I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
The quote from T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is an important motif in this poem by Safavian, inspired by overheard cell phone conversations. These conversations are intimately private yet their delivery in public spaces make them “become part of the poetry of public, everyday life,” according to Safavian. This idea of private confessions getting out into the world is a theme parallelled in Prufrock, which in turn references Guido da Montefeltro’s words in Dante’s Inferno (see the epigraph).
This is a collaboration across centuries between the 13th century Persian mystic and poet known as Rumi, whose silky lines of poetry appear beneath Zahra Safavian’s 3 by 3 grid of tiles with short looping videos and words— an interface for meditation on this poem’s idea. Rumi is credited with inventing the meditative poetic practice of “the turn” by dancing to the rhythm of the hammering of the goldsmiths. Rumi’s poems are usually organized into couplets, not necessarily rhyming, clustered into variable stanzas, and tend to establish a conversation between self and other, self and the world. Each tile can be clicked to reveal another word and video, representing perhaps some of the dualities expressed in the concept of the “turn,” though we are not dealing with binary opposites— the associations are more diverse than that. The three lines that appear after interacting with the short videos on the grid reinforce that idea, separating awareness of the head and the feet, each turning on its own, uncaring what the other does, as with a baby nursing. Lose yourself in contemplation of this beautifully meditative piece, considering the relation between videos and words, words and their pairs, word combinations, and the relation between the tiles and the lines by Rumi.
This responsive poem is structured into an 8 by 4 grid of thumbnail images. By placing the pointer over each square, the image is enlarged, presenting a line of poetry. Moving from square to square, the reader can create line combinations in multiple directions within this grid, creating new line combinations. The order in which one reads each combination can really change how one understands the text. As you read this e-poem, meditate on some of these relations between its beautifully juxtaposed elements: call and response, setup and surprise, subject and predicate, point and counterpoint, image and text, turn and volta.