Arts Listings

Freight and Salvage Presents ‘The Great Night of Rumi’

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Friday May 18, 2007

“Alas, alas, that so bright a moon should be hidden by the clouds.” From this first translation of Rumi into a European language, circa 1780, by Sir William Jones in his Grammar of the Persian Language, through Ralph Waldo Emerson’s solitary version of a Rumi poem, to today’s outpouring of interpretations, the great mystic poet of Islam has become the bestselling poet in English today. 

“The Great Night of Rumi,” Dan and Dale Zola’s program of spoken poetry with music and a whirling dervish dance, set for 8 p.m. this Saturday night at Freight and Salvage, intends to return this revered verse to spoken, sung and performed poetry, taking an audience beyond what academic discussion or silent reading from the page can accomplish. 

“We’re not talking about Rumi, or about poetry, at ‘The Great Night of Rumi,’” said Dale, who has produced the events for six years with her husband. “We’re not plugging anything. Our readers all go up to the mic and recite from memory, while the musicians improvise. Aziz, our whirling dervish, does the turn. Hossein, our Kurdish friend, sings a Rumi poem in Farsi. Dan mc’s, announcing the next person. We modelled it after variety shows—after Ed Sullivan!” 

“We’re bringing people to poetry through the back door,” Zola continued, “though I think of the oral tradition as the front door, with the book as the back door. It’s like a communion; people come because they want that experience. To be in a roomful of people, to be transported—yet in the present moment.” 

The Zolas use the Coleman Barks translations of Rumi. Readers from all ethnic groups and walks of life recite, accompaned by Gary Haggerty (from Stella Mar), Arshad Said, Sheldon Brown of the Jazzschool and Claude Palmer playing on a panoply of instruments, both Eastern and Western, with singers Kirsten Falke (from Bobby McFerrin’s Voicestra) and Debbie Golata of the Berkeley Community Chorus and Orchestra. 

Readers include Ron Sebring (pastor of the Northbrae Community Church), Andre Andrae (father of Hit It!), Claressa Morrow of Stage Bridge, Shakespearean actress Chetana Karel and Barry and Maya Spector (who do oral tradition events in the South Bay), Alexis Bennett and dancer Guillermo Ortiz, among others.  

The event is co-produced by Cody’s Books, which will provide books for sale, and presented by Roger Housden, editor of 10 Poems to Change Your Mind and 10 Poems to Change Your Heart. Assisting is Victoria Lee, “a Rumi-inspired psychologist” and author of the forthcoming Rumi Secret (Outskirts Press).  

The Zolas have been involved in poetry for 20 years. “Dan was on the staff of the Mendocino Men’s Conferences,” said Dale, “where he worked closely with poet Robert Bly, with Michael Mead and James Hillman. About 15 years ago, we went to an event by Doug Von Koss, one of his one-man poetry shows. That made a big impression. A couple years after that, we began to produce poetry events.” 

They also produce “The Great Night of Soul Poetry,” featuring poems of W. B. Yeats, D. H. Lawrence, Mary Oliver and others. 

Dale, who lived in Istanbul and traveled around the Middle East and South Asia, emphasizes the humor in Rumi’s poetry and Barks’ translations. “That’s one reason we’re so into it. If it makes you laugh and cry, it’s a good one. The more it gets you laughing, the more you can get with the sad stuff.” 

Rumi’s contemporary success was preceded by that of another medieval Persian poet. For about a century, Edward Fitzgerald’s version of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam was the bestselling single volume of poetry in English. Rumi, born in what’s now Afghanistan, founded the Mevlevi Sufi Order (”Whirling Dervishes”) in Turkey. His poetry, according to Marshall G. S. Hodgson in The Venture of Islam, “became prized even by non-mystics wherever Persian was used ... His work is addressed to a living, complex individual, and is meant to confront him time and time again throughout his complex life, and this process can never really be completed ... Rumi intended to illuminate the Islamic conscience of his time ... If [his] message is to be summed up, it can perhaps be described as a summons to go beyond the routine.” 

Other Rumi translators include R. A. Nicholson, A. J. Arberry, W. S. Merwin and Peter Lamborn Wilson.  



8 p.m. Saturday at Freight and Salvage, 1111 Addison St. $20.50 - $21.50.