REVIEWS

In this major sixth book of his dedicated mission to build bridges between East and West literature, the poet Martin Bidney directs our attention to the tenth century Sufi Master, ibn Arabi. God, to Arabi, is the Prime Imaginer, the Supreme Being who created our world, and Man, with His breath, in a sigh of longing; In the extensive introduction, Professor Bidney takes the reader by the hand and gives comprehensive, valuable insight into the mystical, intriguing, and complex dimensions involving both the Deity and the devotee. Professor Bidney then employs his unique poetic skills to illuminate the works of ibn Arabi; he creates a new type of dramatic monologue iambic pentagram sonnet form, elucidating ibn Arabi's wisdom in 99 beautiful parables, as well as adding sensitive new poetic translations of Arabi's "three Mystic Odes.'"
This is a book of Heavenly Love. Included are 27 brilliant, full page calligraphies of the Prophets' names, by Master Calligrapher Shadid Alam, that elevate the theme with exquisite, sinous, dancing lines.

5.0 out of 5 stars A book that will nourish the soul and feed the creative spirit in all of us. October 10, 2018
Format: Paperback
Martin Bidney's "Book of the Floating Refrain: tone-crafted poems with blogatelles" is something to cherish and, as the author states, to read slowly enough to sing. Bidney's 100 poems take the reader on an adventure that begins with a bold statement, a promise to oneself, a leap of faith the poet must take before venturing into the imagination. Through his wonderful introduction and blogatelles that precede each poem, Martin the poet not only explains the inspiration behind his own work but sparks the creative drive, the hidden poet in all of us, so that we can muster the courage to pick up the pen and begin writing poetry ourselves. Bidney is a writer who follows the beat of his own heart, creating music and images with words that reveal not only the mind of a genius but the soul of one still discovering the mysteries, the humor, the pain, the love - the dark winding alleyways and lighted pathways that are life.
I will end with one of the lines from Bidney's generous introduction that I think captures the book best, and is, by the way, now one of my favorite sentences:
"So when a coherent, harmoniously patterned imagery is suddenly reinforced with equally harmonious patterns of assonance, alliteration, and rhyming, suddenly my brain dances in childlike delight at the apparent random chanciness of it all, as if an entire world were newly constituted by serendipity as a guiding principle." (page 24)
The 100 poem journey lies ahead. Hold tight and enjoy!

Kevin Ehrlich

The Boundless and the Beating Heart (East-West Bridge Builders Book 5)
Kindle Edition
5.0 out of 5 starsAn extraordinary dialogic poem by Martin BidneyApril 28, 2016
Format: Kindle Edition
Martin Bidney’s The Boundless & the Beating Heart is remarkable in its verve and originality. As a translation of somewhat more than four of the twenty books of Friedrich Rückert’s enormous The Wisdom of the Brahman, it brings to an English-speaking audience an important nineteenth-century poet and translator well-known in Germany but hardly registered here beyond providing the text, Kindertodtenlieder, for Mahler’s great musical setting. But this volume is of greater import in its “dialogic” dimension, practiced by Bidney here and elsewhere to the extent that this has become his characteristic artistic practice, distinguishing him from virtually all other contemporary poets. For every translated Rückert lyric, Bidney provides his own “comment” poem, pursuing his notion that contemporary poets should not be cowed by great predecessors, not step to the “back of the bus,” but should directly engage them; he does so line for line, sometimes expanding on Rückert’s insights, sometimes challenging them, sometimes updating. This he has had the pluck to do with Shakespeare’s sonnets in Shakespair: Poetic Replies to the 154 Sonnets of William Shakespeare and with Goethe’s West-East Divan. Here he takes on a lesser-known poet but one who deserves a wider readership.
Rückert’s The Wisdom of the Brahman presents a special challenge because it is written entirely in alexandrine rhymed couplets! Though this verse form stays in place throughout, the length of individual lyrics varies from four lines to seventy-eight, by my count. Bidney matches them line for line as each lyric becomes an occasion for one of his own. Rückert’s work is wisdom literature and, like Pope’s, most couplets have a central rumination that is metrically end-stopped yet organically related to thought development in the larger lyric. Some of the longer poems forsake philosophic lyric for ethical narrative. And there are shifts of tone in both poets, with humor and irony breaking through the insistent earnestness. Though I initially wondered if I would experience a surfeit of alexandrine couplets, I soon adjusted as one does to other repetitive poetic formats, from Homer to Pope to Ammons.
As for the substance of poetic thought in this volume, Bidney provides an excellent and full introduction in which he tells the reader what one should know biographically about Rückert and also what ethical and cosmological concepts one will be navigating. What is Rückert’s world view? It is difficult to summarize, but I would say that he is a latter-day Romantic much influenced by Eastern thought in a “practical idealism.” As Bidney writes, central to Rückert’s world view are concepts of life as “breathing,” the unity of nature analogous to the bead and dewdrop, the beating human heart that is both central and boundless, the need for both “selving” and “unselving,” the power of the creative imagination, and the need for “journaling,” or a mindfulness of the self as it proceeds through time.
This is a volume to be savored poem by poem and not one to be imbibed in a single sitting. Each couplet deserves reflection, each poem yields more in re-reading. This is an unusual work by two brilliant poets.
Larry Lockridge
New York University

COMMENTS OF EVALUATORS AND REVIEWERS on Martin Bidney’s verse translations and original poems

A book of verse translations with original dialogic verse replies is Poems of Wine and Tavern Romance: A Dialogue with the Persian Poet Hafiz (Albany: SUNY Press, 2013) W. L Hanaway in Choice (April 2014): 1394-5 writes: “In this fascinating and appealing book, Bidney…provides English translations of 103 of Hafiz’s poems from von Hammer-Purgstall’s German and provides a poetic ‘reply’ to each.”

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My West-East Divan: The Poems, with “Notes and Essays” – Goethe’s Intercultural Dialogues (Albany: SUNY Press, 2010), 249 poems translated with original dialogic verse replies, has so far been highly fortunate in garnering four published reviews. I’ll offer representative comments.

(1) Max Reinhart, in Studies in Romanticism 52 (Summer 2013): 311-13 writes: “Entirely in the ludic mode of the author of the West-östlicher Divan (1819, revised and expanded, 1827), the American poet Martin Bidney has journeyed east ringing the questing bell of his own caravan, issuing call and response to his brother Goethe and Goethe’s adoptive ‘twin,’ the fourteenth-century Persian ghazalist Hafiz of Shiraz, in both translation and independent verse. This translation sets a new standard for Goethe’s Divan.” He adds: “Bidney’s commentary poems deserve the point that criticism is not only possible in verse but may be, for its closer proximity to the poetic world of the original, equally, if differently, penetrating than the more familiar literary cricism in prose.”

(2) Erlis Wickersham, in Goethe Yearbook: Publications of the Goethe Society of North America XIX (Camden House, 2012): 280-1, writes: “This is an unusual book, a delightful combination of solid research and poetic inspiration, as befits a project whose major purpose is to offer a contemporary translation of Goethe’s West-östlicher Divan.” Wickersham continues: “Goethe also explicitly states that he was trying to write simple, direct, accessible poems. Thus, their translation will also have the same qualities, and it certainly does. It is excellent and eminently readable. …Finally, we can confidently assert that this book is a large and successful undertaking, challenging and intriguingly original.”

(3) Ronald Dart, in Clarion: Journal of Spirituality and Justice (August 19, 2012), an online journal, writes: “The ‘Introduction’ and ‘Commentary Poems’ for Goethe’s West-East Divan by Martin Bidney make for an exquisite dessert after a literary feast from a well prepared table. Goethe would be more than pleased and delighted with Bidney’s palate pleasing literary insights and poetry.” He adds: “There is a welcome tone and texture to Bidney’s translations, and meditative reads of each of the poems win and woo the longing soul. …The 242 poems by Bidney are must read keepers on Goethe and many other poets. The hefty text would have been much weaker without Bidney’s final poetic reflections. …Bidney has translated the texts well, brought together some of the finest scholars on Goethe and Islam and advanced the opportunities for a higher and more sophisticated approach to the West and Islam.”

(4) Gustav Seibt, in the Munich newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung Nr. 211 (September 2011) p. 16, says that Goethe’s East-West Divan is an “unprecedentedly bold, humanly and religiously liberated work of old age of the greatest poet of the German language,. . .a work that seems suited more than any other in European literature to resolve the constraints and misunderstandings between Islam and the West. On top of this, the translation mentioned is indeed outstanding. Is it a classic? Not yet. . . . This American Divan is so good that one could put it into the hands of every musician of the [Daniel] Barenboim [West-East] Orchestra [of Israelis and Palestinians] and say, You should not only play Beethoven, but read Goethe! . . .Today we can. . .announce something great: the complete Goethe Divan is now available in English. . . .Martin Bidney has rendered not only the verses but also the prose, i.e., the ‘Notes and Essays for a Better Understanding.’ Obviously [selbstredend], here too he has done everything right.” Seibt notes that in the American version, Goethe says of the Qur’an that the “style is austere, grand, fearsome, and in places truly sublime.” Seibt contrasts Bidney’s choice of the accurate word “fearsome,” which, as he points out, means “fear-generating,” to the word chosen by polemicist Thilo Sarrazin, who misunderstood “furchtbar” as “terrible.”

Stanford Professor Katharina Mommsen, one of the anonymous referees of my Goethe Divan, later allowed her comments to appear on the book jacket. She writes: “Bidney’s translations of the. . .Divan poems. . . render, for the first time, both form and content in a way that is faithful to the original. The poetical commentaries authored by. . .Bidney are of a stunning originality and. . . are composed entirely in the spirit of Goethe’s own conception of world literature as a deeply felt interchange among peoples and cultures. I recommend this book most emphatically and with highest praise, in the hope that after nearly two hundred years it will help Goethe’s West-East Divan to make the breakthrough it deserves in the English-speaking world.”

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Regarding my East-West Poetry: A Western Poet Responds to Islamic Tradition in Sonnets, Hymns, and Songs (2010), Mommsen, again an anonymous referee, allowed the following comment to appear: “Rarely has a book been so timely as this one. . . . The double role of the author as researcher and poet benefits the reader of the 140 Islam-related lyrics. . . . And the poetry is on such a high level of quality that it. . . motivates the reader to learn more.”

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About my Poetic Dialogue with Adam Mickiewicz (2007) Boris Dralyuk of UCLA writes in Slavic and East European Journal 53.3 (2009): 502-3 that “often entire sonnets come across with a grace approaching the original’s. . . . [In “View of Mountains from the Kozlov Plain”] Bidney must be applauded for his fidelity. . . . Bidney approaches his subject with professional care, and his notes reflect a broad engagement with Romantic scholarship. He makes intriguing and often insightful use of various theoretical frameworks. . . . Bidney’s collection offers reliable translations that frequently convey not only the sense, but also the spirit of Mickiewicz’s lyric masterpiece. It is hard to deny Bidney’s dedication to the material, and harder yet to resist his infectious exuberance. Students of Polish literature, and those interested in translation in general, will find this volume both useful and entertaining.”

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About my translations of Saul Tchernikhovsky’s Lyrical Tales and Poems of Jewish Life from the Russian versions of his friend Vladislav Khodasevich (2006), Janet Tucker (University of Arkansas) writes in Slavic and East European Journal 51.3 (2007): 627-8, “Martin Bidney,. . .a master translator from Russian, has enriched our world with his touching and musical versions of Tchernikhovsky’s original [Hebrew] pieces, refracted further through the prism of Vladislav Khodasevich’s Russian versions. . . . Bidney is to be congratulated for having given us such a marvelous and valuable book, a welcome addition to any library, and a boon for any individual who loves beauty and art.” Distinguished Professor Marilyn Gaddis Rose, founder of the Translation Research and Investigation Program at Binghamton University and editor of a SUNY Press series of translations of women writers, comments on the flyleaf of the book: “I was entranced. In a prosodic tour de force Bidney brings into English poetry Tchernikhovsky’s verse narratives of the fragile Jewish culture in early twentieth-century Russian villages. It is bittersweet: lilting rhythms counterpoint a doomed community.”

MORE REVIEWS TO COME…