Bwog’s Persian Poetry Aficionado, Sarah Thompson, braved crowds of poetry lovers on Friday to attend the Rumi Night of Poetry. Organized by the Columbia Iranian Students Association, the night was filled with music and the works of Rumi, recited and sung in both English and Persian.
I was one of the lucky ones who snagged a seat (third row, baby!) at the Rumi Night of Poetry—the Lerner Party Space proved too small to comfortably seat all who showed up for the event on Friday night, and dozens of people camped out on the floor. Amir Vahab, the leader of an ensemble of Sufi and folk music, reminded us that people from just as diverse walks of life that we represented would have assembled at the 13th century Persian poet’s home, “sitting just like you all are.” And we were a diverse crowd, though that’s hardly uncommon in New York City or at Columbia, with much of the audience able to grasp the original language and some us only able to absorb the mood of the music. “Your soul grasps it,” Vahab said.
The ensemble of six struck the first chord and waited. Then, with quartertones, “trick” endings, and vocal trills galore, they transported us back eight centuries. Vahad alternated between the Mediterranean-sounding oud and saz, along with the raspy ney. Two women really put their souls into the daf, a large drum, producing complicated rhythms. One man persistently strummed out the jarring (to Western ears) chords on a guitar, while a woman with a voice like honey both shook a percussion instrument and read aloud Rumi’s poetry of love and beauty.
Another man, however, kept a hoard of percussion instruments like I keep a hoard of apples from Ferris in my purse. Just when he seemed to be really getting into a grove with his brown hit-sticks*, he switched to a pair of yellow and green shake-eggs, then to sleigh bells, then to a few pairs of colorful maraca-like instruments, and then to a hollow stick with beads in it, similar to one I made in 3rd grade for our rain dance. This jack-of-all-instruments kept me on edge while the poetry of Rumi and Hafiz lulled me into a trance.
As someone with absolutely no connections to the Iranian culture, I was impressed by the ability of the Columbia Iranian Students Association’s event to seize my attention through the soulful, varied music and the timeless poetry. (I was also impressed by the impeccable shoe choices of the ensemble—I digress.) For a few hours, the backgrounds of the members of the audience didn’t matter. For a few hours, we were all contentedly sitting on the floor of Rumi’s home, listening to a universal language. Like Rumi wrote, “When you feel a peaceful joy, that’s when you are near truth.”
*Note: these are not actual names, nor are they meant to degrade the cool sounds produced by them
Gorgeous old book via Wikimedia Commons