Hafiz’s Little Book of Life

Constructing a manuscript is a journey of wonder – beginning long before the writing the initial capital letter of the first word – & not over by marking the last period at the end of the final sentence. Indeed, now that it’s out, & I’m outside of it, the wonderment continues, as I’ve commenced a course of lifelong study of the book’s meanings to me. This was the initial page for it & now it’s the antechamber. Please proceed to the book’s page on the web.

if I never publish another book, I know my heart two hands have touched the ripening sweet fruit within the fragrant flowers at the uppermost of the tallest of trees.

If you wish to linger here, a moment longer, here’s my recollection as to where this one all began …


So, there I was — pounding the pavement (in my sandals), knocking on doors of publishers, with a query letter and proposal for The Book of Absence, a translation collaboration between Erfan Mojib and me. Publishing veteran Greg Brandenburgh had once tapped me to endorse a book of his, so he was on my list. He said, “No thank you – but … ” … and asked if we might be interested in translating Hafez. At Hampton Roads he’d recently brought forth 3 excellent editions of Rumi**, translated by Maryam Mafi  and Azima Melita Kolin in their new Little Book of … series [ Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Sufi stories, Kahlil Gibran, Meister Eckhart (translated as poetry), and so on ].

I was honored yet also aware of the legendary untranslatability of Hafèz. And yet, as poet Robert Kelly once put it, every language is a second language. So I relayed the invitation to Erfan Mojib. A couple of days later, Erfan showed me some pages from Wine, by most renowned filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami. There, he’d isolate a single line, as if a close-up, then edited the line into several lines of a poem unto itself.

We tried a couple & they looked good. Hampton Roads agreed. But they said they’d need more than one poem per page. So we agreed to let the poems dictate their placement on the page. Erfan & I then enjoyed a paradise of collaboration, across a GoogleDoc with GoogleDuo (now GoogleMeet). Showing the manuscript to Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr. and Iraj Anvar, for vetting the Persian, opened up a second realm of collaboration. A third divine collaboration occurred when it came time to transform manuscript into print. Zoom became the medium of choice as Kathryn Sky-Peck reviewed the typography with us (herself, a poet painter dancer). Ari Honarvar generously provided a splendid introduction.

* The publisher is aware that the Persian pronunciation would be Hafez. Yet they have bowed to the spelling initially recommended by the Library of Congress and as used today in the field of Islamic scholarship. 
** As Omid Safi once put it, if Rumi is a tumultuous ocean of love, Hafiz is an illuminated and many-faceted diamond.

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