When did you first publish poetry?
In 1965, when I was 13, “Jong”, a prestigious literary journal, published two of my poems in Isfahan, Iran.
Who were your influences?
First and foremost, Walt Whitman. When I was 11, two bilingual collections of poetry by Walt Whitman and Robert Frost were published in Iran. I did not like Frost’s book because the Persian translator had composed it in meter and ruined the English poetry. But Whitman’s Leaves of Grass was translated in free verse and had kept the free spirit of the original. One of my first poems was written after Whitman’s “A Song of Myself.” Among modernist Iranian poets, I loved Nima Yushij’s nature poetry, Ahmad Shamlu’s protest and love poems, Forough Farokhzad’s feminine sensitivity and Sohrab Sepehri’s nature-mystic poetry. Among Persian classics, I read Ferdowsi’s epics, Rumi’s mystical poetry, Sa’di’s humanistic verse and prose, Hafez’ lyrics, and Nezami’s narrative romances. Many of these works are available today in English.
Why were you called the Rimbaud of Persian poetry?
Like Arthur Rimbaud, I started very early. My poems were published in prestigious literary magazine like “Arash” next to poems of Forough Farokhzad. Like Rimbaud, who became involved in the 1871 Paris commune uprising, I was active in the 1979 Revolution against the monarchy in Iran. After its consolidation, the new theocratic regime killed many secular revolutionaries, including my wife Ezzat and my brother Sa’id. I fled Iran and finally settled in Los Angeles in 1984.
Did you get involved with any American literary groups?
I lived in Venice beach for seven years, where I went to Wednesdays’ poetry workshop in the Beyond Baroque Literary Center. My first collection of poems in English, Muddy Shoes, was published by Beyond Baroque Books in 1999. The city of Venice engraved one stanza of my poem “Ah Los Angeles” on a public wall at Boardwalk and Brooks. This poem was a turning point for me as an exile. It starts with these lines: “Ah, Los Angeles!/ I accept you as my city/ And after ten years/ I am at peace with you.”
Why did you call your second collection of poems in English Father and Son?
It contains poems that I wrote as a single parent for my son Azad, from the time he was an embryo until he turned 12. Now Azad performs rap and hip-hop music and is a songwriter and producer.
Do you write your poetry in English?
I write poetry in Persian and then translate it into English. In 1993, as a visually impaired student I went to UCLA in order to get my doctorate in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures. There, an elderly friend, Harriet Tannenbaum, whom I met through the Office for Students with Disabilities, helped me with editing my translation. For the last ten years, my girlfriend, Wendy, has helped me with my editing .
It is said that there are close to half a million Iranians living in the Los Angeles area. Do you have any Iranian friends in Los Angeles who write poetry?
Since 1989, I have been a member of an Iranian-American literary circle that meets on the first Saturday of the month. We’re mostly poets and writers reading and critiquing each other’s works.
Have any of your poems been anthologized?
My poetry has been anthologized in many books, including Poetry in the Windows, edited by Suzanne Lummis; Poets Against the War, edited by Sam Hamill; Strange Times My Dear: The Pen Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature, edited by Nahid Mozaffari and Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak; Lounge Lit: An Anthology of Poetry and Fiction by the Writers of Literati Cocktail and Rhapsodomancy, Belonging: New Poetry by Iranians around the World, edited by Niloufar Talebi; After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life, edited by Tom Lombardo; and Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing, edited by Ilan Stavans.
Have you received any awards since you immigrated to the US?
I was the first writer in residence in Annenberg Community Beach House, Santa Monica in 2009-10, and the judge for Interboard Poetry Community contests in 2009. I have received awards in two poetry contests: “Poetry in the Windows,” sponsored by the “Arroyo Arts Collective,” as well as “Poetry and Recipe,” organized by “Writers at Work” in Los Angeles. My poetry has been engraved by the city in public spaces in Venice Beach and Studio City. My life and work were featured in LA Weekly, February 9-15, 2001 written by Louise Steinman, entitled “Poet of Revolution: Majid Naficy’s Tragic Journey Home.”