ME, RAIN, AND A HIRED TAXI
AuthorHouseUK (200 pp.)$30.51
paperback ISBN: 978-1496990044;
October 16, 2014
Tactile, thoughtful quatrains celebrating individual identity and experience, translated from Persian.
For most Western readers, Persian poetry might conjure few associations beyond Rumi or Edward Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Perhaps aware of this, Safdarian (I Want to Follow the Sun, 2011) makes sure to honor his own indebtedness to his better-known forebears: “What I need from the universe: a nice time … yes, / a bit calm, and a friend with a flute, / that we may read The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam / and drink together a little wine.” This vignette also serves as an invitation and instruction on how best to enjoy Safdarian’s poetry. Composed in the traditional Persiando-bayti couplet style and set with the original Persian facing Safdarian’s English translations, these 192 quatrains feel simultaneously foreign and familiar. There’s a touch of exoticism in Safdarian’s soft mysticism—“and I have to be beyond my body. / I have to be the power of thoughts from all varieties”—and in his references and cadences: “He was looking for you from Shiraz to Rasht / in alien roads and fields. / Although he could not find you during daylight, / he continued to look for you even at night.” His English translations can strike both the eye and ear as distinctly non-native, a problem he acknowledges: “A living person gave birth to a poem. / A translator killed the poem through translation.” Nevertheless, Safdarian’s primary mood is passion, and passion, it seems, does translate well. Though he writes about a myriad of subjects—war, poetry, racism, the importance of honoring the individual—this passion ensures that his romantic poems, of love gained and lost, are the best of the bunch. Even the unsure English that emerges can be read as an understandable loss of coherence by the stricken narrators. His take on loss is often powerfully direct and always felt in a deeply corporeal way. In “End,” the narrator, crying, laments the loss of a lover—“My eyes left me after you. / My heart stayed in my chest and decayed”—while in “The Time 2,” the narrator’s undoing is the appearance of the beloved: “I saw you; my heart unclenched, was lost.” Translations not without their awkward moments, but when writing about those moments that transcend language, Safdarian seems to find exactly the words he needs.
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Me, Rain, and a Hired Taxi
Two Stars (out of Five)
Graceful poems juxtapose the mystical with the practical.
Me, Rain, and a Hired Taxi, a book of poems by Davoud Safdarian, explores the mystical while remaining grounded in the often stark realities of everyday life. Using a consistent form throughout—nearly every poem is exactly four lines—Safdarian crafts beautiful, lingering images that resonate despite the collection’s uneven tone.Calling to mind the work of the poet Rumi, many of Safdarian’s pieces leave one simultaneously satisfied and longing. Complex ideas and images are rendered in poems like “Spring,” which reads: “Spring was lost in an enclosed garden, / but I broke my tracing leg. / You traced it from her lip print, / decorated on blossoms.” The lovely cadence of Safdarian’s language fills a space in the heart—becomes dear—while the poet’s succinctness acknowledges truths about the human experience without moralizing.Similar moments are found in the poem “Sun”: “Nothing is inside except the sun of your love. / How much have I talked about love? I can’t remember. / As much as I drew and drew you on the canvas, / only you are there, not sky.” The brevity of these pieces is in part what makes them so moving; there is little that could be subtracted.But such evocative poems are placed on the page alongside pieces that are much more colloquial and banal. Toward the beginning of the collection, the piece “Galactic”—which reads, “Come! Then stars have to get to sleep. / If they do not realize my galaxy, / my galaxy has two suns. / Let your pupils shine.”—is followed on the same page by “You and I 1,” which begins, “You and I are pals with each other.” Similarly, the aforementioned poems “Spring” and “Sun” immediately precede pieces titled “CD of Love History” and “3-D movie,” respectively.The continual movement between the mystical and the everyday has its place. Within thecontext of this collection, however, such movement—and the structure it creates—is jarring and off-putting.Poems that render images of war in miniature do serve as a bridge between Safdarian’s two distinct modes. “War 1” and “War 2,” for example, are harrowing in their concision, particularly in striking lines such as, “how we played with flare parachutes” and “War did not hear kids’ voices.” These buffers soften the harshness of the collection’s continuous tonal shifts.The book presents Safdarian’s poems in both Persian and English. An author bio and a brief statement about the content of the collection would enhance the packaging of the volume.Considering the gracefulness of many of his poems, Safdarian would do well to find a trusted editor who could assist with the organization of future books. It is likely that a shorter collection—one that reflects the poet’s own preference for concise form—would be even more resonant.