Friday, September 8, 2017

Haji As Puppet: An Orientalist Burlesque - Roger Sedarat (The Word Works)

Today's book of poetry:
Haji As Puppet: An Orientalist Burlesque.  Roger Sedarat.  The Word Works.  Washington, D.C.  2017.

Winner of the 2016 Tenth Gate Prize

Haji As Puppet: An Orientalist Burlesque

"We are but puppets; heaven but the puppet player."
-- Omar Khayyam

"Well I got the fever down in my pockets.
The Persian drunkard, he follows me."
-- Bob Dylan

In Haji As Puppet: An Orientalist Burlesque Roger Sedarat is the trickster at full throttle.  Haji As Puppet is out to confront every stereotype there is between the Mid-East and Texas.  Sedarat is fearlessly inspired as he takes his Iranian-American heritage and romps.

In the first poem Today's book of poetry will share Sedarat's co-conspirators/indicters include Marjorie Perloff, Kenneth Goldsmith, Wallace Stevens, Pablo Picasso and Ezra Pound.  Sedarat people's his work with contradictions and hope until his true purpose is revealed.  As his buddy Ezra would say "make it real," but Sedarat, the standing on his head modernist says no, "Let it be real."

You'd be easily fooled into a casual and comfortable lull reading Haji As Puppet if you only followed the comedy, Sedarat has one hell of a sense of humour.  But these poems are so much richer than mere humour.  Sedarat isn't asking, he is telling; when he says "Let it be real."

Haji's Blue Guitar

Unlike so many mischief-makers,
Haji's the antitheses of trickster,
flavourless factoid, mimicry of mundane.
Having read, with great indifferent interest
Marjorie Perloff''s Unoriginal Genius
and Kenneth Goldsmith's Uncreative Writing
he allays all anxiety of influence,
surrendering to the lines of Stevens' poetry
on seemingly pre-programmed strings
of his own blue guitar,
travis-picking the master's first three sections
as he circulates copies of Picasso's famous painting
to remind the audience
how the original old guitarist
played against a background of blue
expression of the artist's grief,
x-rays revealing three figures
behind the visible oil paint,
ghostly bones of a close friend's suicide.
But those were different times.
Even Stevens' blue inversion
declaring the guitar a thing unto itself
ultimately changed things
upon the blue guitar.
Not so with Haji,
for whom things as they are
remain just as they are.
Thus he attempts to replicate
this reductive spirit of self,
received reality in the 21st century,
rewriting Pound's modernist maxim,
"Make it new: underpinning most verse
with an admonition of the tradition
inherited in his own time
Let it be real.


Is Sedarat claiming the ground between recent Noble Prize winning bard, Bob Dylan and Omar Khayyam?  Is Sedarat setting up camp between a Persian poet of the past and a Jewish born, born-again minstrel from Minnesota?  Well, yes.

Sedarat's Haji As Puppet is political and confrontational, his unassailable reason as wide in breadth as his unapologetic black humour.  How can you not rejoice when Willie the Shakes' Caliban goes to Harvard via the CIA and Nietzsche appears on the set of Paul Newman's classic "Cool Hand Luke?" Sedarat is setting a full plate with his "Orientalist Burlesque," this is no Genie-in-the-bottle Persian Night.  Sedarat is beautifully seditious, he wants these poems to crack the colonial wall.

When The Puppet
Made His Way West...

he got caught by Israeli soldiers,
hung up in mockery
on the Great Wall of Gaza
beside Banksy's balloon girl.
Despite taunts
from children
on both sides
of politics
he insisted
on his sermon:

"In 1987, when defense minister Yitzhak Rabin in Israel
ordered soldiers to break the bones
of protesters waving the Palestinian flag,
Haji longed to walk the streets
holding two halves of a watermelon,
ubiquitous signifier of displaced country,
green skin, red fruit, black seeds, and white rind
reproducing the real thing.

But when Haji samuri-sworded his melon,
a white dove flew onto the streets of Gaza,
its neck bleeding from an inadvertent cut.
After flying through smoke from burning tires,
it crashed into the image of an olive branch covered
with graffiti on a billboard."


Haji's black face, painted with used motor oil, reflects
western images of the Middle East. When he arrives
turbaned on a camel with a cartoon saber, he's not so
much trying to subvert the gaze of network news as
reiterate the status quo. (It's a dirty job, but somebody's
got to do it.)


Haji As Puppet allows Sedarat to loose Haji, his sensational everyman, onto the unsuspecting reader. It is a gift.  Haji gleefully kicks the crap out of racist stereotypes that we have long accepted as reason in the west.

Sedarat is relentless as he catalogues those places where cultures and race collide.  His disdain at our collective ignorance is justified with the sharp edge of every single poem.  Roger Sedarat romps through contemporary pop culture and the history of the world with equal candor and perception.  If we are lucky Haji As Puppet will not be Haji's last poetic appearance.

Haji's Waterboarding

     I've lost it all my life all lost--
     the sky the earth the moon all lost.
     Don't hand me wine. Pour it in my mouth.
     (I've even lost the way to my mouth.)
                                               -- Jalaluddin Rumi

At one with a pitcher of water,
he channels Rumi,
the Other pouring wine
down his gullet, a vessel
without agency,
"the hand"
sans possession--
like the French that killed
the spirit of the letter
along with the author--
waterboarding the bastard
who insists he's empty
of all meaning.

Inspector:     So...Monsieur Haji, you are z'ee front for an
                     American poet, no?

Haji:             (No reply)

Inspector:     Perhaps your throat is too dry to talk. Maybe you
                     would like some water. Perhaps you will drink it,
                     how do z'ey say, in the American manner?

(One gloved hand pinches the nose, the other pours a pitcher of 
water down the throat.)

Inspector:      Et comme ca, we shorten the poetic line z'ee
                      breath, no? (Haji gasps for air.)

Inspector:       Dites-moi, qui est Monsieur Sedarat?

Haji:               I do not know the man.

(Inspector relentlessly pours pitcher after pitcher of water down
Haji's throat.)

Haji:                "Okay okay!" (coughing) Please! No more! I did
                        meet him once....before.

Inspector:         Before what?

Haji:                 He died as romantic martyr...for poetry.

Inspector:         So Monsieur Haji. We are finished for now. We 
                         arrive at your post-confession. I think at this
                         point do z'ey say, get the pitcher?


Roger Sedarat's Haji As Puppet: An Orientalist Burlesque is one of those books that could easily be required reading in a course on modern geo-politics, gender studies, poetry, Middle-Eastern relations, and so on.  Haji As Puppet is essential stuff, especially at this point in history

Sedarat takes a giant step towards demystifying the Persian world and debunking the west's lazy thinking.  That's a lot to do in a book of poems.

And he'll make you laugh.

Image result for roger sedarat photo
Roger Sedarat

Roger Sedarat is an Iranian-American poet and translator, author of three previous poetry collections: Dear Regime: Letters to the Islamic Republic, which won Ohio UP's 2007 Hollis Summers' Prize; Ghazal Games (Ohio UP, 2011); and Foot Faults: Tennis Poems (David Robert Books, 2016). A recent recipient of the Willis Barnstone Translation Prize, he teaches poetry and literary translation in the MFA Program at Queens College, City University of New York.

"From the opening act of this provocative literary burlesque, the reader will recognize the startling truths behind this timely and biting satire. Roger Sedarat's commentary about empire, its devious hold over our appetites and narcissisms, over our ignorance and phobias, confronts us with our complicity in our own manipulation, making us uncomfortable and accountable. HAJI AS PUPPET is political theater at its most entertaining, at its most daring."
     —Rigoberto Gonz├ílez

"Roger Sedarat has created what I consider one of the greatest masterpieces of the Iranian-American canon. HAJI AS PUPPET is a psychedelic romp through ancient Persian psyche all the way through modern Iranian hellscapes via the American imagination. This piercing Middle Eastern minstrelsy is unapologetically raw in its collisions with race, gender, sexuality, and pop culture. Sedarat truly understands the punk soul of Persian satire, and the way conviviality lives with calamity and pandemonium razes ritual. This is not your baba's Rumi—and thank goodness!"
      —Porochista Khakpour

Roger Sedarat

"Iran"--One word poem (with introduction) by Roger Sedarat
Video: Haji Sedarat



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