” And that is why having a literary taste and creativity that allows the translator to recreate is most important.

CH: Your collection of poems in English, Dying in a Mother Tongue, was published in 2018 by University of Texas Press. Please tell us a little about it and your process of writing and collecting the poems.

RC: The poems of this collection are written between 2008  and 2009; an important for me, both in personal life and in social life. I was passing from the peak of young age to the period that the social and political issues were becoming more important to me. When this collection was published, I was not in Iran. I left Iran for continuing my studies in France, but the third edition of this book was released one year after its publication. I was expecting it because I knew after years of writing what I was doing. Several years later, in 2018, this became my first poetry collection that was completely translated into English. Before that, some poems of me were translated from different books. But this specific collection is my first complete Persian book translated into English by Blake Atwood. He is a master in English, Persian as well as poetry and literature. The blood of the poems of this collection is still fresh in my veins.        

CH: For you as a poet, what are the expressive advantages that the Persian and English languages convey? What are the limitations?

RC: Well, I should emphasize that I only write my poems in Persian, not in English and not in French. I do enjoy English poems and French poems. But even the feeling I get from reading English, French, and Persian poems are different for me. I love Walt Whitman, Sylvia Plath, and all those French surrealists. I always say that, and I don’t know when and where I first read it, but I believe that you can write a poem in another language when you dream in that language too. But the funny thing is that even my American and French friends speak in Persian in my dreams! So, I continue to write in Persian.

CH: How do you see the influence your education in Film Studies and Dramatic Literature on your poetry? Have you considered taking on the role of playwright or screenwriter as part of your writing career?

RC: Both have been very influential on my poetry. Cinematic capacities have added another dimension to my poetry. I have talked about this in another conversation and say the same again here. From the classical Hollywood style, and films like Casablanca, I learned how to employ the cinematic concept of mise-en-scene in poems; just as Godard’s jump cuts were an inspiration for moving between spaces in poetry. Then, Krzysztof Kieslowski’s films taught me how to create a poetic ambience with images. The editing style in Jim Jarmusch’s films inspired the structure of some poems and the use of symbols and metaphors in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s films helped me achieve a kind of visual brevity. Also, the type of use of dialogue, scene distance and many other features of playscripts have influenced my poetry. I have had experience of writing plays and screenplays. Maybe in the future I will go back to them.

CH: In addition to your work in poetry, you’ve co-written four books for children. Please tell us a little about them.

RC: This has been one of the most enjoyable experiences I have had, because it is a collaboration with my father. These stories come from my father’s idea: a 10-book series of children’s books with the same character, a little girl named R’oya (literally meaning “dream,”) who loves painting, and her art allows her to realize her dreams. Her color pencils draw for her a parallel world to which she can enter. These stories are partly my poems and partly a narrative by my father. One book is about a forest, one a mountain, one a sea, and one the Milky Way, our galaxy.

CH: What do you like to read for pleasure? What is the most recent book of poetry you’ve read?

RC: Over the past few months, I have been holding an online poetry workshop. Each week, we discuss the works of an Iranian and a non-Iranian poet in this workshop along with the exercises that I give to the workshop participants. And so I have been very busy both re-reading some of the masterpieces of world poetry and the new, fresh, and exciting poems of my workshop members. The last books I read for my workshop were mostly the poems of  Charles Bukowski and selected poems by W.H. Auden.

A Virtual Interview with Adrienne Christian


 Upcoming Features

BookWoman 2nd Thursday Poetry Reading and Open Mic with Adrienne Christian – In Person and On Zoom

February 9, 2023  7:15 .m. to 9:00 p.m.

Zoom Event Registration: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bookwoman-2nd-thursday-poetry-and-open-mic-featuring-adrienne-christian-tickets-498453968237

Please join us for the first of our hybrid in-store / Zoom 2nd Thursday events! Our feature, Adrienne Christian, will be at BookWoman (5500 N. Lamar), and we will also be connecting via Zoom. Please note that BookWoman requires masks at all in-person events. 

Adrienne Christian is a writer and fine art photographer, and the author of three poetry collections – Worn (Santa Fe Writers Project, 2021), A Proper Lover, (Mainstreet Rag, 2017), and 12023 Woodmont Avenue (Willow Lit, 2003). Her poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and photography have been featured in various journals including Prairie Schooner, Hayden’s Ferry Review, CALYX, phoebe, No Tokens, World Literature Today, and the Los Angeles Review as the Editor’s Choice. Her work has been anthologized widely and has been nominated multiple times for the Pushcart Prize. In 2020, her poem “Wedding Dress” won the Common Ground Review Poetry Award. In 2016, she won the Rita Dove International Poetry Award and in 2007 the University of Michigan’s Five Under Ten Young Alumni Award. 

Adrienne is a fellow of Cave Canem and Callaloo writing residencies, and has been featured on panels by Ms. Magazine and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. She has served as editor or jury member for various prizes including the Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize, the Penumbra Poetry and Haiku Contest, the Cave Canem Starshine and Clay Fellowship, and the Nebraska Poetry Society Poetry Award. She is an associate editor at Backbone Press, and founder of the Blue Ridge Mountains Writing Collective, and holds a BA from the University of Michigan (2001), an MFA from Pacific University (2011), and a PhD from the University of Nebraska (2020).

The Interview

 CH: What is your first memory of poetry? What drew you to poetry as a means of expression?

AC: My first memory of poetry was in second grade. My elementary school was having a student poetry writing contest. My teacher, Ms. Simmons, taught a lesson on poetry, and then assigned us students to write poems to enter into the contest. Mine won second place. A few years later, again in school, I discovered Shel Silverstein and was hooked.

CH: When did you first begin to think of yourself as a writer? As a poet?

AC: In 10th grade. My Creative Writing teacher, Mr. Kiersey, would ask us students to read our short stories aloud. Whenever I shared my stories, he’d point to me and say to the class, “There’s a writer!”

CH: I understand you are a fine art photographer as well as a poet. How does your practice of photography inform your writing practice?

AC: I am so glad that you asked! Photography serves as a balance to my writing life. With writing, I am always sitting alone at my desk. With photography, I am out trekking in the world, meeting people. With writing, I am in my head. With photography, I get out of my head and into my body.

Also, I see photography as an extension of writing. Both are about the story. And, photography is actually translated as writing with light (Photo, as in photosynthesis (light), and Graph, as in writing/hand (autograph). So, photography is writing as well, just with light instead of with a pen. Writing on its own really has the power to move people. So does photography. Together, they are infinitely powerful, and I like that about being a Writer/Photographer.

CH: Congratulations on the publication of your third collection, Worn. What inspired these poems? How did the book come about?

AC: Thank you! Another really good question. Worn is a collection of poems that all feature clothing in some way. The why of what we wear runs deep – so, I wanted to capture that in these poems. At first, I was collecting clothing poems in an anthology I had hoped to publish. But reading so much about clothing poems, I felt inspired to write my own.

CH: I find that I want to read the non-capitalized poems of Worn as if they are in a more “interior” voice, especially given many appear toward the middle of their sections. Is this an intended reading?

AC: Yes. I want those poems to be quieter.

CH: In less than a decade, you’ve published three collections: 12023 Woodmont Avenue (Willow Lit, 2013), A Proper Lover (Main Street Rag, 2017), and now Worn (Santa Fe Writer’s Project, 2021). What through lines do you see in these collections? What’s changed the most in your approach to writing and revision over these years?

AC: The throughline is love. In Woodmont Avenue, the speaker is lacking and longing for familial love. In A Proper Lover, the speaker is on a journey to find, and become, a proper lover, in spite of what’s been done to her. Worn, too, is about love – agape, filial, and eros.

Another through line is the African-American experience.

A third is bravery – my poems tend to tackle sensitive topics that people are often hesitant to discuss, but want to, and perhaps need to.

A fourth is pain – I often go to the poetry page to write in response to something that is heavy on my heart or mind.

CH: The first two of these collections came out while you were pursuing your PhD in Creative Writing, and the first of them came out not long after you received your MFA. What started you on your academic journey in creative writing? What was the most surprising thing that you’ve learned along the way?

AC: Actually, Woodmont Avenue came out in 2013, two years after I’d finished my MFA at Pacific University. A Proper Lover was accepted in February of 2016, months before I was accepted to and went to Nebraska. And Worn was accepted in late 2020, a few months after I’d finished my PhD at Nebraska.

Now that you ask these questions, in fact, it gives me more clarity on my own writing process. I tend to write/publish books after I am done with school. School fills the well, and once I’m done I can tap the well. Does that make sense?

I decided to get my PhD for two reasons – I wanted to learn to write literary nonfiction, and I wanted to learn to do research.

One thing that has surprised me is how absolutely in love I am with the writing life. I love reading, teaching, writing, researching, listening to all things literary. I love buying books. I love supporting other writers. I love readings writers’ stories. I love writing retreats. I love craft talks. I love books all over my house. I even travel with books though they often put my suitcase over-weight. I just can’t get enough of this stuff – it’s like a love affair that never grows old, or stales. Living the Writing Life fills me up in ways that no other thing can. I believe that is why I came to this planet – to write (to change the world).

CH: In addition to poetry, you’ve published a number of non-fiction pieces. Where would you like to take your writing in the next few years?

AC: I have two nonfiction pieces I’m working on now, and I’d like to see them published. One is a collection of personal essays called How I Got Over. It’s a blueprint of how I went from a life of anguish to a life of joy. The second collection doesn’t have a title yet, but these are essays from my life on the road – the lessons I learned. I’ve visited all 50 United States and 62 countries. I learned a lot, and want to share what I learned with readers.

CH: I’m always excited to be introduced to writers who are new to me. Do you have a recommendation you can share for an outstanding debut poetry collection?

AC: Have you read Gabebe Baderoon’s A hundred silences? It’s a stunning collection. One anthology I love is black nature, edited by Camille Dungy – nature poems by Black poets. It’s lovely. Oh, and Frank Chupasula’ Bending the Bow, which are all African love poems. This is the collection I keep by my bed. I am very much interested in African love stories.

CH: What do you read for relaxation?

AC: Spiritual literature — Hafiz’s poems, African proverbs, Buddhism quotes. These books are also by my bedside.

Adrienne Christian