Photograph by Alexis Rhone Fancher

Tell us about Christopher Theofanidis’ musical composition Conference of the Birds and Aṭṭār’s long allegorical poem The Conference of the Birds, both of which are the inspiration for your new chapbook, Like a Bird with a Thousand Wings.

 The Conference of the Birds, the 12th Century Sufi allegorical poem, was written by Persian master poet Aṭṭār, and tells the story of the seeker’s journey towards God, and, therefore, towards the evolution of self through understanding and connection. In Aṭṭār’s Conference, all the birds of the world convene and determine that they need a ruler and that they will make a pilgrimage to the distant land of the mythic and divine bird, Simorgh. The journey to this faraway land leads the birds through seven valleys of understanding, the first of which requires the birds to cast off all the preconceived ideas and dogma in their thinking, and the final of which requires annihilation of the self in order to attain complete communion with the divine. Beginning with the discord and lack of purpose of the birds and culminating in the discovery that they are all individually and together Simorgh, The Conference of the Birds is a timeless model of transforming confusion and lack of unity into the realization of harmony.

Theofanidis’ piece, released in 2018, is inspired by Aṭṭār’s Conference and traces the metaphoric journey of the birds in seven short character pieces, each lasting between 1 and 3 minutes, and each focusing on a highly defined musical personality evoked by the corresponding valley. As he says in the introduction, “Much of the string writing is inspired by the flocking movement of birds; that is, there is a ‘group logic’—a kind of unity of movement and purpose in which all the parts are highly interdependent.”

but the bird doesn’t know it. The bird is thirty birds who soared
out of dreaming to invent sky, thirty birds flying in the formation

of a bird. God tells them, Open, O moon-beak O silver-black O sliver
of luck, and the bird says, Break me until I’m whole. God says, Empty,  

and the bird spills a splendor of jewels from their thirty beaks into
the valley. Don’t think I’m a diamond, God says, Find me, and hands