Why my love of poetry and Persia goes hand in hand

I’ve always been a big fan of creative writing and poetry and that’s why I was delighted to receive a gift from Bloodaxe Books in the post this week which ties my past and present together nicely.

Beloved – 81 poems from Hafez, published by Bloodaxe Books

Poetry books were what I loved most growing up and as such I spent many happy days indoors reading and writing. My earliest memories are of being read to by my mum and it will come as no surprise that those memories are also among my happiest.

Eager to encourage me in my writing, my mum suggested I enter the Evening Chronicle Poetry Competition in 1986. Every year over 1,000 people would enter the competition, sponsored by Bloodaxe Books. The 20 winners in both the adult and junior sections all had their poems published in the newspaper, which at the time had a readership of half a million!

It was one of my proudest days at the age of 10 to be announced as one of the winners of that competition and it fuelled my imagination for the future. Without Bloodaxe Books, I might not have gone on to become a published poet or writer.

My love of verse probably also explains why I married a Persian as Iran is a poetry-loving culture and that has become part of the country’s identity in a way that is true of very few other cultures … even here in the UK.

There are very few Persians who can’t quote lines of Hafez’s poetry to you when you meet them … even H, who I admit is more of a numbers man.

Hafez is one of the most important Persian poets and mystics of all-time and the 14th Century writer is a source of national pride. I consider myself extremely lucky to have had the privilege of getting to know a culture which is almost unknown in the West.

I am thrilled therefore that Bloodaxe Books have published ‘Beloved’ for a Western audience which draws upon 81 poems from Hafez. Translated by Mario Petrucci, the book covers Hafez’s core subjects including love, the enjoyment of life, sorrow and loss.

The challenge of translating any of Hafez’s works into English is no mean feat as H will tell you. The poems are extremely ambiguous and can be read in different ways, but that’s what makes them so special. They are filled with the emotional possibilities in life which ultimately means Hafez’s words can be all things to all people.

Hafez Mausoleum in Shiraz, Iran

In Persian tradition, when someone faces a fork in the road or has a question, they consult fal-e Hafez for guidance. I did myself in Darband in Northern Tehran and again a few years later in the garden of Hafez’s Mausoleum in Shiraz.

fal-e Hafez involves a canary being lowered over a little box of coloured cards. The bird pulls out a card at random with its beak and on the back of the card is a poem by Hafez.

Traditionally, the first line upon which your eyes fall, gives you the answer to your direct question. The rest of the Ghazal gives further clarification. Hafez has certainly inspired me (with H’s help too) in recent months with answers, guidance and direction!

If you’d like to read more of Hafez’s work, the book is £12 and can be bought from www.bloodaxebooks.com

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