April 24, 2014

• When Seyed Siavash Mortazavi reads poems in his native Persian language, he finds as much joy in the melodic rhythms of the words as he does in the meanings of the words themselves. But when the words are translated into another language, like English, some of the meaning or the rhythm gets lost in the process.

This spring, in between his intense graduate studies, Mortazavi decided on a personal goal – to bring these beautiful poems to the WPI community so others could have the opportunity appreciate them the way he does. On April 24, he’ll present “The Persian Kings of Love, a Night of Persian Poetry,” from 5:30 to 7 pm in Fuller Labs, Lower Perreault Hall. He will read 24 poems in Persian while offering both the pronunciation of the Persian in English and a translation in English.

“I didn’t want to open a book, read the poems, and slam the book,” he says, noting the beauty of the poems is based in both the language and the meaning. Sufi poets, he notes, are especially known for their mystical works and bring readers new perspectives. “There might be something different in the world that they haven’t noticed yet.”

As an Iranian, Persian is Mortazavi’s language, and he grew up with both modern poems and the more traditional poems that have both rhyme and rhythm and have more mystical themes. When he arrived at WPI, conversations about Persian poetry with his advisor and with colleagues made one thing so clear to him, he says. “The original tongue is different from the translation,” he says. “Some people say it isn’t possible to translate a poem. You will either lose the meaning or you will lose the rhyme.”

People were captivated when he would read the poems aloud in Persian, finding the cadence alone beautiful even if they didn’t follow with the words. Mortazavi wondered if he could bring the poems to others who might find it interesting.

But Mortazavi knew offering a reading of Persian poems wasn’t going to help others understand why he loved the poems so much. “I thought, ‘What can I do to bring the meaning and the sound together to the audience?’” he says.

“The Persian Kings of Love, a Night of Persian Poetry,” is Mortazavi’s resulting labor of love, one done only for the enjoyment of others. He pored about 120 hours into finding, translating, and choosing the 24 poems for the reading. He read about 500 poems and picked out 70 before working with an Iranian friend and an American friend on the translations. Audience members will reap the benefits of his work when they listen to Mortazavi read the poems in Persian while they see the English translation on a screen.

Mortazavi is also compiling a booklet of the  poems that will include the poem in Persian, the English pronunciation of the words, and then the English translation of each poem. “They can see the meaning and hear the beauty of the original language,” he says.

Gina Betti, associate director for Collaborative for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, says Mortazavi works in the lab next to her offices in Washburn, and she was amazed when she heard about his project. “He thought this was a very worthwhile thing to do,” she says. “He is a very artistic soul and a very kind and thoughtful person to know.”

Mortazavi didn’t want to make the event something big, Betti says, preferring to focus on the words and the melody of the poems. “We have such a depth and breadth of culture here,” says Betti about WPI. “We walk past people every day but we don’t know what’s inside them.” Mortazavi’s poetry reading allows people to see deeper into what matters to him, especially as someone who grew up far away from WPI in a very different culture.

The poetry connects the past and the present, bringing listeners full circle. “It’s beautiful to hear about what the world was like so long ago and to see some of the same things going on today,” says Mortazavi.