World Poets In Translation


World Poets in Translation


Maryam Ala Amjadi  RAbbasi

Maryam Ala Amjadi Translates Rira Abbasi (Iran)


Introduction by Maryam Ala Amjadi

Poems with Recordings by Rira Abbasi

Interview with Maryam Ala Amjadi by Joan Hua


Introduction by Maryam Ala Amjadi

I first came across poet Rira Abbasi’s work when I started to contemplate the vocabulary of peace in contemporary Iranian poetry and was looking for poets who addressed peace amidst the chaos of war, poets who kept hope alive and breathing. At the time, I was a 25-year-old student of literature in India and a regular reader of the Poets Against War (PAW) movement Web site. In searching for Iranian voices to translate for PAW, I came upon the Web site of Iran’s International Peace Poetry Festival, the brainchild of Rira Abbasi—Iranian poet, fiction writer, and peace activist. The festival’s charter stated that “Poetry for peace is affiliated to humanity, regardless of race, religion, sex, and geography.” Those lines intrigued me, and I immediately sent Abbasi an email asking if she’d be interested in doing an interview. Since then we have remained in conversation—in poetry and in friendship—attending literary events together and collaborating on various translation projects.

I have often heard Abbasi say that “a transparent human being speaks in a loud and clear voice.” Perhaps that is the most vibrant aspect of her writing. Lyrically fearless, passionately compelling, and playfully challenging, Abbasi’s poetry reaches out to readers across the boundaries of translation. A survivor of the Iran-Iraq war, Abbasi humanizes the sounds of war into meaningful voices, narrating the accounts of men and women whose faces and names reverberate in the depths of our historical con¬sciousness, accounts that are integral to our primal desire for a better world in these crucial times, a world free of dread and conflict.

Rira Abbasi was born in 1962 in Khorramabad, Iran. Acclaimed as Iran’s Woman Poet Laureate and the winner of the Parvin Etesami Poetry Award (2005), Abbasi is a member of Iran’s Writers’ Association as well as founder and director of the biennial International Peace Poetry Festival in Tehran. Her works include Valentine, the White Sheep (2014), a bold collection of love poems entitled Who Loves You More Discreetly? (2002), and No More Guns for this Lor Woman (2001). Abbasi edited and introduced the first anthology of Iranian Peace Poetry in 2002 and received the Prince Claus Award at the International Poetry Festival of Medellin in 2011. Last year, Abbasi’s efforts led to the publication of Iran’s first multilingual anthology of poetry, Peace, the Poetry of Life. Her work has been anthologized and translated into a number of languages, including Spanish, Italian, German, Romanian, Kurdish, Chinese, and Hindi.It is an honor for me to represent in translation the voice of my friend and fellow poet Rira Abbasi for the first time in the Poet Lore.

—Maryam Ala Amjadi


Poems with Recordings by Rira Abbasi


Repetitive Sunset


Repetitive heartbeats under bombs

Repetitive repetitive heartbeats under bombs is the habit of images

The colors often grey blue

Perhaps in the morning

Perhaps at sunset

And a light that wants to leave


Take me by the teeth from this image

and leave me to those numerous trembling lips

to those armless and legless teardrops, those clumsy tears that rain from

eye and you

Take me further away from this image

Since the day you are gone

I have been a clumsy tear, an armless legless tear

under these drones drones drones




Lost in Wheat


So, you have something even for this barefoot woman?

I want to lobby a little on those oil barrels

I want to plant wheat

and open my eyes in the eye of an apple

to weep a little wheat, a little wheat

Perhaps I will become the apple’s eye to the tree

perhaps I will become a loaf of bread that goes from hand to hand

and lands in the mouth of a child in war.




Tehran V


I breathe in and the numbers fall under the smoke

Even trees have central identity cards with verses of scriptures

that wrinkle around their waists

Where do you think I live when I wet my lips with the first word

a drunken handcuff swirls round and round my lips

I am used to shushing

If love lurks behind a friend to greet me, I will hold her skirt:



Lest love unveil love…where do you think I am going?

I’m here, next to Freedom ¹

I am sitting on a bus to a bigger place, so Revolution can throw hooks at

my feet

And its daily sculptures snap again at my leg from the head to the toes

Springhead is the name of a street that has no spring²

What if one day I have a dream for a cypress tree to hold its head high

and shake it?

Does it make a difference, death before death in this communal grave?

How happily I am alive

Tell me, where do I live?


¹ Azadi (Freedom) Square in Tehran was the site of many demonstrations during the 1979 Revolution. Azadi Street is historically significant as the site of political demonstrations.

²Sarcheshmeh (literally “headspring”)—one of Tehran’s oldest streets—once had many natural springs. It is also connected to Enghelab (Revolution) Square and Street, another important demonstration site.



Empty from the Beauty Salon–Tehran


Fetch me those scissors

I want to scissor my fingers

Fetch me the nail clippers

to pluck those tight thin lips all at once

That sharp knife

who sees eyes and shuts lids

and that thread that threads into the bow of an eyebrow

when woman’s face does not equal man’s

I have paid the rates of eyes




Don’t fret that I don’t know what matters more—toes or fingers

On account of forgetting this city

I pluck everything wrong




I, The Reproduction


My body is an utter dictatorship of awakening

I caress it to sleep under the name of Neo-nuzzlepam

My legs have turned one hundred and eighty degrees towards Mecca

Even the voice of noon is beyond the call for prayers

Even the headlines are beyond the daily news the sports section

the weather report even the news is beyond today

And I believe my corpse can rise anytime now and say



And I never stop falling from the dictator’s mouth

that same foul-smelling mouth that I wish not to open

Such are my manners, such is my style

I do not tell my need to the full attention of the world in the hour of food

I too am Hitler

I will not open it! I shall not elaborate!

When I get closer to the night

I am dizzy from a world that should have been mine

When even this bed is not at peace because of me

I will not open the purple flowers of this bed sheet

It’s been weeks, weeks since they saw, since they felt any happy waters

flow down their throats

The morning rises from sunset

and my face cannot be washed off the night

and the faces of the night are the junctures of my days

From the burden of letters my hands have moved to my temples

the very hands that wrote clean the philosophy of dirt

the hands that wrote what pleasure lies in having no status, no class,

no floors

Zero is a product of the suspended philosophy

When I demand from myself some production

when production demands from me some work

when production demands from me someone like me

someone who should walk and fake

someone who brings her voice into the ears of her mouth

Zero is a product of the suspended philosophy

When I get closer to the night

I am dizzy from a world that should have been mine

That day when I wanted the world to fall from status, from class,

from floors

that day a slovenly woman put her teeth into the maggot-infested corpse

of a chicken at the hour of no-food

What pleasure lay in her dirty hands!

I will not open it! I shall not elaborate!

Such are my manners, such is my style

not to tell my need to the full attention of the world in the hour of food

I too am Hitler with a physique that is exactly like me from inside

“I” is more important that anyone

Just like “I” they all lie in dirt one hundred and eighty degrees towards Mecca

they lie in dirt, those classless people who are sleeping inside me

they lie in the hour of news

they lie in the hour of weather reports

I will not open it and I shall not elaborate

when reproduction demands from me someone like me.




Valentine/The White Sheep


Leyli, my love, I am the white sheep

and you, you are that same empty drowsy glass

I know Valentine’s is the market’s four seasons

And that red flowers are pining to escape the walls

Don’t tell anyone that I will return

Leyli, who cares?

I have pinned your fading name into my army uniform

I have kept your name under my pillow, next to my identity card

Tomorrow, I have to crawl to the headquarters


Leyli, my love, the worst of those masks is always beautiful,

like the joke that lurks behind the argument

I have been wearing this gas mask for years now

The day when I revolt

I shall open up my face from the pits of communal law

Leyli, my love, if you never see me again, hide your misty eyes

and show your hair to the people from behind

Laugh with the people like a clown with the name of, in the name of

hope future happiness

When I am gone, weave a basket in the name of Leyli

Weave a martyr in the name of Hossein

Leyli, my love, touch my face

Wake me up with your fists full of cold water

So I can see your hands afresh

Tomorrow is the mating of birds and mysterious dreams

And today is perhaps the flight of a white sheep with two curled ears

Its face still soft and its eyes two threads


Our viewers at home, our viewers listen:

Victory happens when strangers clap for you

Everything is on the rise, even death in victory


Leyli, my love, you wrote that Superman is still our home hero

And the soldiers go unknown on the shoulders

I burn in a fever of flight, Leyli

And the red flower, that’s something else

O Leyli, the life of my heart, that leaf of cardamom, my wet nougat,

my elixir

I come to your home weary and wearier

Leyli, I crave the generous peace of this white lamb like a Chinese child laborer

I am an individual

Born out of the child who stitches these threaded eyes

Did you see the writing on its fat tail?

(Dubai Bazaar-ordered by Mohammad Mirza, Made in China, Valentine of

Thousand and Nothing)

Leyli, lovely are our encounters here on the field

We are planted death to death

I saw a five-year-old, black hair big cheeks like the Afghans

like the Chinese

Perhaps like a Mashhadi child at our own crossroads

No, perhaps a child in the lanes of Tehran-Dubai bazaars

perhaps at dinner with the television on

and the cheap token of Middle-Eastern children

like compressed dates under bombs or nothing


You spit food?

No, no, don’t write, don’t write that on your palm


Talk of Holland talk of big bundles of roses on the day of love

Leyli, my love

Go to the streets write of lovers write of the girls in our own lane

Martyr Abbasi’s Lane¹

I know that chocolates have become more and more beautiful

And dolls have smaller and smaller hearts

Dangling dangling dangling

And I am not by your side

I have been hunted in the haystack

You, my love, just write of love

Love is the only unforbidden hunt

And I, the unadaptable individual, I pass all the tamed

This white sheep and this empty glass were the last signs between you

and me, between us

Since I saw him, I dream of the children who yawn with sewing needles

in their hands to stitch that threaded eye

These hands are cold in my arms, perhaps I am hungry

I do not know when I shall return

Even evading war leads to fever, to fever

If I stay alive another eight years

I will be a foolish wandering barterer

or a plagiarizing philosopher

Do not fear

as long as love exists, old age means nothing to a soldier

And you, you my love, you have but twenty years between you and

those children of the world who have dirty and old faces

Leyli, accept the apologies of this mask

One cannot abandon one’s homeland on the day of love

I fear that I may not smell of cloves in your arms

But Leyli, O Leyli, at the hour of always

you will receive an envelope,

an envelope in an envelope in an envelope

just one red rose

and a knock on the door

I know the letters have fallen, the curtains too

My love, my darling, Valentine has countless days

Open the door


Open the door

It’s me!


¹Many streets in Tehran are named after the martyrs of the Iran-Iraq war (1980–1988)




 The Democracy of Sparrows

—for my son, Ehsan


These very sparrows who have impishly encircled the capital

who have come from heights a thousand times and fallen to fly

these very sparrows from the fields of wheat

with the singular wings of childhood

are the ones who sit low on every step and patio

the ones who are mosque-sitters in every house, every tavern


These very sparrows who have concluded a celebration of voices from

one conversation to another

they have become the text of democracy in the life of this small yard

Do you hear?

from one sound to another

sparrows are published.



Interview with Maryam Ala Amjadi by Joan Hua