Haleh Liza writes, sings, and translates. She is inspired most by the mystical poetry of her Persian heritage, by the lush jungles of the Amazon where she once roamed, by Brooklyn, by the Hudson, by Dillard, Oliver, and Baldwin, and hikes upstate.
Haleh Liza has toured with past projects Haale and The Mast through the US and Europe playing venues such as the David Byrne-curated series at Carnegie Hall, the Bonnaroo Festival, UNC Chapel Hill, Celebrate Brooklyn the Mimi Fest, and the World Music Fest in Chicago. With longtime collaborator Matt Kilmer, she has shared the stage with such artists as Reggie Watts, Hugh Maskela, Salif Keita, Teebs, Odetta, and Blonde Redhead.
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 and Rattapallax Press. 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.
Haleh received her BS in Biology from Stanford U and her MFA from CCNY in Poetry, where she completed a thesis of original poems and translations of the Iranian poet Sohrab Sepehri.
Haleh lives in Brooklyn.
Here are some notes on what I'm thinking about these days:
1-The 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-The Amazon (river running through the green heart of the world whose vessels are medicine trails )
3-The Persian river of mystical poetry (the good mother in my life)
On the banks of these 3 rivers, I've been awakened more times than anywhere else
What polluted the Hudson --a culture of consumerism, a lust for dominion, addiction to adrenalin, and 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 understanding, knowledge, and connection to nature, to plants, to what they call the healing force of mother nature. More than anything I was struck by the songs.
"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 that some people say spring out of the jungle, out of the plants, out of the waters, songs that when sung, take you back to the jungle. They are gems, and have been balms. And by some cosmic turns, they brought me back to my Persian heritage.
At different phases in my life, I have either been disinterested in the culture of my ancestry, or I've been enamored with it, memorizing and chanting the poems, discussing them and translating. In the last two years, I've been working with my mother to translate Rumi's poetry. She reads the poems aloud in her unbroken Farsi, she explains obscure words, gives me backstories. I live with the poems, let them work on me, and then do my best to translate into English. I'm twenty poems in now.
Here's a couplet by Rumi:
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 ghazal:
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" which I recited in a video (it's on the homepage if you want to hear it) in which he speaks of death. Very liberating, his awareness/acceptance of death, the definition of soulful I guess. The Polish wonder 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)
I think America--and I too, once child of this nation---have been very much afraid of (or unfamiliar with) carrying both joy and sorrow, and very much afraid of mortality. When we look upon the rivers of this nation, many polluted by PCB's, CSO's, oil leaks, and some by radioactive tritium leaks, it is healthy to feel outrage and sorrow, healthy too to feel joy when we see a great blue heron despite all this swoop across the surface of the water. The river needs us to be awake and feeling. At the core of the outrage and sadness is our love, and noticing beauty and feeling wonder cultivates love. We must "feel the pulse of the real all along its bandwidth, from the visible to the invisible" [Bly]---- if we want to make better choices. We ought to. After all, this is the age of repair, not despair. Repair, repair. There is always the possibility for resurrection.