March 12, 2012

New Worlds

"Speak a new language so that the world will be a new world."  Rumi

Once in awhile, a few words can rise like a wave and break. Like these. I heard them on the radio, an interview by Krista Tippett on NPR: "The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi with Fatemeh Keshavarz."

As a poet, I consider the craft and vision of this sentence.  So few words, and two are repeated: new and world. It's written as a command: speak a new language! There's cause and effect, departure and arrival; there is an authority in the voice, a knowing, a mystery.  Somehow, like a wave that breaks on the beach and bounces back, the words fall back, rearrange themselves in my mind.  These are words translated, a world translated.

Keshavarz was speaking about Iran, but this applies to many things.  She also uses the poem in such a way that it rises and breaks like a wave and then meets other waves in a back wash.  It is often the case that poetry has this sort of resonance.  Keshavarz said:

"Language can take over our lives and make us not see things. He [Rumi] actually has a fabulous verse, he says (Persian spoken). "Speak a new language so that the world will be a new world." I mean this is the most sophisticated, philosophical approach to language. Now we talk of language as being constitutive of experience, but that's exactly what he said. You know, 'get yourself a new language and then you will be able to see a new world.' So that the world will be a new world, speak a new language. The world will be a new world, so speak a new language.  Speak so the world will be new.  Speak!  It is what the world needs."

Of course, we are born into a language that we grow up speaking. Besides learning another tongue, I think Rumi is also talking about discovering the untried in one's own language:  new words in new places.

Next time you are working on a poem, try this.  Get a dictionary, or use the lingo from a particular field of study or work (think of boats, technologies, specialized fields of knowledge), or reach into your own history to find the interesting phrases or foreign words that came into your life.  Think about the unique ways that we talk in church, in a medical facility, in a math class, to a lover, or to an authority. Try transferring that to another context.  Get out of the rut of the usual and expected things, and try the unexpected.

Random or aleotropic techniques can help you break out of a tired pattern.  Look up the noun or verb that you want to change, count down seven words in the dictionary and try that word. Collect words from the eleventh line and fifth word in from any book and use them to make a poem.  Close your eyes and let your finger fall onto a page of the Bible, a cookbook, a repair manual, a dictionary, or a newspaper.  Take that word and make a poem.  Make a poem by collage.  Make a poem that names seven different shades of a color.  Experiment.

Language is a sea that we navigate. See if you can find a new shore.  

To listen to the interview between Krista Tippett and Fatemeh Keshavarz, go to

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