Stephanie Sauer in Full Stop:
Stephanie Sauer: I, like many North Americans, grew up with Rumi’s verses infusing everything from New Age philosophies to coffee mug artwork, though his actual life and theological background remained vague. The front flap description of Moon and Sun poignantly reminds us that, “Rumi has the unique honor of being recognized as America’s best loved poet today, though he was a Muslim who lived eight hundred years ago and wrote in Persian.” Why was it important to you to re-contextualize Rumi for readers today?
Zara Houshmand: As an Iranian American, I’ve lived under the shadow of conflict between my two homes for much of my life, and it seemed to me that there was a strange irony there, a potentially fertile blind spot, and a possible bridge in Rumi’s popularity in America today. If he were alive today, Rumi probably wouldn’t get a visa to enter this country, though he’s clearly under our skin regardless.
It’s a commonplace that every generation deserves a new translation of the classics – presumably one that reframes them in terms of contemporary taste, though it may also reflect the evolution of scholarship. The wildly popular Coleman Barks versions are described as that kind of reframing in their origin story – Robert Bly directing Barks to “release these poems from their cages.” The cages in question were the translations of an earlier generation of British orientalists, whose scholarship was groundbreaking, but whose diction seems dated and alien to Americans now.