Video Find of the Day
Friend and fellow RC editorial committee member Stan B is exasperating sometimes. Periodically he comes to Real Change editorial meetings with some other poet's poem in hand, praises it to high heaven, and then says, "Well?" And we, or I (it's mostly me after all who takes the brunt of these things), I say, "Well, what?" And he says, "Don't you think it would send just the kind of message we at Real Change want to send to our readers to print this poem in our next issue?"
And then I have to say, "Yeah, that would be quite swell and spiffy, but who's going to go to the trouble of contacting the publisher and/or author to get permission? It's not your poem, Stan."
So then he makes me explain the fundamentals of copyright law to him, which is like explaining Quantum Physics to my Dad, or Collective Labor Law to Paris Hilton, and then he says, "But isn't the poet dead?" And he is, sometimes, and I then have to explain that the death of a poet, if not far enough in the past, only complicates matters, because it means it may be that much harder to track down the current holder of the copyright, which can live on for as long after the poet is dead as Congress lets it.
Finally he thought he had a sure thing. He brought us a poem by Rumi. He showed us the poem, praised it to high heaven, told us he had just recently discovered Rumi, who he described as an "Arab poet" who's been dead, "I believe," he said, about a hundred years. Surely that's enough.
[Left: Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi, in what may have been a contemporary likeness, showing a considerable resemblance to Stan. Except Stan wouldn't let his beard grow so long.]
No Stan, not Arab, Persian. Not a hundred years, more like 700 years.
"Ok, then, even better, that's definitely enough."
"But the poem you read us isn't in the original Farsi. It's in English. It has a translator. It reads like a modern translation. Who's the translator Stan? Is the translator dead? His translation has been copyrighted. Are you going to get permission from him, his heirs, or his publisher? Or are you planning to substitute your own translation from the public domain 13th Century Farsi version, or find a public domain English translation other than the one you took that from?"
Turns out Coleman Barks is not at all dead, as of this posting. Turns out he basically triangulated his translations from old public domain English translations, creating an essentially new "poetry of Rumi" as one could imagine it might have been if he had written modern free verse in English (Barks claims no knowledge of Farsi!) In other words, he took liberties, and he very much owns his work in the sense of having created things original out of things old. In the video below he is reading short Rumi poems from his own hugely popular translation, the one that Stan drew from, the one that made Stan like Rumi so much. Robert Bly reads a little, too, toward the end, giving Barks his due.
The Poetry of Rumi