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Review: Six Vowels and Twenty Three Consonants: An Anthology of Persian Poetry from Rudaki to Langroodi, ed. Ali Alizadeh and John Kinsella

Susan Wicks, Poetry Review, Spring 2013

In Six Vowels and Twenty Three Consonants we are in danger of thinking ourselves in more familiar territory - but any lingers half-memories of the nineteenth century translator Edward FitzGerald are soon seen for the misleading signposts they are. This is at the same time a very beautiful and very useful anthology. Two impeccably written and documented introductions by co-translator Ali Alizardeh give historical and current political context and a welcome unifying perspective to poets and poems caught between shifting nations, faiths and boundaries. Yet, across the thirteen centuries spanned by this selection, a Persian linguistic and poetic tradition is recognisable, embracing well-known figures such as Omar Khayyam and Rumi while subtly challenging our previous uncontextualised Western readings. This book has great integrity. Students and scholars will welcome the linkages it make possible, not least its acknowledgement of an important strand of energetic writing and experimentation among women poets. But everyone will surely relish the design and layout of this book. In this poetry, where, in Rumi's words, All life is held by those who have let their cacophony die, white space itself is particularly important, and the publishers have had the sense to do see this. The whole book is an acknowledgement that we read poems differently according to how an where they reach us. There are formal echoes - couplets, quatrains, ghazals. There are recurring themes and images - sexual desire, wine, ships, bloodshed. But while the book's documentation seems to ask us to read as students, its uncluttered design allows us to read as lovers of poetry too.