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Sheema Kalbasi incorporates the Iranian understanding that poems should express and contain the unity of the mind, the body, and the soul


January 30, 2007

On the publication of Sheema Kalbasi's book of poetry, "Echoes in Exile":

Every culture and its arts have their strengths; however, within those strengths can also stir the seeds of weakness. One the strengths of Western culture has been the growth of a secular consciousness. The mindset has opened an exploration and questioning of existence that can offset limits that more dogmatic views of life can create. Artistically, this can be seen at its best in the works of T.S. Eliot that are perhaps the height of poetry within the realms of the secular rational perspective. In many ways, we have spent the decades since Eliot attempting to approach the levels of his creations.

In consequence, there has been new limitations placed on serious Western poetry, ones in which the mind is acknowledged but often seen as alienated from its surroundings, the body is denigrated, and the soul is ignored. This inability to reconcile the soul and body with the mind is one of the reasons Western verse in many cases tends to be flat and sere with more concern in how it is constructed than in what it is saying.

To break Western poetry out such confines it needs to discover in poetics from other parts of the world elements that are missing within its verses. The work of Sheema Kalbasi creates such reconciliation by incorporating the Iranian understanding that poems should express and contain the unity of the mind, the body, and the soul. Within this "trichotomy" of her poems is a connection to the world that is missing in much Western verse.

At the same time Kalbasi has taken time to learn Western poetics, obtaining a firm comprehension of how to use it in tandem with Iranian poetics, creating a unique style of verse that brings together many of the strengths of both poetries. Two examples are her poems "New England" and "Sitting Buddha."

"New England" is a true celebration of life offered through the joyous observation of a mother and a wife observing the two most precious people in her life, her daughter and her husband. The poem offers the physical delight within the actions of the child, the sharp observations within Kalbasi's mind, and a spirituality that one can only find within the celebration of family.

The poem is written as Western verse in English, showing a strong grasp of those poetics. The choice for line breaks illustrates an adept understand of the need to create units that compels the reader to pause at the proper moments yet desire to continue, like a brook flowing over a series of waterfalls on its way to a still pond.

She also shows a awareness of internal rhyme schemes within lines with her use of alliteration and assonance as seen by such lines as "Near the beach, sea rocks are thirsty to move " and "She slips the shelves and shadows of." Such subtleties bring an even greater strength to her work.

"Sitting Buddha" is a prose poem, a hybrid of fiction and poetry, and stream of consciousness writing. Kalbasi's successful use of the form is another example of the growing strength of her writing in English with the meter of the poem helping to tie together what could otherwise seem like a series of random images. At the same time, her subject matter is handled in a manner that few Western poets would attempt. She just does not observe the religious figures in her poem but embraces them, swimming in the spirituality of the moment, acknowledging the power of the soul as it wrestles with the mind and the body in the montage of images painted before the reader.

I fully acknowledge that my observations are generalities, but within that context I do believe that the lack of acceptance of the soul within Western writing is a problem that has in many cases reduced its poetry to the rather vapid state where form trumps meaning. It is my sincere hope that infusion of Persian poets into Western writing will continue to help to alleviate such limitations and that perhaps we shall finally move beyond Eliot. Within that context Kalbasi shows a strong ability to merge Western and Iranian poetics into writing that is new, fresh, and exciting. I know of no other who merges the two with more adeptness and skill. Comment

For letters section
To Roger Humes

Roger Humes

Sheema Kalbasi

Arts & Lit

The Poems of Hafez
202 ghazals in English
Translated by Reza Ordoubadian
>>> Excerpt

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