An interview with Coleman
Poetry writing isn't for "Momma's boys" according
to famed translator and poet Coleman Barks.
"Forget about feeling safe when you write," he
asserted. "Forget about finding shelter and step
out! Let's get in the ocean - dive into the
dangerously deep part of life!"
Barks discussed his newly released book Rumi
the Book of Love from his home in Athens,
Georgia. He laughed readily and heartily, full of
passion and emotion, as he talked and challenged
many traditional notions about love.
He spoke about a love for truth and beauty.
"Feeling beauty is a necessity for truth telling,"
he declared. "I don't think you should write unless
you feel the beauty of truth and the truth of
To some people, the words may appear like a
riddle. To Barks, who popularized Jalaluddin Rumi -
the 13th Century Sufi poet known world wide for his
mystic expressions of ectasy and love, it is a way
"Love in the Western World [reference to
Denis DeRougement] is straining toward the
lover - the separation toward it," he explained.
"Rumi spoke of love as an annihilation of the
personality into something larger that has no name.
It's like a dew drop going into the ocean."
Trying to keep up with Barks' references and
images was like attempting to understand the entire
mystical world of Rumi in one reading.
"Western love is like the ache of leaving at the
Russian train station - it's identifying with an
idea that can't quite be consummated. It's Romeo
and Juliet. It's the lived-out love that doesn't
quite get shown."
Rumi writing must be "felt as a salt breeze
traveling inland," Barks writes in The Essential
Rumi. "And, some resonance of ocean resides in
There are many who have felt that "salt breeze"
with Barks having sold more than half a million
books of Rumi translations.
Continuing the metaphor, Barks said that we
"metabolize" each other's truth when we pour our
individual truth into the "general flow."
Like the whirling dervish community where Rumi
began, interacting with Barks is a constant moving
and flowing experience. He's full of vitality and
exhuberance. It's obvious he strives to "connect
there with an open heart, and follow the oceanfrog
if he starts for home."
The path toward "anhilation" by love is much
like a man's initiation or "turning point," he
said. Rumi's life changed in his late 30s after he
met his mentor Shamsi Tabriz.
"Tabriz told the young mystic to put away his
books and experience personally what he had been
learning," Barks noted. "It's like walking back
down into the mountain ... after the drunkenness
comes the sobriety that embodies love and allows
for a true human being ... one that still has anger
and jealousy inside ... like guests in a house. You
know Rumi's THE GUEST HOUSE?"
THE GUEST HOUSE
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
According to Barks and Rumi, all emotions are
present within love, including fear and
Longing is the core of mystery.
Longing itself brings the cure.
The only rule is, Suffer the pain.
Your desire must be disciplined,
and what you want to happen
in time, sacrificed.
Everyone can see how they have polished the
of the self, which is done with the longings
Not everyone wants to be king!
There are different roles and many choices
Troubles come. One person pack up
and leaves. Another stays and deepens in a love
for being human.
In battle, one runs fearing
for his life. Another, just as scared, turns
and fights more fiercely.
Unfortunately for the state of the world today,
the true soulful fighting warrior has turned into
gangs of "Monster Boys," Barks said. The lack of
initiation for young men leaves them "standing
around street corners wearing black coats, smoking
and looking mean. They're trying to initiate
themselves by grotesquely covering themselves with
tattoos. The tattooing is a howl for
Barks said he believed there are two initiations
- one from Teenager to Warrior and the other from
Citizen to Elder. The gifted writer/translator
appears to have achieved the rightful title of
Elder, having co-written a collection of poems with
his granddaughter entitled "Club."
In "Tentmaking," his own book of poetry, Barks
writes about a young man in "Luke and the Duct
Tape" that the author believes may have been lost
without the hope of initiation into manhood.
"He had that broom - the broom is a symbol of
knowledge - but he and I didn't quite make contact,
and he's gone suddenly. His life wasn't there.
There is a lost connection between younger men and
During his time teaching English and poetry at
the University of Georgia, Barks would often
encourage his students to challenge themselves with
writing exercises. He directed them to write about
something shameful in their own life
"The writing gets more real and more vivid," he
said. "It's more interesting, and you can feel the
vitality from the words and sentences when one
confronts things of shame. It takes courage to tell
the truth. I used to have them tell about a time
they stole something.
Everybody's stole something!"
Barks' ability to tap into the soul of Rumi is
less like stealing and more like offering a blessed
gift to those who read not with the mind but with
the heart. This vibrant poet and educator has the
unique talen of touching something divine and yet
he still holds humbly to his own mortality.
"It's just the human condition, and I'm glad we
have some glory as well as the mud," Barks said.
"The point is to tell the truth and not lie about
the self degradation. We have to tell them both. I
know they're both in me."
Barks suggested that the following poem he wrote
may be of interest to an audience of men:
Our game is to lower a fluffing riffle of
dictionary pages held
dangling by the front and back covers, its
fingertip toeholds slowly up and down and
my erect penis pointing
to the ceiling to see what word its tip
nudges into notice: pathos! The ache that
through the fingers, then
pendulous. Your breasts take hold and words
go blurry inside the smoor of where they
And I can't help claiming
we have found a way to honor at one time
two loves, for language and for the body,
though clearly more
research is indicated.
(Editor's note, challenged by Barks: I
discovered Rumi writing during my first divorce. I
believe it saved my life, if not my soul.) These
are a few of my favorites from Barks' recent
I TRUST YOU
The soul is a newly skinned hide, bloody
and gross. Work on it with manual discipline,
and the bitter tanning acid of grief.
You'll become lovely and very strong.
If you can't do this work yourself, don't
You don't have to make a decision, one way or
The Friend, who knows a lot more than you
will bring difficulties and grief and sickness,
as medicine, as happiness, as the moment
when you're beaten, when you hear Checkmate,
and can finally say with Hallaj's voice,
I trust you to kill me.
What sort of person says that he or she
to be polished and pure, then complains
about being handled roughly?
Love is a lawsuit where harsh evidence
must be brought in. To settle the case,
the judge must see evidence.
You're heard that every buried treasure
has a snake guarding it.
Kiss the snake to discover the treasure!
Don't run from those who scold,
and don't turn away from cleansing conflict,
or you will remain weak.
THE SILENT ARTICULATION OF A FACE
Love comes with a knife, not some
shy question, and not with fears
for its reputation! I say
these things disinterestedly. Accept them
in kind. Love is a madman,
working his wild schemes, tearing off his
running through the mountains, drinking poison,
and now quietly choosing annihilation.
A tiny spider tries to wrap an enormous
Think of the spiderweb woven across the cave
where Muhammad slept! There are love stories,
and there is obliteration into love.
You've been walking the ocean's edge,
holding up your robes to keep them dry.
You must dive naked under and deeper under,
a thousand times deeper! Love flows down.
The ground submits to the sky and suffers
what comes. Tell me, is the earth worse
for giving in like that?
Don't put blankets over the drum!
Open completely. Let your spirit-ear
listen to the green dome's passionate murmur.
Let the cords of your robe be untied.
Shiver in this new love beyond all
above and below. The sun rises, but which way
does night go? I have no more words.
Let soul speak with the silent
articulation of a face.
© 2005 Reid Baer
* * *
The fame you earn has a different taste from the
fame that is forced upon you. - Gloria
Reid Baer, an
award-winning playwright for A Lyons
Tale is also a newspaper journalist, a poet
with more than 100 poems in magazines world wide,
and a novelist with his first book released this
month entitled Kill
The Story. Baer has been
a member of The ManKind Project since 1995 and
currently edits The New Warrior Journal for
The ManKind Project www.mkp.org
He resides in Reidsville, N.C. with his wife
Patricia. He can be reached at E-Mail.
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