I’m fascinated by the pairing of WJD, Iranian-born and Toronto-based writer and translator Khashayar Mohammadi’s second full-length collection, with The OceanDweller by Mashhad-born poet and translator Saeed Tavanaee Marvi, translated into English from the Farsi by Mohammadi. With two separate collections paired in such a way, one immediately wonders: how are these two texts in conversation, if at all? Is this a pairing of logic, or of opportunity? How do the poems of one impact the poems of the other? Or is it akin to bpNichol’s suggestion of the poems (his argument for elements of his multiple-volume epic, The Martyrology) connecting through all being composed by the same hand, both sides seen through the lens of poet and translator Khashayar Mohammadi’s ongoing poetic?
Mohammadi’s WJD is a follow-up to the full-length debut, Me, You, Then Snow (Guelph ON: Gordon Hill Press, 2021), a book of lyric compassion, epistolary gestures, film references and porn stars, and first-person explorations of memory, dreams, desire and personal histories. Leaning further into the lyric of meditation and song, the poems of WJD are set as a triptych of poem-suites: “The Naïve Sufi,” “Hafez Displeased” and “Ravaan.” Extending the lyric examinations of Me, You, Then Snow, the poems in this new collection seem to attempt a wider perception and deeper clarity, stretching across the landscape while seeking the possibility of deeper spiritual wisdom and security. “death means / new vision,” Mohammadi offers, as part of the opening section, “word came: / The mystic as child // same city with / newfound eyes / new shades of red [.]” Seeking new ways to see what may already be familiar, Mohammadi offers the lyric as a meditative form, seeking solace and a path through a landscape populated with trauma, personal history, adulthood and the collisions of language and culture, between points of origin and where they currently reside. “I was miserable / in a different tongue,” Mohammadi writes, as part of the poem “Kooshk” in the second section, “I feel it on cloudy days / am hungry in a different tongue / a spoonful of medicine delirious / past midnight and moonlit chests / watched for each breath [.]”
There feels a considerable weight that the narrator of these poems is seeking to work through. “I’m here writing in split-screen,” Mohammadi writes, as part of the poem “Psychotic’s Prayer or the Sufi Path to Synthetic Nihilo,” “right hand in childhood / picking orange blossoms / for thickets of memory / left hand typing / what is there to keep me from reliving childhood / cheating time to relive and relive and relive [.]” Or the following poem, titled “Two Centuries of Silence, / or How I Became a Reliable Narrator.” Offering a trajectory begun in the prior collection, these poems seek to navigate a path forward throug the lyric meditation and conflicts of personal and cultural history, language, culture and experience. How might one easily find clarity through such seeming-complication? Through seeking the correct questions, one might suppose, which this collection certainly manages, despite or even through the struggle. As a selection from the opening section offers:
Who are you?
an entangled presence
a mirror grown into a body
It has been said before
words scramble on
are mere scribbles
a child’s question
Theater only exists
without an audience
Almost as counterpoint, the seventeen poems that make up Saeed Tavanee Marvi’s OceanDweller offer a particular kind of charming, almost wistful, certainty. “it’s comforting to roam the empty metal / chambers of the OceanCruiser past midnight,” he writes, as part of “Endless Corridors of Memory.” He threads through a fantastical narrative, writing across the “OceanDweller” and “OceanCruiser,” even against harsher threads through a poem such as “Southwest Iran, by the Iraq Border,” that includes: “once upon a time / if memory serves / my life was a celebration / filled with joy and goblets of wine / alas the Bible ran its course / as if salvation had abandoned me / that’s how I buoy atop a sea of poetry [.]” The poems offer commentary on memory and dreams, spiritual truths as well as a backdrop of history, war and mysticism, as well as the possibilities that poetry might allow. “war had dried up all ink on the pages,” he writes, mid-way through the three page poem “The Open Tome,” “every day the scripture grew pale / the man had come to once again / overwrite the chronicles of light / so light can remain / since it was only in light / that humanity was possible [.]” There are moments where one can work through these pieces and see each author, each book, as a different side of the same, or at least a similar, coin, watching how each author responds to the difficulties and complications of history, religion, war and the salve of both spirituality and the immense history of poetry, both of which hold the simultaneous possibilities of salvation and failure. Working through difficult times, the poems in these paired collections reveal much, and it is only through such explorations that wisdom arrives, or provides.
Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa, where he is home full-time with the two wee girls he shares with Christine McNair. The author of more than thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, his most recent titles include the poetry collection the book of smaller (University of Calgary Press, 2022), and a suite of pandemic essays, essays in the face of uncertainties (Mansfield Press, 2022). In spring 2020, he won ‘best pandemic beard’ from Coach House Books via Twitter, of which he is extremely proud (and mentions constantly). He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, he now has a substack at https://robmclennan.substack.com/, through which he is attempting to work through a book-length essay, and a couple of other prose projects.