Saturday, November 25, 2023

Shards of Time by Maryam Hiradfar


SHARDS OF TIME, Maryam Hiradfar. Saint Julian Press, 2053 Cortlandt, Suite 200, Houston, Texas 77008, 2023, 52 pages, $18 paperback,


Every once in a while, a poet comes along whose poetry teaches one how to read it. I find Maryam Hiradfar’s “Shards of Time” to be in that category. Language that appears on the surface as familiar and with too healthy a dose of abstraction for contemporary American poetry, in reality becomes devotional, contemplative, dare I say liturgical when given a close reading—preferably aloud. “Dawn is loved forever,” from section I (“Torrents at Dawn”), in which the title is repeated as the final line to each of the four stanzas, is emblematic of this description. “Dawn is loved forever”—the line—is composed of three trochaic feet with each of the three stressed syllables an open “ah” or “eh” vowel, giving an acapella, choral effect to its reading. This “ah” vowel sound is echoed throughout the first stanza:

Day is offering

lighthearted as a dove

and plain as the blanket

of morning mist

Dawn is loved forever.



The language in stanza two enacts its theme of “never-ending” / “forever” with the “eh” vowel providing ample assonance of the middle vowel of “forever” in words scattered throughout: “Quenching,” “moments,” “engulf,” “ever-stretching,” and “ends”:

            Quenching our thirst

            as we revolve

            in the never-ending cycles

            and moments that engulf us

            in their ever-stretching fabric

            pinned between the two ends

            of the revolving horizon

            Dawn is loved forever.


The third stanza begins with a line of layered meaning, due to the multiple uses of “passage” as “trip,” “passageway,” and a section of (sacred) “text,” to name a few. The stanza incorporates a blending of the vowel sounds found in the first two stanzas, offering a change of tone, juxtaposed against the stable final line:


Yet the passage

            of this beloved orb

            against the infinite landscape

            decorate with time

            prefers now [italics mine] over all history

            and gently puts to rest

            all hopes of juxtaposed dance

            of now and infinity

            Dawn is loved forever.


Heavy use is made once again of assonance in the final stanza, along with the half-rhymes or chimes, both at the ends and in the middle of lines (“eclipsed” / “wished,” “stars” / “darkness, “reveal / secrets,” “cold” / “stone,” “falls” / “longs,” “light” / “dives” / “silence,” and “awe” / “Dawn”:


            And in its embracing warmth

            moments are eclipsed

            washed out like sand

            the stars wish

            for daytime darkness

            to momentarily reveal

            their long-held secrets

            when the shadow

            of a cold stone falls

            on all that ever longs for light

            and the world dives into silence

            in awe

            Dawn is loved forever.


A second poem in section I, (“Fragments of a Breath”) moves the repetition from lines to words and has even more musicality, particularly in its long lyrical passage that makes up the middle two-thirds of the poem, ending in an anaphoric passage enacting our being “…dispersed / through the river currents / ….”

            After the edges of papers

            have turned yellow

            yellow corners curled up

            cover covered with dust

            sheets wrinkled like our skin

            skin turned into dust

            when the ink is dissolved

            and so is our blood

            when the soft flesh is gone

            crows’ sunset feast adjourned

            when we are dispersed

            through the river currents

            on the wings of the wind

            on yellow pollens a bee carries

            in the body of a flower vase

            in the warm blood

            of an albatross flying free

            in the deep blue of a heron’s wings

            in the azure of eyes born anew

            in the breath of a singing robin


Even though these lines have no more than 3 accents each, they find room for anaphora, assonance, consonance, simile, imagery, narrative and lyricism. But Hiradfar’s diction does not get stuck in one syntactical mode. In the next poem, “Shards,” we find lines enacting the title with short lyrical narrative thrusts of two strong beats each (“Shards pierce / the flesh of reason / and the mind bleeds”).

            If the reader tires of lyricism and music in Hiradfar’s poems, she only has to keep turning pages and imagistic, narrative poems will appear. “Lunulata” (a venomous, blue-ringed octopus), “The Silent Saxaul Tree,” “Arrow of Time,” “Neowise,” “Violet Night,” Red-Tailed Hawk,” “The Fourteenth,” and “Coyotes” all focus their energy on a narrative that does not compromise their lyrical, musicality—a balance that enacts the center message of this book: a balance between inner / outer; things cosmological / things human; the supernatural / the quotidian; and the abstract / the concrete.




            Light as a leaf

            stretched as a new canvas

            her body rests on the water

            that has made an offer

            to bear it all


            The weight

            and the compression

            the dust and the old scars

            all that there ever was


            What remains is a clear frame

            for unfinished brushstrokes

            and half-written words

            buoyant and asleep it floats

            bridging the dark ocean rocks

            and the exploding hearts

            of ancient stars


In this compact (52 page) yet capacious first full-length collection, a reader can find a broad range of poems: free-verse, formal, organic, even nonce-forms—those invented forms that convince the reader they have been around forever. “The Quiet Corner” (with an ABAC rhyme scheme) evokes Dickinson (“Come to the quiet corner / where meaning lies bare at rest / come to the center of disguise / to the kingdom of essence, undressed); “The Eternal Companion” personifies doubt (“Walking down below the shadows / looking far across the mind / voice of doubt kneeled and whispered: ‘say it clearly, say it loud’”); and “The Pilgrim” is an incantatory meditation that, after four lines of anaphora resolves into an echo of the early poem of repetition, “Dawn is Loved Forever,” coming full circle like a snake swallowing its tail:

            The Pilgrim


            Streams may flow

            ice may grow

            but when let free

            a stone gently

            sinks to the bedrock

            where Peace is still

            where Peace is sane

            where Peace belongs

            where Peace came from


            “All seek the Origin”

            All return to Tranquility

            Through torrents at dawn.


            Shards of Time defies precise classification in the world of contemporary American poetry. It declares itself out of time and must be read on its own terms—written from a Rumi-esque perspective about life, death, time, eternity, and writing as spiritual practice rather than a memetic art. At the center of Shards of Time is the moment, the continual now, now, now that is meant to be lived, not analyzed, enjoyed, not explained, celebrated, not regretted or anxious about. And yet, a critical analysis of Hiradfar’s work through the lens of Richard Hugo’s maxim about two kinds of poets, leans toward placing her in the category favored by Hugo. In chapter one of The Triggering Town, he states:

            When you start to write, you carry to the page one of two

            attitudes, though you may not be aware of it. One is that all

            music must conform to truth. The other, that all truth must

            conform to music. If you believe the first, you are making your

            job very difficult, and you are not only limiting the writing of

            poems to something done only by the very witty and clever,

            such as Auden…so you can take that attitude if you want…

            but you are jeopardizing your chances of writing a good poem.


With many of these poems obviously leaning into their music, rather than into pre-determined truths arrived at independently of the actual writing of the poems, I believe that Hugo would say that Hiradfar has made the correct choice. And her poems are a testimony to that. As readers enjoy the musicality and lyricism of this collection, they will not be able to refrain from looking forward to the evolution of this young poet, to see where the shards of time will lead her.  

Maryam Hiradfar is a poet and writer whose roots can be traced back to the literary landscapes of classical Persian literature. Growing up encircled by the rhythmic verses of classic Persian poets like Rumi and Hafez, plus modern luminaries such as Sohrab Sepehri and Ahmad Shamlou, Maryam became infused with the essence of Persian poetry from an early age.

Amidst her academic pursuits at Harvard, Maryam found a nurturing haven within the Lowell House Poemical Society, where her passion for poetry flourished. This creative sanctuary became the birthplace of her original works and a space to refine her unique voice. Her poetry, which bears the visual imprints of her love for illustration and photography, offers a fusion of imagery and language that resonates deeply.

Roadside, Maryam's first poetry collection, marked a milestone in her artistic journey. She invites readers into her world through her verses and camera lens, offering an intimate glimpse of her perspective. Maryam embarks on a new chapter with her latest creation, Shards of Time (Saint Julian Press, 2023). This collection marries minimalistic graphics with poetic narratives, crafting a mosaic of feelings and moments that transcend the boundaries of traditional expression.


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