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Talking Shop with Coleman Barks

Coleman Barks, author of The Essential Rumi, talks to YJ about how translating the Sufi poet's work keeps him connected to his higher calling.

By Theresa Heacock

YJ: What are your thoughts on integrating Rumi's mystic qualities into daily life?
CB: Rumi celebrates the mystery of dreams, the release, the magic of being enlightened while we are surrendered in this state. In Rumi's poem, "Omar and the Old Poet," the old poet who lives in the cemetery needs new harp strings and prays for them. Then Omar, the Second Caliph of Islam, is told to take 700 dinars to the cemetery and give the gift to this old man sleeping there. The poet then realizes what he wanted was not an improvement in his art, but a connection with the grace of the gift.

YJ: How does Rumi's work affect the poetry you write?
CB: While working on my personal poetry, my shame, joy, and jealousy get in the way. Rumi is larger than my personal soap opera. It sounds schizophrenic, doesn't it, but I like the balance of it. By keeping involved in my art and being taught by this larger being, that seems to be my work to do in the making of consciousness that is going on with this planet.

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