About the Author
About the Book(s)
Echoes in Exile is a rich collection of poetry describing Iran and Middle Eastern politics. The poems are intimate, painted in a form that makes the unthinkable familiar. Sheema Kalbasi is the first poet of Middle Eastern heritage who demonstrates her concerns for the mistreatments of religious and ethnic minorities. She humanizes the Iranian people to the international community. This book can be viewed as a memoir and be displayed alongside Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran or Marjan Satrapi's Persepolis. Sheema believes that in light of the current political situation between Iran and the United States her words bring an important message to be shared by both cultures. Her work as a poet and translator confirm that the beauty and strength to convey the vast spectrum of emotions through language are exclusive to no country or culture.
Seven Valleys of Love, compiled and translated by Sheema Kalbasi, is written with a piercing clarity and a profound intensity of emotion. Kalbasi’s ability to preserve the integrity and poetical sensibility of the work is evident in her mastery of language, editing, and translation. Seven Valleys of Love is a vibrant celebration of extraordinary women’s voices. The colorful and lively verses in this dazzling collection emerge as small, quiet explosions out of the shadows of hopelessness and seek to inspire and restore peace, hope, and harmony in its people. This stunning anthology of love and loss bears witness to a passionate and sorrowful longing, a deep plaintiveness for the ageless plight of expression.
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.
– Roger Humes, International Poetry Editor, Harvest International Magazine
Kalbasi's poetry is generous and abundantly human, passionate and compassionate.
- Jimmy Santiago Baca, author of Immigrants in Our Own Land
Sheema Kalbasi's poems speak of love, loss, and life in exile. They are the poems of a human rights activist passionate with the hope of peace. Kalbasi's poetry exposes the deep heart of a woman who is compassionate with suffering and full of the joy of life, of the innocence of a child, the knowledge of a woman, the aspirations of a peacemaker. These are stirring poems with a worldly view, both accessible and imaginative. They make an excellent cross-cultural exchange that demonstrates our universal humanity.
- Daniela Gioseffi, author of Women on War: International Writings
Through compassion and wisdom Sheema Kalbasi weaves the world together with her vivid words. World history is not national, it is international, and in her words, I found traces of my history, my life, my grief, and my desires. Sheema, a world citizen, shows in this powerful book, that just as the Earth is gold at its core, moving hot liquid, she does too.