Beliefnet talked with Rumi expert Coleman Barks on May 24, 2001, on Yahoo.

Beliefnet Ellen: Welcome toBeliefnet's chat with Coleman Barks, premier translator of Rumi's poetry. Coleman will be talking about Rumi's passionate "love poems to God." His upcoming collection,"The Soul of Rumi," will be available in September 2001 fromHarperSanFrancisco.

Beliefnet Laura: Coleman, welcome!Thanks for joining us. Can you tell us briefly who Rumi is and why he's sopopular?

Coleman Barks: Rumi was a 13th-centurymystic. He is an artist, a poet--in the Islamic world, he is as honored asShakespeare is in our world. The central event in his life was hismeeting with Shams Tabriz. I've worked with scholars who knowPersian and they have helped me to translate Rumi's poems.Question from blueblueface: Mr. Barks,welcome! We are so glad to have you...Mr. Barks, how much of the poems' successis Rumi, and how much is Barks? I mean when we get that "Rumishiver."

Coleman Barks: Blueblueface: I have noidea. There is some kind of a dance going on between my personal self and thisenlightened being. Whatever shiver of connection there is, is Rumi'sfault.blueblueface: So many of Rumi's poems arelike a dance. How difficult was it for you to translate not only the words butthe feelings he evoked, into English?

Coleman Barks: Evidently, his poems were spoken spontaneously as he was in motion, in a turning motion. So the poems--at least in Persian--sure have that body-knowledge in them, that sense of being a conductor. I hope that some of that comes across in the English. It's only a hope. His poems do feel like songs and also like they have the motion of a body in them.

Question from Kris_Tina_819

: Dr. Barks...Iwas in your Creative Writing class at UGA in '90 or so. I just wanted to letyou know I am teaching now and when we study poetry, I always introduce mystudents to Rumi and to YOU. They love you both.

Coleman Barks

: I appreciatethat.

Question from blueblueface: Rumi seemed tohave spent a lot of time in seclusion with his "friend." What werethey doing? Was he gay?

Coleman Barks: This question alwayscomes up. My sense is that the connection between Rumi and Shams was notsexual. They met in the heart and in the soul--and the conversation that theyhad, and the nature of it, is what we get some sense of from the poetry, but itremains a mystery.


: Mr. Barks, I heard youhave a cameo role in an upcoming movie that stars several "HollywoodSufis." Could you elaborate?

Coleman Barks

: I have a very smallpart, but it is a speaking part (for about 30 seconds), in the upcoming movie"Big Bad Love," starring Debra Winger, Arliss Howard, AngieDickenson, Roseanna Arquette, and others. It's from a Larry Brown book. I playa cliché-driven preacher at a Mississippi gravesite under a tent in the rain. I was born for this role. :)

Question from dharmabuns: Many of your bookswere published by your own press. How did you get the idea to do the "EssentialRumi" with a larger publisher?

Coleman Barks: The small-press bookswere selling so well that it seemed necessary to get a larger collection out toa larger audience.

Question from thammond64

: This may be kindof a silly question, but what exactly is a Sufi mystic? For those of us thathave a preliminary grasp of the concept.

Coleman Barks

: There is a lot of talkand a lot of argument about the term "Sufi." I like to be simple about it and saythat it's just the "way of the heart"-- which is actually not sosimple. One could spend one's life trying tofigure out what love is, the nature of it, and how the heart opens.

schubird123: Why is it that a poet who livedeight centuries ago sounds so contemporary?

Coleman Barks: That might be thephrasing as I try to put Rumi's densely rhymed poetry into unrhymed Americanfree verse. It's the Whitman tradition--which is ademocratic one--that feels that the subject and the rhyme of poetry should beopen to everyone, in a language that everyone can understand.


: Your poems used to bepretty free form. In your last book, each stanza had only two lines. Why haveyou changed your "line style"?

Coleman Barks

: In the last book,"The Glance," I tried to mimic the two-line--the couplets--of theghazal,

while still retaining the free-verse sound. This isall an experiment. I keep trying to find new ways of making Rumi's wisdomavailable.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus