The Essence of “Belonging”, by Julie Kovacs

A review of “Belonging”, translated by Niloufar Talebi (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books. 2008)

The 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran produced a number of independent thinking journalists, artists, and poets critical of the new regime who left the nation for the free world. “Belonging” is a collection of modern Iranian poetry with both the original Persian poems and their English translations side by side. Long known throughout history as a poetic language, Persian flows beautifully as a spoken language, ever since Firdausi set the modern standard during the 10th century C.E. Modern Persian poetry may seem different from the Sufi poetry of Hafiz, Rumi, or Attar, yet it is still powerful and moving with its social messages and observations of human nature composed in experimental form.

No subject is taboo in “Belonging” and nowhere is it more evident in Maryam Huleh's poem “The Sticky Dream of a Banished Butterfly.” Huleh was born one year before the revolution and her young eyes scrutinize the complex differences between her homeland and Sweden where she now lives. Her animadversions of the decadent western society she lives in is the opposite side of the same coin as her homeland. Not afraid to speak out on what she sees as being unjust no matter what type of society it is, socialist or Islamic theocracy, Huleh questions everything and appears as a malcontent viewing the world through a dirty windowpane. Even a pill guaranteeing happiness is not really a guarantee, and for that matter, what really is happiness? Is one person's happiness another person's hell? But the butterfly in the poem only alights for a moment on that jasmine branch before taking off for greener pastures in Europe, where many of the Iranian poets in the book now live.

In contrast to Huleh, Partow Nooriala's poetry is optimistic and celebrates womanhood, notably with “Many Happy Returns” which conjures up images of the modern Iranian woman who still possesses an innate strength, just as her ancestors did before the advent of Islam. During those centuries half-shrouded in semi mythical dynasties such as the Pishdadian and the Kaianian in the Shah Nameh, women were free and enjoyed many of the same rights as men did. As Zoroaster mentions in the Gathas, women were addressed on equal footing, as his daughter Pouruchista was betrothed to Jamaspa, forging a reformed religious period dating back to the Bronze Age. The Iranian woman is educated and just as happy sewing as she is getting her PhD in psychology.

As with any group of people contending with a unique dual identity, Iranians seem to find that their ancient heritage is more compatible with the modern western world than with the Islamic heritage that dates only a thousand years old in Iran.

Maybe it is the Persian culture that I appreciate, or being able to read the language (Persian is an Indo-European language that utilizes a modified Arabic alphabet) that makes “Belonging” a rare treasure in the world of poetry to read. Just like their American counterparts, Iranian youth are just as likely to indulge in western pop culture like Marjane Satrapi recounts in “Persepolis”, listening to the music of Kim Wilde, Michael Jackson, and of course Queen whose head man Freddie Mercury was not only Iranian in heritage but also a Zoroastrian to boot.

Talebi executes a perfect translation of the many poets in “Belonging” which also includes Yadollah Roya'i, Mina Assadi, Shahrouz Rashid, Abbas Saffari, and Jamshid Moshkani. The exiles and immigrants within the book share their collective voice on what it means to be an Iranian in diaspora. “Belonging” is the perfect example of how literature evolves in a culture well known for its role in the poetic world.


She Said the Geese, by Lyn Lifshin

When she saw them
squabbling over a
crust she started
shivering. But in
the light she felt
the shadows, how
on their knees, in
the camps the young
and old battered wildly
in mud, for the dry
bread. A mouthful
thrown for hundreds,
the smallest,
the frail trampled.
She said the corn
slid thru her
hands. She couldn’t
move, toss a crumb.
They weren’t geese,
only men and women,
someone dressed in her
sister’s clothes,
clawing and scratching
blood and dust.


The Alternative, by Richard Jay Shelton

As an alternative
to the ultimate instrument
of free choice,
I choose instead
to live
in a superlatively vague
somnambulant daze
if at all,
about food,
about sex,
about whom I am going
to sleep with next.
I shall become modern
in a simian sense
swinging through life
with incredible ease
not a care, not a worry,
or purpose, or goal.
I shall become revoltingly young,
my social hours
the flower
of my achievement.


Bleach In the Blaze, by Richard Jay Shelton

The sun shall shine
through all of time,
refract as it may,
angle, wave,
reflect particle bathe,
many contradictory,
complimentary ways,
while I
and others within its play
shall in passing
“What is mine dear earth?”
“What is mind?”
Because man is a lonely-never-knowing,
an offal in an infinite peat,
a sun unto no others,
a bleach in the blaze of spectacular matter
ever infinite.

Richard Jay Shelton's poetry is forthcoming in Burning Word.


One Too Many Mornings & A Thousand Miles Behind by Peter Magliocco

when youth is taken
like an expendable organ
from ordinary people
it drains the sum of all parts
in one's human odometer
remonstrating us for continuing

to live so long
taxing our skin with wrinkles
to pilfer any beauty left
when age takes desire
it does so with cruelty
casting molecules to sepulchral winds

slowing down vital functions
rendering us pale imitations
of known former selves
billing us for staid passions
still dwelling in psychic reservoirs
like carburetor sludge

in the heart's faulty engine
age wears down the human touch
leaving remnant's of feeling
worse for the wear
on the pallbearer's
speeding shadow.

Peter Magliocco writes from Las Vegas, Nevada, where he's edited the lit-zine ART:Mag for over 20 years. He has poetry in Heeltap, Scythe, Gold Dust, The Medulla Review, Ascent Aspirations, Deuce Coupe and elsewhere. His recent chapbooks are Nude Poetry Garage Sale (Virgogray Press) and Imparadised (Calliope Nerve Media). He's been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize in poetry.


Waving Man, by Kurt K. Shinian

There’s an old man
who has spent years
sitting on a portable
chair between Torquay
and Paignton in Devon,
just waving at every passerby
as they idly
drive down this beautiful
coastal road.
he calls himself Moses-Peter.

If I ever find enough peace
         within myself,
I’d like to don my wooden beads
and a seashell headband
and wave to you all
and blow kisses
into your unsuspecting eyes.

I’d call myself Moses-Peter
because it’s not me who would
save you from the water,
         but you
who would draw me out;
you’d deliver me down this highway,
pushing me through the bulrushes
and the hidden source of this Nile
to be bathed once again
by Pharaoh’s daughter.

These lanes are in pursuit of something,
an exodus of the self,
but I’m sure that if I just wave to you all,
blow kisses from my extended fingertips,
you’d divide the waters
on this long journey we’re headed on
toward the Promised Land.

You’d all just go to work everyday
and within the space of our routine,
I’d watch over your travels from this Sinai
while your diesel engines burn.

We’d tend the flocks of Jethro
even if it took us 40 days and 40 nights.

I’d hold this rod of God
up and wave to you all
until the manna falls from the sky
and you stop by this roadside diner
to share some morning quail with me.

I’d sit here between these two
seaside resorts,
this highway without end,
and I swear to you –
the rooster never crows
from where
I’m sitting from.

Kurt K. Shinian lives in Fairport, NY. He has taught in the SUNY community system for over ten years and is a graduate from Brown's writing program.


Evolution, by Alan Britt

Nuances are what we value most:
conventional concepts littered with opaque symbols
although we don’t know it yet.


Obscure philosophies and their erudite philosophers twitching
like nervous zebras at the shrinking waterhole of existence
as tired saxophones, those thirsty elephants of hope,
stumble into our vanishing waterhole
of unrequited love.

Perhaps the most underestimated
emotion of them all.

Unrequited love.

How can we ever forget it?

If Darwin is correct,
we never will.

Alan Britt’s recent books are Greatest Hits (2010), Hurricane (2010), Vegetable Love (2009), Vermilion (2006), Infinite Days (2003), Amnesia Tango (1998) and Bodies of Lightning (1995). Britt’s work also appears in the new anthologies, American Poets Against the War, Metropolitan Arts Press, Chicago/Athens/Dublin: 2009 and Vapor transatlántico (Transatlantic Steamer), a bi-lingual anthology of Latin American and North American poets, Hofstra University Press/Fondo de Cultura Económica de Mexico/Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos de Peru, 2008. Alan currently teaches English/Creative Writing at Towson University and lives in Reisterstown, Maryland with his wife, daughter, two Bouviers des Flandres, one Bichon Frise and two formally feral cats.


Excerpt From the Life Story of a Press-on Nail, by John Grey

First thing I remember
is her humming along
to something by Madonna
& asking a friend
whether she should go with
Bobby or Duane
& then she leaned
over in the car
& busted me
on the cigarette lighter
& for the longest
time I floated about
on the worn green carpet
underneath the driver’s seat
with the McDonald’s
wrapping & the
Dunkin’ Donuts cup
before some guy
trying to impress her
vacuumed me up
on a Saturday afternoon
& he was humming
that same song
by Madonna though
I couldn’t really
tell in that
brief flicker
of time between
being jerked off the floor
& hitting
the bottom of the bag
whether it was
handsome Bobby
or wealthy Duane
but all I know is
in sucking up to her
he sucked me up

John Grey has been recently published in Talking River, South Carolina Review and Karamu with work upcoming in Prism International, Poem and The Evansville Review.


War Cry on the Stone Earth, by Alessandro Cusimano

If the Judgment did not lay the blame on me
the defeat
if the Assassin asked for mercy

under a priesthood of disgrace

The Whitish Light of the Icy God
is in love
with the beloved
first blood in the morning

in the pale carnage

short bodies fall

Half a shadow
of the vermillion child
glides along the blade-beast
of a bluebottle-razor

In a rusty and purple garden

The amaranth sting whips the shot
and the Martyrdom with the rope flame

If Endless Father shed his own blood
if Heaven had no more blood

Enemy of God
I were a butterfly

Demon of Devils
I accepted
on a whim
the agony and invoked
the madness

If upheld
I swear
the torment
if implored mercy

Beautiful Prince
I tore my teeth
and my eyes

If small arms
rich in blood
waved flags
like butterfly wings.


The Prisoners, by Alessandro Cusimano

Crawling against the light

the beggars keep watching
the city has betrayed them
has given them nothing

red faced nails in single file

move strange amputated shapes
branched on the sidewalk

and the memory
well painted on their face
has the sound of a chorus of voices
and the voices die
in the most bestial notes
in the history of their humanity

in thousands

continue to strive
for one truth at a time

for a life
as a vending machine.

Alessandro Cusimano was born in Palermo, Sicily, Italy, on July 2, 1967. He lives in Rome, where he is jewelry designer, writer, poet, and translator.


Holograms, by Joseph Milford


The stimuli war
left those at the helm
coming down to a pinprick
nervous breakdown
no words left
to caulk the bulleted gaps
between delegates
after the last catastrophic
planet was pulled
up out of its velocity

all apparatus calling for
apparatus to report what
all previous policed apparatus
and before any conclusions
could be affirmed the first
incarnation was rendered
obsolete by an apparatnaut
and the cannibalism of utility
in its ever-evolving function
made machine man and man
machine this can be downloaded
with this chip inserted
into your cortex

homo sapien homogenization
neo-sapien apparitions
these ghosts in the machines
can’t claim their own synapses
the monitors explode as
the Petri dish world
waits for disease and scavengers
to find a heart in the midst
of the nebulous cloud
of progress

“Shooting lasers through a tiny fragment
of a holographic photo, scientists discovered
they had reproduced the entire photograph.
Conclusion: the center of one thing is connected
in some multidimensional way to the center
of every other thing, like a cosmic Internet . . .
and each fragment contains the pattern, the DNA,
             of the larger whole.”

Now I am the king of the multidimensional non sequiturs!
I will collect these souvenirs, mutineers
of an insufficient culture, the best of all worlds
until the next nanosecond produces another
imprinted on each shard of a broken window blizzard
is the microscopic holographic fact
this modeling clay of my reality.

Particle colliders roar, and, supposedly
a particle is what rendered
the ultimate roar, the only way to regain
any control of a fragmenting universe
is to reverse
The Big Bang, if Big Bang occurred
indeed, but, I don’t prescribe
to such an easily resolved theory
of this pandemonic reality.

sucking the organism
back into its seed
to collect the blood that bled
the bleed that clotted
into earth, a scab
on a scraped-up universe
is somehow very appealing (peeling
the orange of the everything
in reverse to suck the juice, consume
the seedlings
             somewhere inside the spores

We are the shard gatherers
with no clues to the assembly.
We are the surgeons in need of surgery.
What if someone in a puzzle factory
stole one single prototype piece

of the universe out of the assembly
line in random humor or cruelty?
What if he has the piece that is missing?

He must be hyena laughing, scared and crazed.
It is so fragile out here that I can almost punch my finger through
the cellophane air.

Cows constantly gnawing a cud of information.
It all depends on how long I can hold my breath and berth
under a blitzkrieg shrapnel of symbols and their bastardizations
it all depends on how long I can talk with my mouth full of them.

I hope for a
Mandala Diaspora
to spread like a virus across
my chest, this broken
North America.

And every morning
the women of India
collect flower petals
for pigments to paint
their athapoovidals
which hold worlds
in beautiful, concise


to be washed away
every afternoon

reside in memory my true heroes
of flesh and of screen

of ascetic and aesthetic women
to be reborn every morning with the blood of flowers

and every morning the women of India
use flower petals for pigments
to paint their athapoovidals
holding the worlds within concise and beautiful spirals

I wish to lie on streets in the sun like those
spirals until rain or close of ritual

to wash away in distorted liquid patterns
as the geometry melts back

into the models of soul before
a temporary choice of form or body

I am in honor of Lakshmi,
heralding some new birth or season

or I am the flower
waiting to become the paint-pulp

or I am the poem
or the poet


The One supreme wrecked Soul
the universoul
to keep itself whole
must constantly
re-insert itself
into everything
as trivial (and nothing
is ever trivial) as
pocket lint to
mountainous monument

to complete
the form unbroken
across the horizon
the perfect pattern
the imperfect pattern
the order of chaos
and the chaos of perception
and the theories those theories

             Uncross your legs and awaken.
             The exercise, the meditation
             is over, the Universe
             as demonstrated by the Big Bang
             is composed of abrupt, cataclysmic
                          and brash action.

             Anthropodal athapoovidal;
             walk out into the world
             dropping flowers and their blood
             on the streets behind you
             leaving petals and perihelia
             walking up to the gates of Heaven
             with America shamelessly smeared
                          across your lips
             and laughing and saying,

             “I had this already,
                         and didn’t need it anyway.”

            Then walk slowly

                                      from the pearly gates.

Joseph V. Milford is a Professor of English at Georgia Military College south of Atlanta. His first book, Cracked Altimeter, was published in 2010. He is the host of the weekly Joe Milford Poetry Show (, which he maintains with his wife, Chenelle. He also edits the literary journal Scythe with his wife from their home in rural Georgia.


Poetry Book Review by Julie Kovacs: Belonging

She Said the Geese, by Lyn Lifshin

The Alternative, by Richard Jay Shelton

Bleach In the Blaze, by Richard Jay Shelton

One Too Many Mornings & A Thousand Miles Behind by Peter Magliocco

Waving Man, by Kurt K. Shinian

Evolution, by Alan Britt

Excerpt From the Life Story of a Press-on Nail, by John Grey

War Cry on the Stone Earth, by Alessandro Cusimano

The Prisoners, by Alessandro Cusimano

Holograms, by Joseph Milford

Visit The Biographical Poet

All poems are copyright of their respective authors.

Exercise Bowler, editor, Julie Kovacs. 2010-2016