Haleh Liza is a poet, vocalist, translator, and educator, born in New York of Iranian descent. She's inspired most by the poetic mysticism of her Persian heritage, the animist songs she discovered in the lush Amazon, and the lives and work of an endless list of artists, Meredith Monk, Mary Oliver, John Coltrane, Oumou Sangare, Bjork, Wislawa Symorska, James Baldwin, Tolstoy, Tomas Transtromer, Nina Simone, and many more.
Haleh is currently completing a series of poems and songs dedicated to the river she grew up on and is continuing her work on a translation project of Rumi poems. Her poems have been published by Columbia University Press, Rattapallax Press, Beyond Borders, and Howl. She has recited her poems and translations at various venues including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Fetzer Institute’s Gathering on Love and Forgiveness, Verses of Hope hosted by Brainpickings, and the Taos Poetry Festival. She has led workshops in which she explores Rumi’s poetry and mystical themes that run through his work at Dartmouth University, University of Cincinnati, MCLA, and the Wanderlust festival.
As a vocalist, Haleh enjoys singing in English, Persian, Spanish, Portuguese, and in no language at all, just open syllables. With her current project and past projects, Haale and The Mast, she has played venues such as Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival, the David Byrne-curated series at Carnegie Hall, the Bonnaroo Festival, UNC Chapel Hill, Celebrate Brooklyn, and the World Music Fest in Chicago. With longtime collaborator Matt Kilmer, she has shared the stage with artists such as Reggie Watts, Hugh Maskela, Salif Keita, Odetta, Blonde Redhead, and Steve Gorn.
Haleh enjoys facilitating singing and chanting circles in Brooklyn, in which she also shares mystical poems by Rumi to allow for open discussion between chants and songs. She believes group singing strengthen bonds within community, fosters helming and joy, and enables us both to step out of the self and not the we, and to dissolve in the beauty of sound and harmony.
Haleh received her BS in Biology from Stanford U and her MFA from CCNY in Poetry, where she completed a thesis of original poems as well as translations of the Iranian poet Sohrab Sepehri, for which she received an Academy of American Poets Prize and the Goodman Grant for Poetry.
Haleh lives in Brooklyn.
Here's what's on my mind these days:
1- Hudson (beloved, polluted, polluted, and still beloved river of my life; dream axis through my elementary years; mirror of human recklessness and human resilience)
2- Amazon (river running through the green heart of the world, healing heart of the world)
3- Persian river of mystical poetry (the good mother in my life)
What polluted the Hudson --a culture of consumerism, a lust for dominion, an addiction to adrenalin, a deep forgetting -- also left its mark on my psyche. I went to the jungle (perhaps to recover), to listen to the insect and bird polyrhythms and melodies, to soak in a subculture/superculture that carries a deep reverence for nature. I was struck first by the songs I heard.
"A lo lejos, a lo lejos oigo un canto enamorado de un pájaro. Ese pájaro es mi abuela. Es mi abuela que canta un canto enamorado. Canta, canta, y canta."
The lines translate to:
"From far away, I hear the love song of a bird. That bird is my grandmother. It is my grandmother who sings that love song. She sings, and sings, and sings."
Another songs says: "Pajaro viejo...cantame, recuérdame!'
"Old bird, sing to me, REMIND ME!"
Over the past 8 years, I've been learning songs like these that some people say spring out of the jungle, out of the plants, out of the waters, songs that connect with us with the pulse of the earth. The songs have been balms for my soul and have surprisingly resuscitated my longing to return to my Persian heritage and dive into the poetry.
Here are a couple lines from two of his ghazals I've been translating:
Free yourself from the tyranny of self!
Be humble as soil and you will see every speck of soil is intoxicated with existence.
And, in another:
The ocean I am drowned in itself.
How wondrous to be a shoreless ocean.
Rumi has a poem called "If Wheat Sprouts from My Grave" (see homepage) in which he offers his very liberating take on death:
If wheat sprouts from my grave and if you bake bread from it, expect to get drunk!
The baker and the dough will lose their minds. The oven will rattle off ecstatic verse.
The Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska said, in her poem "A Few Words on the Soul:"
Joy and Sorrow
aren't two different feelings for the soul.
[The soul] attends us
only when the two are joined. (Translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak)
This ability to accept mortality, and to carry both joy and sorrow is so important.
When I look upon the river I grew up on, and the rivers of this world, many polluted by PCB's, CSO's, oil leaks, and some by radioactive tritium leaks, I feel outrage and sorrow, emotions I stuffed away for so long, turning part of me to stone.
The waters need us all to be awake and feeling. Underneath outrage is sadness and underneath sadness is that unmistakable fire of love that can drive a stone to purpose. The waters need us to be courageous and joyous too.
To "feel the pulse of the real all along its bandwidth, from the visible to the invisible," (someone once said in relation to Robert Bly's writing)----this is a form of courage. This is the age of repair, not paralyzing despair. Repair, repair. There is always the possibility for resurrection. For transformation. For joy and harmony.