Saturday, May 17, 2014

Poems from Overtipping the Ferryman
A New Collection by R. G. Evans

Month without a Moon

Any night I like, I can rise instead of the moon
that has forgotten us, not a thought of our sad lot,
and roam the darkened oblongs of the dunes.

Once you said the moon was some pale god
who turned away his face to cause the tides,
and once you said that, I of course believed

that you were mad. Now the ghost crab guides
me to the edge where land is not land, sea not sea,
and all the sky above is one dark dream.

This is the month with no full moon. You
were its prophet, and I am standing on the seam
between belief and what I know is true.

I gave you a diamond. It should have been a pearl.
It should have been a stone to hang above the world.


What is smoke? my daughter asks
beside a campfire I can’t quite get to flame.

I know it’s not a liquid, she says.
Is it a gas? Is it a solid?

Simple. Straightforward. Something
I should know, I’m sure.

I start to say it’s what’s left
when the wood gives up the ghost,

but then I think of ash—
I always think of ash,

how it’s something but nothing,
what’s left when something’s gone.

There was a woman, then there was ash
her husband and the men she loved

scattered on the beach. The wind
wouldn’t let her stay there where she wanted.

My mother, seeding cancer, more ash
than paper dangling from her Lucky Strike.

What is it? my daughter says.
Nothing, I respond.

No, she says, what is smoke? I say
It’s what I make instead of fire.

Experts on Mortality

She makes her first announcement—I awake—
then springs out of her crib just like a toad.

Something in the trees, some movement,
some violence, makes it hard to forget

today. The chase is on. Daddy Death
rumbles down the stairs right behind his little

skeleton-in-waiting, out the door and into the wind—
she's gone. But no, she's there behind the hemlocks

giggling under branches that creak and groan
like everything alive. She points up in the air

says, Look! Look!—and there it is at the end
of her invisible string, the only thing she has,

all that he can give her:
a sky-blue kite in a kite-blue sky.

Reprinted by permission of the poet from Overtipping the Ferryman (Aldrich Press 2014).

For an interview with Evans, listen to this podcast from Ron Block’s Writers’ Roundtable from Rowan University.
R. G. Evans on Rowan University Radio

Evans has been invited to read from Overtipping the Ferryman at the Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark, NJ, in October.

R.G. Evans’s poems, fiction, and reviews have appeared in The Literary Review, Pif Magazine, MARGIE, and Weird Tales among others. His book Overtipping the Ferryman won the 2013 Aldrich Prize and was published by Aldrich Press. He writes, teaches, and sings in southern New Jersey.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Path to Recovery Precarious
in poem by R. G. Evans

Many Feet Going
by R. G. Evans

What they don't tell you
is that it's a tightrope walk
and you will be nude, body
all counterweights and pendulums.
They give you a parasol
(too small, a little frayed),
a bright red nose that makes you easy
to track, and a time limit (too short).
If you find the rope is slack,
that's normal. Keep going.
You're young and strong.
Don't be distracted
by the piles of bones below
(Boob! You thought you were
the first?)—but they are:
waxy winged, chained to rocks,
gnawed through the ribs by raptors.
Your rope has been greased
by the soles of many feet going
one way, all the while
believing they have a choice,
believing they might make it.

"Many Feet Going" reprinted by permission of the poet. Appeared in After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events, an anthology of 152 poems by 115 poets from 15 nations.

Interview with R. G. Evans

How did you come to write “Many Feet Going”?

The image of the tragicomic clown gingerly navigating his way on a tightrope over the abyss came to me after reading Beckett’s great Waiting for Godot. As I said at a reading in support of After Shocks, I didn’t realize “Many Feet Going” actually was a poem about recovery until I submitted it to the anthology. Now, I can’t see it any interpretation for it other than a way of looking at that precarious path.

How did writing this poem affect your recovery?

Well, as I said, the path is precarious. In the poem there are two primary images: the clown on the tightrope and the bones below of those who tried unsuccessfully to make the passage before him. Sometimes I’m the clown, sometimes I’m the pile of bones.

Photo of R. G. Evans by Mark Hillringhouse

Can you tell us something about your process of writing that helped "Many Feet Going" come to life?

Once I read Godot, the image of man as a tragic hobo-clown became firmly lodged in my consciousness. Then I began to imagine how we often try to achieve goals that are just beyond our reach or forbidden to us in some way (hence the bones of Icarus and Prometheus lying under the tightrope in the poem), and the tightrope walk proceeded logically from that premise.

Who are your favorite poets or poets new to you whom you'd recommend to others?

I always return to the classics: Shakespeare, Yeats, Rilke, to name a few. Contemporary poets whom I admire greatly are Stephen Dunn, Sharon Olds, Charles Simic, and Russell Edson. I recently discovered the twin poets Matthew and Michael Dickman, and highly recommend them, especially to adolescent readers.

What are you working on now?

Since the very recent publication of my collection Overtipping the Ferryman, I’ve been working on a collection of poems inspired by Cyril Connolly’s book An Unquiet Grave. I felt a very personal resonance with that book in the same way I did when I first read Waiting for Godot and its epigrammatic style really lends itself to writing prompts for poems.

R.G. Evans’s poems, fiction, and reviews have appeared in The Literary Review, Pif Magazine, MARGIE, and Weird Tales among others. His book Overtipping the Ferryman won the 2013 Aldrich Prize and was published by Aldrich Press. He writes, teaches, and sings in southern New Jersey.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Majid Naficy
Iranian-American Poet
Profile of Idealism, Tragedy
and Renewal

It's no surprise that Majid Naficy begins his biography with the reading of a poem, but the poem's horrifying significance becomes clear only has his life story unfolds in the Voice of America Portrait, now available with English subtitles.

Eight paces from the gate,
Sixteen paces toward the wall.
Which scroll speaks of this treasure?

Oh, earth!
If only I could feel your pulse
Or make a jug out of your body.
Alas! I'm not a physician.
I'm not a potter.
I am only an heir, deprived,
wandering in search of a marked treasure.

Oh, hand that will bury me,
This is the mark of my tomb:
Eight paces from the gate,
Sixteen paces toward the wall.
In the Cemetery of the Infidels.

Majid started writing poems at 10 while living in Isfahan, Iran, and gave his first book of poems to his older brother Hamid on his 21st birthday. It contained “Elegy of Myself” inspired by Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” His brother showed the poems to Iranian poets, who brought the young boy into workshops, and soon he began publishing in Iranian journals, with the blessings of iconic Iranian poets F. Farrokhzad and A. Shamlou.

Majid became known as one of The New Wave poets in Iran and critics called him Iran’s Arthur Rimbaud.

He published poetry, criticism, and a children’s book The Secret of Words on the origins of language, which won The Royal Book Prize in 1971.

He joined the Iranian Students Confederation and became a devoted Marxist, and wrote poetry and essays under aliases bent to reform Iran, which at the time was ruled by the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlevi.

Majid met his wife Ezzat Tabaiyan in a coffee shop near Teheran University, where they both were students. They were married in 1979.

They were both involved in the Revolution that brought the new regime to power with the overthrow of the Shah in 1979, invading the headquarters of the SAVAK (secret police of the Shah) and conquering Evin Prison, where political prisoners were held.

However, they soon ran afoul of the new regime, led by Ayatollah Khomeini. They were both members of an organization called “Struggle for The Liberations of the Working Class,” which took two very critical stands against Khomeini: they objected to the taking of American diplomats as hostages after the revolutionaries stormed the U.S. Embassy Teheran in 1979 and they voiced opposition to the Iran-Iraq war of 1980. Ezzat was executed by firing squad on January 7, 1982 with 50 men and one other woman, all buried in unmarked graves in Khavaran Cemetery, known as the Cemetery of the Infidels. Families were obliged to determine the burial locations by measuring paces.

The poem above recounts those graveyard searches, and is entitled:

Marked Treasure
             in memory of my late wife Ezzat Tabaiyan

“She gave her life for freedom,” Majid says, “and freedom is always a precious pledge for me, which I will try to live up to, for myself, for people in the United States, and for people of Iran, my birthplace.”

The revolutionary tribunals also condemned his brother Sa’id and brother-in-law Hossein to the firing squads.

A year after his wife’s execution, he met Esmat, his second wife, and together they escaped to Turkey in 1983, just steps ahead of his own arrest, and eventually, after a brief stay in France, made their way to Los Angeles.

Majid Naficy

The grief and stress of those horrifying years caused an emotional crisis during which “poetry invaded me like a waterfall.” During this time, he wrote 111 poems in 4 months, producing a collection of poetry, After the Silence and many anthologized poems in both Persian and English. He realized he had become the voice for “my fallen comrades in that stolen revolution.”

A stanza of his poem “Ah, Los Angeles” is engraved on a wall along the pathways in Venice, California, along with 15 other poets who’ve written poems about the city.

Ah, Los Angeles!
Let me bend down and put my ear
To your warm skin.
Perhaps in you
I will find my own Sanjan.

He says that the stanza—from a much longer poem, posted in full in the blog item just below this one—represents a question: Can Iranians create a as strong a community in Los Angeles as the one created by Persians in Sanjan, India, after Persia was invaded during the Muslims Conquests of the 7th Century.

In the profile, Majid opens only a small window to his writing process. “For me, writing poetry comes from the subconscious. Most of the time, I first write my poems in Persian, and then I translate them to English. Only after that do I start to edit them.

“I have run 12 consecutive LA marathons, and always reached the finish line for all of them. Always, during the running, poems come to me. Parallel to by body perspiration, I have a mental cleansing as well. Many of my new poems come to me…when I’m pedaling my stationary bike on my balcony.”

Who are his favorite poets?

”I still read Walt Whitman now and then. He inspired me to write poetry when I was 10 years old. I also like to read classical Persian poets such as Ferdowsi, Rumi, Sa’di, Hafez Nezami, and Khayyam as well as contemporary Persian poets such as Nima Yushij, Ahmad Shamlu, Forough Farokhzad and Sohrab Sepehri.”

“Majid’s poetry is becoming an exception in Persian literature,” says Poet and critic Parto Nooriala. “He creates modern poetry relying on deep emotion and deep knowledge about classical Persian literature.”

“I consider myself part of that global movement in which people seek freedom and social justice,” he says. “This movement is not defined by any ideology or religion.”

His son Azad was born in Santa Monica. [Azadi is the Persian word for freedom.] Majid cultivated roots in this second homeland. His son Azad writes hip-hop lyrics and there’s a fine example of one of his raps in the video.

The profile closes with a view from Majid and Azad of the father’s slowly degenerating vision, which became evident when he was very young, diagnosed as degenerative spots on his retinas by U.S. physicians. It had been controllable, until he climbed Mt. Whitney in 2001, and altitude sickness caused the condition to worsen. Majid is nearly blind, though can get around on foot and via public transportation.

“My eyesight impairment is an obstacle,” he says, “but its challenges polish my spirit and lead me to new possibilities. Blindness has made me humble, and brought me to understand the injustice to others, religious persecution, women under double oppression, or the homeless and poor.”

To a Snail

Little wanderer!
Were you not afraid of my big foot
Crushing you?
Last night, in the rain
You crept into my sneaker
To find shelter.
You return to your green birthplace
And I am jealous.

Majid Naficy, the Arthur Rimbaud of Persian poetry, fled Iran in 1983, a year and a half after the execution of his wife Ezzat Tabaian, his brother Sa’id, and brother-in-law Hossein in Tehran. Since 1984 Majid has been living in West Los Angeles. He has published two collections of poetry in English Muddy Shoes (Beyond Baroque, Books, 1999) and Father and Son (Red Hen Press, 2003) as well as his doctoral dissertation at UCLA Modernism and Ideology in Persian Literature (University Press of America, 1997). Majid has also published more than twenty books of poetry and essays in Persian. Majid Naficy's poetry has been anthologized in many books including Poetry in the Windows edited by Suzanne Lummis, Poets Against War edited by Sam Hamill, Strange Times My Dear: The Pen Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature edited by Nahid Mozaffari and Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, Lounge Lit: An Anthology of Poetry and Fiction by the Writers of Literati Cocktail and Rhapsodomancy, Belonging: New Poetry by Iranians around the World edited by Niloufar Talebi, After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events edited by Tom Lombardo, Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing edited by Ilan Stavans, Revolutionary Poets Brigade Anthology edited by Jack Hirschman and Mark Lipman, and Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here edited by Beau Beausoleil and Deema Shehabi.

Majid is one of the six poets featured in the film Poetry of Resilience directed by the Oscar-nominated documentary film-maker Katja Esson. He was the first writer in residence in Annenberg Community Beach House, Santa Monica in 2009-10, and the judge for Interboard Poetry Community contests in 2009. Majid has received awards in two poetry contests, Poetry in the Windows sponsored by the Arroyo Arts Collective as well as Poetry and Recipe organized by Writers at Work in Los Angeles. His poetry has been engraved by the City in public spaces in Venice Beach and Studio City. His life and work was featured in LA Weekly, February 9-15, 2001 written by Louise Steinman, entitled "Poet of Revolution: Majid Naficy's Tragic Journey Home".