Thank you for Andrew Lawler’s interview with Daniel Ladinsky [“Something Missing in My Heart,” October 2013]. I would never have fallen so in love with the poetry of Hafiz were it not for Ladinsky’s “renderings.”
I discovered Ladinsky in a small bookstore while looking for a present to give my husband-to-be for our wedding. A customer exclaimed to the clerk, “Hafiz! Hafiz! This is the third time today I’ve heard about Hafiz!” Intrigued, I picked up The Subject Tonight Is Love. Never before had poetry touched me so deeply. We read Ladinsky’s “Carrying God” at our wedding ceremony.
The first time I read Daniel Ladinsky’s The Gift, tears streamed down my face. What was this friendly intimacy with God? How could this be? Raised Catholic, I had come to believe that there is no God, but here I was being swept into a world of friendship with the Divine.
I don’t know if I will ever again be a believer or if I will remain a doubter and seeker. Regardless, I am now accompanied by Hafiz, a mad lover who introduces me to his Beloved at the tavern over and over again.
I’ve been watching Daniel Ladinsky’s career for years, and I must say that the critical storm he laments didn’t arise out of nowhere. He has published phenomenally successful books in the flavor of Hafiz but has led millions to believe the work is Hafiz by calling it “translation.” When he then zings scholars for protesting, he reveals a profound misunderstanding of what scholars are called upon to do. Ladinsky asks if it matters where Hafiz ends and he begins. Till the day Persian ceases to be Persian and Hafiz ceases to be Hafiz, I can’t imagine a Persian-speaking Sufi scholar who wouldn’t shout, “Hell, yes, it matters!” I think Ladinsky makes a good start at leaving the critical lion’s den into which he’s thrown himself by calling his newer works “renderings.”
I hope he soon finds the pleasure of publishing his own work, under his own name, in the English he sometimes writes beautifully.
As a native Persian I’ve been fascinated and inspired by Hafiz for more than fifty years. I have gone through his entire body of work in the original language many times and have a good understanding of his meanings, idioms, and ideas. Regretfully I must report that the renderings by Daniel Ladinsky do not make sense to me at all, regardless of what he thinks Hafiz told him in a dream.
There’s no indication that Ladinsky has any education in Arabic, Islam, or Koranic studies — all mandatory for a full understanding of Hafiz. The serious task of translating Hafiz would be best done by several people working together, including a Persian scholar who has lived the language intimately. Otherwise something essential is lost in the process of translation: it’s called “poetry.”
There is no doubt in my mind that Daniel Ladinsky is a talented writer, and the world can never have enough poets. I am disturbed, however, by his contention that Hafiz is speaking through him. He says, “My poems are based on what I think is the genuine spirit of Hafiz, something he could have said. Sometimes, by the time I’m finished with one poem, there are poems within poems that can come from one line. That of course makes them in no way translations.”
He is right about that; they are not translations. What they are also not is poems by Hafiz. They are by Ladinsky, inspired by Hafiz. His claim that he is speaking for Hafiz strikes me as both arrogant and egotistical, and it distracts from what are otherwise beautiful poems.
I feel it is important to address the question of how I work to achieve the poems I have published in my six books that feature or include Hafiz — and to address that question in an honest and precise manner. Part of Andrew Lawler’s interview of me in The Sun directly and intimately addresses that query, and really to such an extent that I have to wonder if some of the people who have responded to it even took the time to seriously read the interview before starting to throw spitballs.
In A Year with Hafiz: Daily Contemplations I include two significant essays that should shed light on how I work with the poems of Hafiz — or, that is, the poems that are attributed to him. For I do feel that the deeper one gets into the study of Hafiz, the less of a foundation there really is to have an intelligent debate about what Hafiz actually said in any language! One of my most trusted guides has been these simple and remarkable words branded with his name: “No one could ever paint a too wonderful picture of my heart or God.” I think it would be very sad if any so-called scholar ever wanted to argue with that.
Therefore any translator — or renderer/interpreter (as I am) of his work — has a tremendous task and challenge at hand if he or she is to reveal something alive and true of Hafiz’s soul and heart. Essential to achieving that is, to my mind, making the translation or rendering or interpretation accessible, giving, and able to deeply nourish — to move one to tears of thanks or joy, or to dance and inspire others. And, when needed, just to help us bear the hour.
To anyone sincerely wanting to learn about the process behind the poems in my books with Hafiz’s name upon them: please do read what I have taken great care in writing in A Year with Hafiz. One of those essays is titled “Releasing the Spirit of Hafiz”; the other, “My Portrait of Hafiz.” There isn’t enough space here to properly present all the information that should be made available, for I’ll bet The Sun’s editors think they have given me enough pages for a while.
So, big hug to this world, spitballs included.
Steve Kowit’s poem “A Note Concerning My Military Career” [October 2013] spoke to me. I work on a high-school campus, and every time I see uniformed military recruiters talking to the students, I think, Leave my kids alone!
Maybe I should hand out copies of Kowit’s poem at recess.
Here is a note concerning my military career in response to Steve Kowit’s “A Note Concerning My Military Career”:
Imagine you were a peaceful eighteen-year-old kid just out of high school, and you got a draft notice in the mail. And maybe you looked at that draft notice, and you knew where you would end up, and you wanted nothing to do with that damn war you had been watching on the evening news for years.
Then maybe you looked at your father, a World War II veteran, and your next-door neighbor, and his next-door neighbor, and his — veterans all. And just maybe you made the only decision that your teenage heart and brain could come up with, and you ended up in Vietnam.
I think Ken K. has nicely summed up the difficulty an eighteen-year-old might have resisting the military draft when his parents and neighbors are fully convinced that military service is a patriotic and noble obligation of citizenship. The underlying belief of those fathers and neighbors, of course, is that the United States fights on the side of justice. Unfortunately, with the possible exception of the Second World War, that has never been the case.
But not all eighteen-year-olds in the early 1960s were as naive as the fathers and neighbors Ken K. describes. Back then, in large measure due to the flourishing civil-rights movement, millions of young Americans had come to understand that their country was not the bastion of democracy that it pretended to be.
Though the American peace movement today is embarrassingly timid, in the 1960s the resistance to the Vietnam War, especially among young people, was passionate, vociferous, and widespread. Back then I was not the only one to tell the U.S. Army that if I were forced to fight, it would be for the other side.
In “My Life in Vegetables” [September 2013] Sparrow describes how his wife shucks corn while he brings to boil an adequate amount of water to accommodate four ears. Boil for four minutes, he says, and presto — you have ecstasy. “It’s so sweet — like sugar!”
Might I ask how long it took to bring that pot of water to a boil? Ten minutes? Did Sparrow use natural gas, propane, coal, electricity, or wood as an energy source?
Did he need additional time after the corn was placed in the boiling water for it to return to a boil? Wasn’t the water sucking much of the luscious taste and vitamins from those succulent kernels?
There is a better way to prepare corn: with a microwave.
Decrease your carbon footprint! Save water!
A microwave? That’s living lightly on the earth? I honestly cannot tell if Richard Chapman is joking. Now I know how most people feel reading me.