Washington State Convention Center | March 1, 2014

Episode 71: Song of the Reed: The Poetry of Rumi, Sponsored by Poets House

(Anne Waldman, Brad Gooch, Coleman Barks) Thirteenth-century Persian poet Rumi is now the most popular poet in the United States. In this event, leading Rumi interpreter, Coleman Barks, reads his beloved versions of the Sufi poet’s verse, biographer Brad Gooch shares research into Rumi’s lived experience, and poet Anne Waldman reflects on Rumi’s contribution to poetry’s ecstatic tradition.

Published Date: July 16, 2014


Speaker 1 (00:00:04):

Welcome to the A W P podcast series. This event was recorded at the 2014 A W P conference in Seattle. The recording features readings by Brad Gooch, Anne Waldman, and Coleman Barks. You'll now hear Judith Bael, Lieber Setti and Steven Monica present introductions.

Speaker 2 (00:00:25):

Thank you Poet's House. I want to welcome the brilliant director of Poet's House, li Bracetti, who's going to tell you a little bit more about this afternoon's performance, so thanks a lot.

Speaker 3 (00:00:40):

Hi everyone. Can you hear good. I'm Lee bti. I'm the executive director of Poet's House and isn't it remarkable that a 13th century Persian poet, a man who was a scholar, a Muslim spiritual seeker, is America's bestselling poet?

Speaker 3 (00:01:01):

Why do readers flock to Rumi? We must immediately thank Coleman Barks who has brought Rumi close to us, and so I begin thanking him with Rumi's own exhortation. Let the beauty we Love be what we do. We thank Anne Waldman, a transcendent poet and American Treasure, and Brad Gooch Rumi's biographer for being with us in the beauty of this work, and I thank all of you for being here. I'm going to make a few comments about Poet's House, the sponsoring organization and the work which has brought us here to present this event. And then I'm going to bring my wonderful colleague, Steven Moka up to say a little bit about the poets and to frame the event, but do not fear, do not have anxiety of the infinite. This will be brief. Poet's House is one of the great places for poetry anywhere a 60,000 volume open access poetry library, free and open to all in our beautiful new facility on the banks of the Hudson River.

Speaker 3 (00:02:02):

In lower Manhattan visitors work side by side in the library pouring over their manuscripts or spelunking through the stacks. Really, it's a joyous place and you can feel the energy. We have a magnificent children's room, an exhibition, space classrooms for workshops and masterclasses and our programs almost 200 onsite and with affiliate libraries emphasized dialogue and conversation. Also, I want to say that this is a place even if you don't live in New York, that you should plan on putting in on your bucket list. You should plan on coming and when you visit New York, make Poets house your base of operation. You can find treasures from our programmatic past online@poetshouse.org along with our library catalog. Make sure as well that your book or your chatbook is in the collection because the library itself is a document of poetry in print in our nation and it's really deeply moving.

Speaker 3 (00:03:05):

It's a deeply moving expression of community participation because every book has been a gift you come to for many years. We've partnered with other libraries, public libraries around the country to help them learn to do what we do, which is to make a center for the discovery of poetry. And for over 15 years we've worked with them creating a model of programming library training so that they can make poetry come alive at their sites. Our latest partnership with libraries is in six cities funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and it focuses on Poetries of the Muslim world. Many of you may know that poetry is the most beloved art form in the Muslim world. With our partner city lore, we've put together an 18 panel exhibit that travels to the partner libraries, a website, and a gorgeous speakers bureau that each city can pick from aligning both scholars to talk about the tradition and performance from centuries old Sufi verse and golden age Arabic poets to discussions of modernist and contemporary practitioners. Today's program celebrates the expansion of that program to four new cities inviting more visitors into the beauty and pleasures of poetry and into its transformative ability to share human experience. Thank you so much. Here's Steven. I also think you should give Steven special love because he put this program together and at the very last moment he was asked to come up on stage and moderate because what we usually do is get people to come up and ask questions, but there was a last minute change, so please give him a very worn welcome.

Speaker 4 (00:04:55):

Thank you, Lee. Thanks to all of you for being here. In her classic book, Rumi Sufism, the scholar, Eva dvi Merovich writes, having reached the metaphysical realization, which leaves no doubt, Rumi wanted to be a master of awakening, he transmitted a teaching founded on knowledge. He embodied his teaching in the most beautiful form. The content of his teaching is Sufism, which constitutes not a doctrine but way born. In the first years of the 13th century, Rumi lived through Gangas Khan's invasion of the Mediterranean, the fall of the Persian empire, the Mongols rise and defeat and the restoration of Byzantium. His work has provided inspiration and nourishment for 700 years. His principle Body of work, the Avi, is a vast poem of 45,000 verses that stretches over six books, anecdotes, prophetic traditions, legends, folkloric, and citations from the Quran follow each other, creating in the words of Ari Nicholson, a majestic river, calm and deep winding.

Speaker 4 (00:06:06):

Its way between rich and varied scenery into the fathomless ocean. The lyric sections are comprised of Qurans and Ode that have flown in the last few decades into English and the beloved translations by poet Coleman barks a student of Sufism for more than 35 years, barks has turned Rumi, as Lee said, into the bestselling poet in this country, extending the poetic presence of this 13th century poet will beyond his own place and time. This afternoon we'll hear from three distinguished American writers, poets, translators, biographers, Brad Guch and Waldman and Coleman barks about the role of Rumi now in the 21st century America and beyond. I want to thank these three writers for traveling to be with us this afternoon and to thank a w p for presenting this event in their literary partners program. I'll give a brief introduction of the three speakers now and then they'll come up here and make presentations and at the end, if there's time, we'll have a little conversation and if you have a question, you can send it to me telepathically.

Speaker 4 (00:07:16):

Our first speaker will be Brad Gooch, who's in the middle, and he, as Lee said, is working on a biography of Rumi and new translations of Rumi. He is one of our leading literary biographers and his flannery, a life of Flannery O'Connor was a national book, critic Circle, world finalist and a New York Times bestseller when it was published in 2009. He's also the author of City Poet, the Life and Times of Fran O'Hara, three memoirs including the forthcoming Smash Cut, a memoir of Howard and Art in the seventies and eighties, which will be out next winter, three novels, a collection of stories, jail bait, and other stories chosen by Donald Bartlemay for a Writer's Choice award and a collection of poems, the Daily News published by Z Press and which can be found on Abe books and on the stacks of Poets House, a Guggenheim fellow in biography.

Speaker 4 (00:08:07):

He's professor of English at William Patterson University and lives in New York City. Our second presenter will be Anne Waldman, who's closest to me. She's the author of more than 40 books of Poetry and Prose. Her many titles include Fast Speaking Woman, her selected Poetry in the Room of Never Grieve, and most recently, the Poetry Collection, GOSA Murmur and Jaguar Harmonics, which will be out this month. She's concentrated on the long poem as a cultural intervention with such projects as structure of the world compared to a bubble humanity. Humanity, my personal favorite, and the monumental anti-war feminist epic, the Ovu Trilogy colors in the mechanism of concealment, a 25 year project, which won the Penn U Ss, a award for poetry. She co-founded with Ginsburg, the celebrated Jack Kerouac school of Disembodied poetics at Naropa University. It's now celebrating its 40th year, and she holds the position of distinguished professor of poetics.

Speaker 4 (00:09:06):

There. She received a 2013 Guggenheim Fellowship and poetry, and she lives in New York City and Boulder, Colorado, and Coleman Barks on the far end is a poet, translator and teacher. He has been translating Rumi since the mid 1970s and is the author of a score of Rumi translations, including the essential Rumi Rumi, the Big Red Book a year with Rumi and Rumi Bridge to the Soul among many others. His work with Rumi was a subject of an hour-long segment in Bill Moyer's Language of Life series on P B s, and he's featured poet and translator and Bill Moyer's poetry special fooling with words. He's also the author of several collections of poetry, most recently Hummingbird Sleep, just published by University of Georgia Press and Winter Sky New and Selected poems after three decades teaching poetry and creative writing at the University of Georgia. He now is Professor Emeritus and continues to live with his family in Athens, Georgia. Please join me in welcoming these writers,

Speaker 5 (00:10:20):

So thank you Steven. And now I'm thrilled to be on the stage with these literary superstar Coleman Barks and Anne Waldman and explaining a little of my sort of counterintuitive project of writing a biography of a Muslim poet Persian poet who died 800 years ago and aspired to the oblivion of No Name and said, blessed are the hearts of those who burn away also. And I'm in the middle of this project, so it's a rare moment where I don't entirely know what I think yet, but I've sort of been enthralled to Rumi's poetry since at least the early nineties. It's been a kind of guilty pleasure of mine. I remember going to a friend's house in Miami then, and I was there for a week sort of on vacation and on the shelf were two volumes of translations by Cambridge Don AJ Arbery. Then over the course of the week, I read all of them.

Speaker 5 (00:11:22):

I was kind of mesmerized, also puzzled a bit by this. And then in the mid nineties when Coleman's book, the Essential Rumi came out, which I remember well because that Christmas I received three hardback copies of that book with inscriptions from friends saying that you like, no one else in the world would love these translations, which I did. And I think the Coleman really did capture this epic intimacy of Rumi's voice in a way. And also I remember at the time seeing a bumper sticker on a car with the line out beyond ideas of right doing and wrongdoing, there's a field, I'll meet you there. So I felt very yay for poetry to have that. Coleman pulled this off in 1999. I was working on a book called God Talk Travels in Spiritual America, and there was a chapter, the last chapter in the book was on Muslims in New York City and I was reporting on a Sufi group and really became part of this group on the Upper West Side that met Friday nights and was led by a mom, Faisal Rauf, who at that point was pretty unknown recently more notorious for having been involved with Park 54 a k a, the ground zero mosque.

Speaker 5 (00:12:45):

But this group every Friday evening, it was mainly young Muslim Americans in their twenties and thirties and their parents had come from Central Asia or Iran or Turkey or North Africa. And Faisal especially then would read from not so much the lyric poetry, but the talks and discourses of Rumi that have been written down by students and collected in the Fi mafi. There I started thinking more about the life of Rumi and also seeing this dimension, the cultural and religious dimension of Islam and his work. And so thought that I could write a biography of Rumi. That was when I sort of learned, and I've learned many times since. How involved this sort of Evanescent figure from eight centuries ago is in current geopolitics really. So God talk came out right after nine 11 in 2001, and when I went around to publishers with my idea of writing a biography of a Muslim mystic poet, I sort of drew these blanks. I mean, no one really was responding. So instead I wrote a biography of Flannery O'Connor as Steven said, and though they might seem disconnected to me, they're connected because Flannery O'Connor was also one of the rare writers who had this deep interest in theology and religion, and it informed her work and the work wasn't propagandistic or church pamphlet in any way, and Rumi also sort of pulls this off in poetry. I think after that book came out, then an editor said to me, do you want to write another biography? And I said, no, never.

Speaker 5 (00:14:46):

But I always did want to write about Rumi. All of a sudden this was the most wonderful idea and I was driving, I couldn't. So what had changed in those years, I think tragically in a sense we had invaded Iraq, we were in Afghanistan. That part of the world was then more familiar to people terms like Sunni and Shia didn't seem so exotic and far away. They were in the 24 hour news cycle. I think also these editors shrewdly before me in a way, understood that writing about a roomy in a way it was writing about the issues and geography and politics, religion and literature of our time also reflected in this kind OFX mirror of this figure from long ago. So I sort of set out, I started learning Persian, which is the language that Rumi wrote in at an intensive program at University of Texas, Austin, and then in an immersion program in Madison, Wisconsin at the University of Wisconsin, and then began to travel the map of Rumi's life covers over 2,500 miles.

Speaker 5 (00:16:16):

He was born in 1207 in now we believe in Vach in Tajikistan, and I went to Vox, he writes at one point, you can't go from here to Vox in a lightning flash. I was also detained in Vox by the current iteration of the K G B. So again, was always sort of smashing up into current realities. I went to SanMar in Uzbekistan where Rumi, when he was five, witnessed a kind of traumatic siege, and by then his family was beginning to travel westward and kind of camel caravan that took at least a decade until they arrived in Conya and Turkey. And as Steven mentioned, behind them were Genghis Khan and the Mongols sort of terrorists of the time in a sense, who were destroying all these cities in Central Asia that Rumi had known of Smar, K and Balk and Bora. I sort of followed the Silk Road route that his family would've followed through Turkmenistan and into Iran, sort of imagining what it was like for this boy to fall asleep hearing these Persian and Arabic love songs sung by camel drivers that kind of permeate his work. Later on, I went to Syria and where Rumi studied in Damascus and Aleppo in kind of traditional religious madrasa when he was in his twenties and I was in Aleppo the week the Civil War broke out.

Speaker 5 (00:18:06):

I remember on a Friday I was in the bazaar, which has since been destroyed by fire, and it was pretty quiet. Stores were clanging shut because people were going to Friday prayer service. And I had out my notebook and I was trying to figure out what things were like in the 13th century when Rumi was there. And I remember this guy, this kind of moment that biographers wait for this young guy was coming towards me on a bicycle. He stopped and he said, in this kind of British accent that Syrians have, if they've been to school in England, are you a spy? So I looked sort of startled, and then he laughed, so I felt mildly mollified. And he said, well, what are you doing? And I said, well, I'm writing a book about Rumi who was a poet from the 13th century. And then he said, Rumi, I love Rumi.

Speaker 5 (00:19:03):

Rumi is one of my favorite poets in the world. And then he started quoting to me from, I mean even more archaic kind translation by Nicholson, another Cambridge Don from the opening of the MAs nave, the Rumi epic that Steven mentioned, which in the beginning is narrated by this reed flute that's been cut off from its reed bed. And he recited the secret of my song, though near none can see and none can hear, which is what the flute says. And then he stopped and he gave me his card to his carpet shop, of course, but before going off, he said, Rumi is one of the two or three great world poets. He said, like Shakespeare or You're Walt Whitman. He never entirely tells his secret. And then he drove away, and I really felt that he had sort of handed me a kind of passkey at that moment.

Speaker 5 (00:20:09):

It was an aha moment. So I thought that's true. Rumi does have these secrets. Sarah is a constant word in Rumi's poetry secret, and he did have personal secrets. Poetic secrets. I mean he was very much a poet in the Emily Dickinson mode for whom truth and circuit lay and theological secrets as a Sufi at the time. He as now he was in conflict with the fundamentalist interpretation of Islam because of using poetry and music and dance as part of religious practice and meditation and by emphasizing the intimacy and nearness of God rather than this absolute transcendence. So all roads in room interest eventually lead to Corna in Turkey where he lived most of his adult life, and where in 1244 he met shams. I mean, at this time Rumi was 37 years old and really a kind of traditional Muslim preacher and scholar as his father and grandfather had been.

Speaker 5 (00:21:23):

Shams who comes to town is about 60 and a kind of outlier, mystic dressed in black felt. And two of them have this electric friendship for three years and love. And so it's a relationship of lover and beloved or of friend and friend or of disciple and shake. It's never entirely clear. What is clear is that shams kinds of rattles rumi's cage from the kind of conventional esteemed lifestyle into becoming a mystic. And after three years, shams disappears, and it's not clear why possibly murdered by a jealous son of Rumi, probably not possibly teaching Rumi an important lesson in separation, but he does disappear. And Rumi, I mean to me seems to have a kind of meltdown at this separation and copes with this by writing poetry. So almost all of the poetry that we have, which is a lot from Rumi, comes from these last 30 years of his life from the age of 37 to 67 when he dies, he writes over 3000 gazal, which are like sonnets love poems to shams and to the prophet Muhammad or to God all at once.

Speaker 5 (00:22:48):

So the ambiguity of it is part of his game in a sense in poetry. He writes over 2000 rub, which are four line Qurans like the Aya of Omer Kaiya. He writes in couplets the six volume spiritual epic longer than the divine comedy the vie. And then at the end of his life, the death of Rumi is important in many ways. I mean in terms of how he approached his death. Incon the shrine to Rumi is visited by last year, 3 million people, about 5,000 people a day. He framed his death for us in a way, calling it his wedding day, day of reunion. He then kind of choreographed his funeral, which had musicians, people chanting his poems as well as priests and rabbis and imams in the procession, and he was writing poems about his death up until the end. The main commemoration of Rui and Coya is on the anniversary of Rumi's death on December 17th.

Speaker 5 (00:24:07):

And the sort of main event is there's now a kind of stadium size venue where the whirling dervish ceremony is performed. The Rumi, while he was alive would whirl while he was meditating and while he was composing poetry, that was kind of dictated, that was then codified after his death into this kind of elegant meditative dance as his life was in a sense codified into the MEV levy movement of Sufi whirling dervishes, similar to Francis of Assisi and turning into the Franciscan order. When I went to that ceremony, the Turkish prime minister spoke for a half an hour. The president of Iran was supposed to arrive but didn't, and I walked down one wrong hallway, I remember, and was met by these guys with gigantic machine guns. So again, the sense in which somehow this delicate figure is also a player in contemporary politics so much.

Speaker 5 (00:25:16):

The next night my guide was this young woman who'd been drawn to Sufism by a bestselling novel in Turkish the year before about Ian Shams, and she dropped me off near this house and said, this is a Sufi house. You should go in. So I went to the gate and I was kind of stopped and I said, RA, which I had learned in Faisel's group was meditation or recollection and Sufism. So they let me in. Inside the house was very much a kind of hot house where the living room, kitchen halls, courtyard were full and on a kind of coffee table of a stage one dervish, both men and women would get up after another and whirl while people were playing drums and the reed flute and then get down there. I felt much more kind of zapped by the spirit of what it was like and when Rumi was alive in a sense than in the more official venue really.

Speaker 5 (00:26:19):

But when I was saying that I'm in the middle of my project, I mean, I think the kind of mysteries are where Rumi's joy comes from. I mean, he's very much a poet of joy and of love, but it's not wind chime stuff in a sense. I mean it comes out of dealing with separation from shams and from love and from the source of creation in some way, and then it comes out of facing death. And if you can understand how Rumi approaches these essential kinds of themes, then you have even more of a passkey than I probably have yet. But when Rumi was dying, as I said, he wrote these series of poems, A few lines from one are etched on the shrine and conia. I'll just read those couple lines because when in doubt, quote ruy, and he's also such a great antidepressant. If you visit my grave, my tomb will make you dance. Be sure to bring a tambourine. Thank you.

Speaker 6 (00:27:39):

It is so hard to be on stage with these lio Fabry, these better makers and who knows so much more. I was asked to talk about the ecstatic tradition, and so I'm calling this little talk poetics and erotics of ecstasy. Rumi, can language fully convey reality? This is one of the great meditations in my own life as a poet. And what if that reality is excessive, mystical, radical, erotic, transgressive, ecstatic, and seems to point toward the ineffable? Is there language that cannot only point to the ineffable but capture the ineffable and when it is composed on the tongue, ext tempore, how does that work? Those utterances, those arises. What makes Muhammad jal, Aldin, Rumi so provocative inside these issues are these timeless issues. One of the most prolific poets of all times producing thousands of lyrical guzzles for his beloved Shas, his mentor, his other, his master, his love, tens of thousands of narrative didactic Avi versus one of the most popular poets in the West, as you've heard.

Speaker 6 (00:28:48):

And why poetry? Why is that the form? What is the reach in poetry? How is it choiceless? Because I think it is choiceless. The one possible view is that the Quran teaches that God taught Adam the names, which implies that possibly names are themselves aspects of the divine, and actually they come before the world of creation or the phenomenal world that we find ourselves in. There's a pre-stage of naming. In the beginning was the word and so on. Perhaps words and names are created by God himself. If you're a believer, one might see that the names are there to celebrate himself. And perhaps we use words as just shadows, shadows, or kinds of reflections of what is inspired by God, God inspiring the poet in the first place, a compelling thought for those of a certain kind of faith, and others might conjure different sorts of muses.

Speaker 6 (00:29:46):

What would the secular muse be? What would that view be? Whatever it is, there's clearly needed some object of devotion and of transference. Is that not true? All you lover poets out there, can you be beside yourself for love? Aren't you beside yourself for love? Isn't that what motivates you? Ex stasis, e, outsider, beyond stasis, standing still stationary ness. The body spirit dichotomy is always interesting here, removing oneself from a given place where ego is no longer in a physical frame. What is this about that physical frame, this container, this reed, which is so invoked as a metaphor for what the poetry is in this case, the common view. This was the first thing I knew of Rumi as a child we're just reads on which the wind plays. So thinking about the container, and in Buddhism it's very important that you take care of your body.

Speaker 6 (00:30:42):

Your body is the container for this wisdom. It's your way. Your vehicle ecstasy is close to Faah, F A N a and the Sufi tradition, which is the dissolution or annihilation of this self, again into this higher plane, into the God, the merging into the supreme, sublime other, an annihilation of that ego self into non-existence. One Buddhist slogan is We're here to disappear, and it's such a relief. So this entrance into non-existence is a return to the original situation where we dwelt at peace with God before. As I was saying, preceding the creation, proceeding with the naming that comes before, this is the state that is sometimes again called the annihilation. This is this fauna, the state where ego's limitations are seen and felt and there's the bursting through of the true self and one needs to throw oneself into this annihilation. Now, I love this sense of gesture, which you have of course in the whirling dance and a quote from Rumi, our existences are all non existences, but you are absolute existence appearing as annihilation.

Speaker 6 (00:32:00):

It's a great sort of conundrum statement, this idea that you are kind of both, both, but you can only exist without the other have been looking for myself, but I'm the same as he is another line of his. And I'm curious also about the sense of identity in all this. In that search. This is from the drunken universe, Hakeem Bay and Peter Lambourne Wilson's book. This is a sort of paraphrase out of this gradually ripening experience of love, the lover comes to realize that the beloved, the goal cannot be reached as long as he remains locked into a world of opposites. As long as he himself himself and Rumi tells the story of a man who knocks at the door, who's there asks the voice from within. It's me, says the man go away, then answers the voice. There's no room for me. The man goes away and wanders in the desert until he realizes his error.

Speaker 6 (00:32:56):

He returns and knocks again at the door. Who's there? Asks the voice, thou answers the man, then come on in. This is the original knock, knock joke. I think that strange reoccurring, unifying binary of auto egoic. I call him trying to develop this new word for ecstasy as Mays the mantic, erotics the swerve God, creating man in his own image and being in love with that image. This constantly fascinates me and magnetizes me in a world of our post, post, post post modern poetics in which indeed all times do feel curiously contemporaneous. And what is the transmission here? And then there's something also about this ext Tempur and how you feel. You feel that lift, you feel that swerve. I have an early poem called Makeup on Empty Space, and it literally began ext Tempur, just repeating this empty eye, putting makeup on, empty space, patent is convening, et cetera, et cetera.

Speaker 6 (00:34:00):

And empty space became this euphoric mantra about kind of disappearing and I see it as a sort of Buddhist text. But anyway, back to that swerve itself in the poetry, albeit through a variety of translation composed as oral horizon for ritual dance, a perpetual turning, a swirling in the case of the dervish dance, a form constantly readdressed and reconfigured and vote though all the forms as we have heard and are based in a classical Persian through Arab parameters that still make a case for this performative indeterminacy through these 21st secularized eyes and ears, a strange indeterminacy for Acts redone. So again, that kind of interesting, not really contradiction, but how something really continues here in this dynamic of the self and other and the God looking at itself. Persian poetry and Sufism, as we heard from Brad, developed in the east of Iran, Rumi's parents settling in Conia and then this figure, the shams was from Riz.

Speaker 6 (00:35:07):

So the map is very interesting how this legacy is sustained today in many parts of the world. And if you start reading some of the places where Sufism has gone in our country alone, you have from Brattleboro, Vermont to Boulder, Colorado. Speech is that wind which was formerly water. It becomes water when it casts off the veil of the room. I'm going to interject some of these slogans. Here's a Avi translation by Arbery, the mystic soul circles about annihilation even as iron about a magnet because annihilation is true existence in his sigh, his eyes having been washed, clean of squinting in error. The drunkard made ablution in urine saying, oh Lord, deliver me out of impunity. God answered first, realize what impunity is. It is not me to pray. Crookedly and topsy-turvy for prayer is a key. And when the key is crooked, you will not attain the flavor of opening the lock.

Speaker 6 (00:36:06):

I fall silent, all of you, leap up the cypress like statue of my idol cries come emperor of Tabriz, my king shazi, I have closed my lips. Do you come and open again that energy to lift up the swerve? I'm talking about just the language invoked here. In this translation, a union with him transported my spirit, my body paid not attention, though disengaged from the body. He became visible to me. I became old and grief for him. But when you name him, all my youth returns. So thinking again of this clin, amen, this kind of the lyricism of the swerving, the sudden change in direction. This swerve also away from predecessors because there was a marked change in Rumi's life as Brad mentioned when shams came into it. And the homo erotics of this swerve. And again, back to that love affair in a way with the mirror image and one fully dissolves into another.

Speaker 6 (00:37:07):

One is dreaming as one in the words of William Carlos Williams where language, love, desire worship come together in radical gesture. And it's risky as well that swerve, that ecstasy, that annihilation. And then the invocation, the backdrop of this profound passion, conviction, tradition, code, ethos and practices of Islam and what that extraordinary religion demands and requires of the devotee for it is a two-way dynamic or swerve. This unifying binary and that backdrop of a spiritual calling and cultural inheritance in a way being the occasion. I mean this is sort of transgressive thing to say, but from Fran O'Hara, the occasion of these ress as O'Hara my A place where a mysterious relationship played out in one of the most creative, passionate, poetic interventions of all time. Rumi's work through the centuries has inspired so many spiritual teachers, scholars, translators, poets from all walks, the we can go from Hans Christian Anderson to Hagel, to Martin Buber, to Marcia Ilia, to Eric Fromm, to Philip k Dick, to Naim Hickmet to go, Jeff, of course Robert Duncan, who wrote a beautiful poem after Rumi entitled Circulations of the song, which was written for his lover and longtime partner, Jess, and to Robert Bly, to Coleman Barks and to Bill Merwin to mention a few.

Speaker 6 (00:38:31):

So he's continually celebrated, but going into this sense of a lineage, this lineage of spiritual heavies, we have Atar and Hafi, the great Indian mystic kabi, of course, the Bible's song of songs which celebrates sexual love and within Jewish tradition reads as an allegory between God and Israel, and which Christians read is an allegory between Christ, the bridegroom and the church, the bride. They're the nine shaman songs of India. And then we have Greece's sfo, six 30 B c e. Oh, it puts the heart in my chest on wings for when I look at you. Even a moment, no speaking is left in me, no tongue breaks and thin fire is racing under skin and in eyes, no sight. And drumming fills ears and cold sweat holds me and shaking, grips me all greener the grass I am and dead or almost. That's Anne Carson's translation.

Speaker 6 (00:39:32):

Sao, is Sao addressing a lover or is this her worship of Afro DTE speaking? Then we have Tibet's 11th, 12th century Repa, the green skinned one. He lived on nettle broth, our cloth clad yoga and his hundred thousand songs, although there are a few less than a hundred thousand. And this is his devotion to Lord Buddha and the path of enlightenment free again from ego and grasping. And these are very traditional poem forms in the Tibetan tradition, and they're a kind of practice called Doha. Rumi is also in the lineage of India's mibi, the 15th century Rajai Hindu mystic princess who worshiped and performed bajas for her beloved dark Lord, the blue skin Krishna. And if you're in India, they're very common. You hear pop songs, pop bajas bajas with mirab bys lyrics, friends. Without that dark raptor, I could not survive. Mother-in-law shrills at me, her daughter who could abandon a love developed through uncounted lifetimes, the dark one who is rabiah's Lord, who else could slake her desire.

Speaker 6 (00:40:39):

Translation by Andrew Schelling. Then you have the 20th century's barefooted Maria Sabina, the Sierra Zaca Mexican curandera cure shaman who led participants through an all night valda, an all night watch abiding the psilocybin mushroom as a way to God invoking the little saints, her litanies invoked Christian saints and also Jesus himself. I'm the day woman, I'm the doll woman, I'm the sun woman. I'm a crystalite woman. Water the cleans flowers, the clean water, the cleans as I go. And one invokes Christian, Christian mystics, the cerebral more cerebral soriana St. Theresa in her wild lament as well as John Dunn. And then we have Whitman's Pantheism Dickinson in her wild nights, wild nights mode. Next is a paraphrase from the Awa Fu written in the 13th century, which is a description of the Daer, the Sufis rotatory dance to give some texture to the ritual, this performative aspects of the dervish world.

Speaker 6 (00:41:47):

The dervish is holding each other by the hands, putting forward the right foot, increasing it every step, the strength of the movement of the body. They uncover their hands, take off their turbans, form a second circle within the first intertwine their arms, lean their shoulders against each other and raise their voices and increasingly utter Laila. And it's called out from the re, this is which you hear from the res five times a day at the times of ritual prayers. And Sufis considered the deeper meaning in saity of the phrase, noting that it begins with the negation law. No God, but God, no God. But Allah sweeping away the idolatry of false gods. Sufis took this as a confirmation of their belief that a worshiper must first pursue this negative, this no and obliterate all traces of idolatry and discipline, that sinful longing for this and that until you reach this fauna, this self-effacement, this annihilation to convert to Islam.

Speaker 6 (00:42:51):

One uttered this in front of witnesses, no God, but God balancing from side to side, placing their hands on their face, breast, abdomen, and knee, all exclaiming this shout, this chant, pale of face, languishing of eyes, some sigh, some sob, some weep, some perspire. Great drops. They accelerate their movements. They incite one another. La la. During their hymn, they remove their turbines, bear their shoulders against each other, compass the hall at a measured pace, striking their feet against the floor. And again the devotional chant. And then there's another sort of more transgressive part of this text where they take down cutlasses from their niches, heat them red hot, present them to the shake who blesses them, raising them to his mouth, breathes on them, then gives them over to the dervishes, transported by frenzy, they seize upon the glowing irons, glowed upon them, lick them, bite them, hold them between teeth and cool them in their mouth.

Speaker 6 (00:43:44):

Others stick them into their sides. If they fall under their wounds, they do not complain. And the shake comes again, breathing now upon the wounds, rubs them with saliva promises, speedy recovery. And then 24 hours later, nothing is to be seen of these wounds. And I've witnessed this kind of thing in the crisp stances in Indonesia and in some Buddhist ceremonies, not this kind of what seems to be a violent gestures, but in any case this is a possible extension. They call the red hot irons goul, T u l, the red rose because the use of them is agreeable to the soul of the dervishes as the perfume of the roses to the voluptuary dance when you're broken open dance, if you've torn the bandage off dance in the middle of the fighting dance, in our blood dance when you are perfectly free, God said of Muhammad, he is an ear.

Speaker 6 (00:44:35):

And that's from Coleman bark's dance with a bandage off. Then there's Samma, S A M a. Rumi had never practiced Samma until he met shams. A difficult word to translate. It is an audition, a spiritual concert. The Salama involved music and poetry to focus concentration on God and induce this sort of trance-like state. And when it happened, it moved the listener to move into this moto meditation, waving hand stamping feet. And this practice was evidently well known in eastern Iran for centuries before the birth of Rumi, but it was shams who directed him to this practice to follow this practice. Whatever you are striving for will increase in Sama in some places was forbidden because it increased lust and passion. But for seeker and lovers of God, it was permissible because it focused attention on the divinity. Rumi said that sham set him on fire and burned away his books.

Speaker 6 (00:45:33):

This metaphor of the rose, the hot red goul is intriguing as it is essential to the probe and to this poetics and erotics particularly interested in how poetry becomes ecstasy becomes performance, as I said before. And the sense of the probe, the Cutlass and its penetration seems to also be a device or trope in Persian poetry. In Lewis's biography of Rumi Franklin d Lewis's, he talks of how homoeroticism pervaded medieval Persian poetry, the beloved and most guzzles is androgynous and often equated with a leader A ruler sexuality stands in for this power relationship in the poetry. The penetrator is the active one, the holding the dominant position. The penetrated one is the objectified beauty. It is equated with femininity. And so these early collections of medieval poetry are rife with boasting and insults around this notion of penetration. And talking to my dear friend Hakeem Bay, Peter Landour Wilson.

Speaker 6 (00:46:29):

He said, shams was known to be of the school of love. And he said to me, how should I think of this relationship? And he talked about it as Brad mentioned, we're not absolutely clear, but certainly a relationship of love and also a mentor and disciple. And he thinks Rumi would not have succumbed to the penetration of his beloved shas that the jury's out. But this transformation of Rumi from scholar, juris, teacher, husband, fathers, thus historically marked by this meeting with this mysterious figure and who turned his life around an untutored, charismatic, some equate him to Socrates because of his poverty. And then this violent, disturbing death is there a path beyond mastership and discipleship? And so Hucking Bay said again in a recent conversation, see this as a love affair, whether or not it was consummated. And these are human beings, right? I spoke of what it takes to write love poetry.

Speaker 6 (00:47:31):

There has to be something palpable there. You know the poetry, it is scintillating, energized, rapture is sexy. There's no point in trivializing or allegorizing, their profound connection which also leads to the divine. So just to meditate on that shams, how could I offend? I am ever fearful to kiss your feet lest my lashes scratch them. Union with you is most precious the last that life will. I wish I had a world full of gold to bestow upon my union with you. At one point Rumi asked shams, if he's a sorcerer, what would witchcraft accomplish? The mention of God works well enough. And then there's a wonderful list of names. All these names that heroes of Sufism, that Rumi tells shams. He is, you are my special elite messenger of God, my messenger of the placeless absolute spirit. You are the kovan, which means God. And this very hyperbolic language, which is not unprecedented in this tradition, but it's very extreme I think in this particular situation.

Speaker 6 (00:48:37):

In conclusion, I think of my own fascination with Sufism. Early reading of Idris Shaw, an early interest in spiritual practice outside the Judeo-Christian nexus, particularly Buddhism, a turn to the east, early trips to India, to South America, to Iran, to work in Indonesia in the eighties, more recent work in Morocco to end Theo Jis to investigations of shamanism. Seeing the whirling dervishes at the Asia Society in New York City as a very young person was Transfixing. And I was interested in this idea of whirling to empty oneself, to be at one with a world already spinning under our feet if you just meditate on that, every day we're walking around feeling so unstable or stable, too stable, too solid, and to meditate on the planet actually spinning under our feet. So I wanted to leave you with that, but I was interested at this, interested in the metaphysics of this motion and alignment with the music of the spheres.

Speaker 6 (00:49:40):

I'm drawn to circles and spirals of endeavor in art over strictly narrative forms. I watched the dervishes later at an arts residency and tried the disciplined practice myself. I thought of turning in the womb. I thought of stream of consciousness, I thought of language as a exit to ecstasy and I felt inspired to cry out, to sing to Extemporize. And also thought about how the world is perpetually made up of such linguistic signs and maps and pathways. And it's a really important to be, I think as artists connected with our body and the gestures. And so much of my poetry seems to come from this physical place. I mean I'll feel it in parts of my body and then it has to come out in some way. So a sense of these pathways, punctuations that we can approximate in poetry and in a spontaneous poetics and in performance.

Speaker 6 (00:50:35):

So again, thinking of how this particular tradition is so tied to the word, the sense of naming before creation, the centrality of Sufism within Islam, conveying a purity of revelation and the ways that the teaching is taught. And in Rumi's case through all these, I've been reading more of these ecstatic quotes, but fables, tales, geographies and so on the, let's see, I admit to a certain resistance to the abstractions of theism and fine poetry, weak is when it chases after the affable and more interest in the aspects of ecstasy when the object is vivid, palpable, spinning in the room, in the void with you. Oh, mouthpiece of God, I of truth, salvation of creatures from the seething ocean of fire. You are mine. You are mine. You are mine.

Speaker 7 (00:51:42):

I think now I read some of these poems from 800 years ago that were spoken as part of his work with a learning community about the size of this group, and they're all intended to open the heart and to search out and find the truth and say it and to celebrate the glory and the indignity of being in a human incarnation. Remi said, just being in a body and sentient is cause for rapture, it's also cause for embarrassment and shame just being in, but mainly it's cause for rapture. This is how a human being can change. There's a worm addicted to eating grape leaves, suddenly he wakes up, call it grace, whatever, something wakes him and he's no longer a worm. He's the entire vineyard and the orchard to the fruit, the trunks, a growing wisdom and joy that doesn't need to devour. Find your place and close your eyes so your heart can start to see when you give up being self-absorbed, your being becomes a great community. Find your place and close your eyes so your heart can start to see when you give up being self-absorbed, your being becomes a great community.

Speaker 7 (00:54:07):

That breaking open of the ego and the opening of the heart occurred when he met shams debris. He says, what I thought of before as God I met today in a human being. Sham says in his notebooks that what frees you is not words but rather someone's presence, their actual being. That is the scripture you must attend to. The power that I am hoping to give does not come to you by following a line of words across a page. A real lineage comes down through personal interaction with another human being. Here are a few short UBA four line poem. I'm so small I can barely be seen.

Speaker 8 (00:55:32):


Speaker 7 (00:55:33):

How can this great love be inside me? That's a big question, isn't it? How can this great love be inside me? And then he answers it with a metaphor. Look at your eyes. They're small, but they see enormous things. Somebody came up to me at that Stafford reading the other day, I mean yesterday, and told me a story about her first grader. She'd been reading Rumi to me and first grader went up to his teacher and said, I'm small, but I can see enormous things. Somehow the eye can contain the night sky. That moment, this moment, this love comes to rest in me. Many beings in one being in one wheat grain, a thousand sheep stacks inside the needle's eye. A turning night of stars in one wheat grain, a thousand sheep stacks. That's just a truth, isn't it? In one wheat grain, of course it contains a thousand sheep. I mean, just give it a little time. And the needles, I human eye contained a turning night of stars. I love this. This is a new one. I mean new. It's 800 years old. I hadn't worked on it before. As long as I'm alive,

Speaker 7 (00:57:46):

This is who I am and what I do, my peace, my resting place, what I want and its satisfaction truth. By this I mean this day, I cannot say this love, this being that is after me that I am after quarry chasing quarry. That's called theology. And all he does is say this, as long as I'm alive, this is who I am and what I do, my peace, my resting place, what I want, my desire and its satisfaction truth. By this I mean this day, I cannot say whenever he mentions sunlight, he's talking about shams and God at the same time. Shams means the sun. So whenever he mentions sunlight or today he's talking about his friend, that mystery, the mystery of the friend, which nobody can talk about. The beloved Robert Black once said, Coleman, I want you give a little talk for an hour on the beloved and like a fool. I tried and no to ever fall into that trap. You can't do it. It's just your words turn into dust in your mouth. Just tongues is gibberish. Sometimes he calls that mystery a kind of majesty. And he talks about sometimes in the terms of weather,

Speaker 7 (01:00:05):

When it's cold and raining you that you that other, that friend you are more beautiful When it's cold and raining. You are more beautiful and the snow brings me even closer to your lips, the inner secret that which was never born you or that freshness, and I'm with you now. I can't explain the goings of the cums. You enter suddenly and I'm nowhere again. Inside the majesty, many big questions arose in Rumi's community. What is a true human being? Where is the discipline? Where is the balance between discipline and surrender? And the question that he answers in this one, what is the soul? What is the soul consciousness? The more awareness, the deeper the soul. And when such essence overflows, you feel a sacredness around. It is so simple to tell one who puts on a robe and pretends to be a dervish from the real thing. We know the taste of pure water. We do know the taste of pure water. Words can sound like a poem, but not have any juice, no flavor to relish.

Speaker 7 (01:02:04):

How long do you look at pictures on a bathhouse wall? Soul is what draws you away from those pictures to talk with the old woman who sits outside by the door in the sun. She's half blind, but she has what soul loves to flow into. She's kind, she weeps. She makes quick personal decisions and she laughs so easily. Soul is what draws you away from those images that dilute your longing to go and talk with the old woman that sits outside by the door in the sun. She has what soul loves to flow into. She's kind, she weeps. She makes quick personal decision. I don't know what that means. So I sort of, do you see people sometimes? Just give me four of those just moving quickly through. She makes quick personal, it doesn't matter. We can live anywhere. And she laughs so easily. One or two more. Oh God, we've got to stop him. Yeah, we do. Yeah, no. Well, I'll do this one. Rumi thinks there's a kind of longing that is at the core of every human being and no one knows what that longing is for. No one can say what it is. We can live it out, but we can't know what that longing is.

Speaker 7 (01:03:56):

It is probably not for real estate or for your own radio program. So in this amazing poem, he says, the longing is for the longing itself. It's getting more and more satisfying to me. I didn't understand what he's talking about. At first one night a man was crying. Allah, Allah, Allah. His lips grew sweet with the praising until a cynic said so, I have heard you calling out, but have you ever gotten any response? The man had no answer for that. He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep where he dreamed he saw hitter the guide of souls in a thick green foliage. Why did you stop praising? Why did you stop praising? Because I never heard anything back. This longing you express is the return message. The grief you cry out from draws you toward union. Your pure sadness that wants help is the secret cup there. Listen to the moan of a dog for its master, that whining is the connection. Listen to the moan of a dog for its master, that whining is the connection. There are love dogs. No one knows the names of. Give your life to be one of them.

Speaker 7 (01:05:56):

I want to hear some dogs' names. What do you call your dogs? Una, Buddha,

Speaker 8 (01:06:03):


Speaker 7 (01:06:03):

Una, Luna. Luna.

Speaker 8 (01:06:06):


Speaker 7 (01:06:07):

Ringo, Aztec. Yeah. What Romeo. Okay,

Speaker 8 (01:06:20):


Speaker 7 (01:06:22):

Love dogs no one knows the names of, but they do now give you life to be one of those love dogs named Brother Ruddy. Anyway, we need to have some time for questions. It's four 15. We got to stop. Wait, if you just above few more. Okay, one more. Today, like every other day we wake up empty and frightened. Don't open the door to the study and begin reading. Get out of mind. Take down a musical instrument. Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground. He's talking about five times prayer. He says there are hundreds of ways to do that. You might not have to touch the ground at all. Might be just dance. Let the beauty we love be what we do. Take down a musical instrument. I'm not sure what that means either. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground. One more. There is a light seed. Grain inside. You fill it with yourself or it dies. I'm caught in this curling energy. Your hair, whoever i

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