Two distinct cultures were fused together last Wednesday in a public reading of poetry by Roger Sedarat as a part of the first Visiting Writers event presented by the Department of English and World Languages.
Roger Sedarat is an Iranian-American poet and translator. His translations have appeared in such publications as “World Literature Today” and the “Drunken Boat.”
Sedarat merges traditional Persian verse with post-modern American poetic tradition to create a style of poetry that reflects his own unique heritage. Sedarat often incorporates political themes in his poetry that confronts the oppressive government of Iran.
Jonathan Fink, associate professor and director of creative writing, introduced Sedarat to a full room of students in the Argonaut Athletic Club on Feb. 20.
“One of the great pleasures of Roger Sedarat’s poetry resides in Roger’s ability to combine political and social indictment with the ambiguity and complexity of personal experience,” Fink said. “Roger’s work goes beyond the familiar role of the poet that is witnessed and instead investigates the paradoxical powers and inadequacies of both social justice and language itself.”
Sedarat, an associate professor in the Master of Fine Arts program at Queens College, City University of New York, is the author of two poetry collections, “Dear Regime: Letters to the Islamic Republic,” which was published in 2007 and received the Hollis Summers Poetry Prize, and “Ghazal Games,” published in 2011. Sedarat is currently translating a collection of poems by the 14th century Persian poet, Hafez.
During the poetry reading, Sedarat read excerpts from his collections. The excerpts included “Unknown Aboth,” profound letters addressing the politics of Iran and erotic expressions of love and hysterical poems that mocked the invention of Facebook and a Persian rendition of the nursery rhyme “This Little Piggy,” instead called “This Little Hagi.”
Sedarat also shared personal stories related to his poetry and engaged the audience in a poetry game that taught them how to write a ghazal. A ghazal is a traditional Persian form of poetry that is composed of five to fifteen couplets that are the same length but can contain different themes and emotions.
Sedarat told the audience that imitation works best when developing their own personal writing style.
“The best teacher for you is the books you are going to read and rhetorical models of the masters,” he said.
After the poetry reading, Sedarat answered questions from students in the audience about everything from the craft of literary translation to the difference between writing free verse poetry and poetry that follows a form.
Fink said that he met Sedarat years ago while attending the Breadloaf Writer’s Conference, a prestigious writing workshop held in Middlebury, Vt.
Fink also said that the Visiting Writers series encourages students to become familiar with the work of current writers.
“A lot of times students will have the misconception that no one who writes poetry is still alive,” he said. “So I think it’s great that you can have writers who are currently practicing and are relevant at what they’re doing, and they can answer a lot of the questions from a practical perspective that students are working with themselves.”
Fink said that he invited Sedarat because he admired his talent as a writer and translator.
“When you work as a translator, you’re not just creating your own work, but you’re acknowledging the previous work that came before you and helping to carry that material to a new audience.”
Christy Slack, a senior English major, said that she attended the event because she is interested in the art of translation and can relate to Sedarat.
“I just love listening to creative writers,” she said. “I read their work. It’s definitely different to listen to them read their own work because it flows differently from when I read it. Also, he definitely had a different appeal to me from the other creative writers that we’ve invited, especially since he has dual citizenship, and I have dual citizenship in Japan.”
The next writer in the Visiting Writers series will be United States Poet Laureate Natasha Trethaway, who will speak at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition March 28 at 6 p.m.