Category: Feminism

Freewill, a poem by David Garyan, published in Interlitq

“Freewill” was first published in Volume 11 of The American Journal of Poetry (July 1st, 2021). It was subsequently nominated for a Pushcart Prize by the editor, Robert Nazarene.

Please click here read the story behind the initiative to republish all my work lost with the disappearance of The American Journal of Poetry.



The oceanographer who hated seafood
couldn’t fall in love
with a woman from Switzerland,
Serbia, or even Ethiopia,
which did have access to the Red Sea,
but lost it in a war to Eritrea.
Moses has no place
in the minds of scientists
standing on opposite shores
of their happiness—
always out of reach.
They can choose their destiny
better than midnight refusing
to marry the color black,
or painters expecting warmth
from the neutral feelings they mix.
An estrangement is the distance
between two points
on which you can’t construct a bridge.
And like lovers who build
a boat together yet pray
for winds in opposite directions,
the world is splitting
like a religion where all
compose their own hymns,
where everyone
writes their own prayers.
Why? To save themselves?
The word Pangea has been forgotten
like an unwanted child
whose birth certificate
historians look for alone,
whose story merely geologists tell,
whose shape just the dead behold.
What else is there to live for?
Borders, divorce, restrictions,
marriage, boundaries, and freedom,
all with their own lines—
visible and invisible.
And yet, who’s really studied
the ocean long enough
to know Africa
once belonged to the New World?
And which woman
tells you the truth
when she says
falling in love
never interested her—
the nun or the prostitute?
There’s not enough science
in all the world’s depths
to baptize sincerity.
There’s not enough clarity
in the logic of vodka
to make people
believe hell exists.
Set the course for derangement.
It’s not sinful to sink
if you’re also praying
to rise from the ocean’s other side.
Life has become
a religion
that has drawn maps
for a planet covered
wholly by water,
while science has built
the ships to navigate it.
No God can convince
gravity to let down
a suicidal man—
the one hellbent on jumping
from heights he can’t survive.
who must love seafood
when their bodies
don’t allow
them to like it.
You find all this funny?
Don’t laugh.
There are men (and women)
who’ve quit drinking
ten years ago and still trip
on flat streets while walking
with their heads down—
looking at nothing but their feet.
Is it destiny or carelessness?
You’re free. You’re free.
Now go and experience
a pain other than your own;
study poverty like sociologists
who’ve never been hungry,
study pathology like doctors
who’ve never been sick,
study madness like psychologists
who’ve never needed one.
All this is just a movie—
you’re welcome to follow the script
exactly as it’s written,
and you’re also free
to turn the show off any time—
there’s always someone else
willing to endure the rest.


About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He received a master’s degree in International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage from the University of Bologna. He lives in Trento.

Open Letter to the Students of Brandeis University with Bibliography, a poem by David Garyan, published in Interlitq

Brief Background on the Poem: First published in Volume 11 of The American Journal of Poetry (July 1st, 2021). The author sent the poem to Joyce Carol Oates, who had previously slammed Brandeis over censoring words like “picnic,” and “tribe.” JCO enjoyed the poem and went on to promote it on her Twitter page. Either she, or someone at Twitter, took her post down as there’s no longer a record of it.




Open Letter to the Students of Brandeis University with Bibliography

This message is to say that if any of you guys want to come over for a picnic, I’m hosting one next week, for a very small fee. As a rule of thumb, please don’t bring insane amounts of food, and don’t play anything by the band Survivor; however, the music of Tribe, a lesser-known American rock group from Boston, will be very much welcomed, and only because Brandeis University itself is located in Boston. Please note that sophomores, juniors, and seniors are very welcome, but freshman are absolutely prohibited; this is my best attempt to be inclusive. Absolutely no student discounts—cash only. Your reservation will go through once I receive payment. We’ll gather in the Central neighborhood, known for having the highest crime rate in the city(1), so trigger warnings, perhaps, won’t keep you safe—killing it seems to be the name of the game here. What’s more—prostitutes who could be victims of sexual trafficking might be around(2). If you have any reservations about the event, or crazy people in general, please write your congressman or notify the nearest policeman—when making such references please avoid using the word “crazy” and instead opt for “bananas,” as in those who attended the outdoor eating event went bananas because they were allergic to pineapple. Generally, the word “crazy” is only acceptable in the academic context of Aerosmith, another band from Boston—this one much bigger than Tribe—who, in 1993, wrote a song called “Crazy,” which appeared on their album, Get a Grip, released that same year(3). Having said that, it’s best to get a grip on yourself and refrain from trying to stab somebody at this celebration, even if they attempt to take a stab at you first—to be crystal clear, in the case of self-defense, the Massachusetts Supreme Court will uphold your right to take a stab at defending yourself from someone who’s trying to stab you; this is only normal, but be advised that we, as the organizers of this party, take no responsibility for any bodily or psychological harm you may incur as a result of your participation. Please also note that if you’re homeless or mentally ill, you must first sign a waiver(4) to attend the gathering; this is official Brandeis policy and if you happen to have a disability which prevents you from being able to read or write(5), well that’s really unfortunate. Be advised that at the end of the event we’ll all engage in a thirty minute mediation session to try and discover our Spirit animal; the use of illicit substances is absolutely discouraged in conjunction with this quest—although music by Jane’s Addiction has been clinically shown to expedite the process of bringing out the shamanic entity(6).


(1) According to a Newsbreak article written just six days ago, you have a “1 in 17 chance of becoming a victim of crime in Central.”

(2) Refer here to the work of Teresa C. Kulig and Leah C. Butler, particularly their article “From ‘Whores’ to ‘Victims’: The Rise and Status of Sex Trafficking Courts,” published in 2019, which has absolutely nothing to do with the neighborhood of Central or even our discussion, but it must be mentioned, firstly, on the basis of principle, but, secondly, also to add at least one more footnote—two being the minimum requirement dictated by academic convention. The use of “whore” and “victim” is appropriate in this context, mainly because we are dealing with peer-reviewed scholarship—an article published in the very reputable journal called An International Journal of Evidence-based Research, Policy, and Practice, but also because both the authors in question are women, which makes it okay. Famous feminists such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have said that women can do anything and men must sit there and take it, although academic research has not been able to prove this conclusively, mainly due to the lack of hard data.

(3) Refer here to the work of Christopher Scales, particularly his article “Powwows, Intertribalism, and the Value of Competition,” which has absolutely nothing to do with the discussion at hand, but was nevertheless published by the University of Illinois Press, so it must be mentioned, firstly, on the basis of principle, but, secondly, also to add at least one more footnote—three is certainly better than two and Confucius (or someone with the same name as him) once said that “all good things come in threes.”

(4) Refer here to the very excellent research conducted in 2015 by Larina Chi-Lap Yim, Henry Chi-Ming Leung, Wai Chi Chan, Marco Ho-Bun Lam, Vivian Wai-Man Lim in their article “Prevalence of Mental Illness among Homeless People in Hong Kong,” which once again has absolutely nothing to do with our discussion, but still had the fortune of being published in a peer-reviewed academic journal called PLOS One—certainly not as prestigious as the University of Illinois Press, but nevertheless very respected, and this allows us to not only add a fourth footnote, but also increase the citation count for the six Chinese authors in question.

(5) Refer here to another very well-written article by Lara-Jeane C. Costa, Crystal N. Edwards, Stephen R. Hooper called “Writing Disabilities and Reading Disabilities in Elementary School Students: Rates of Co-Occurrence and Cognitive Burden,” which in no way at all touches upon the dilemma presented above, but does have a very fancy title and features three well-respected American scholars with PhDs—actually, only Costa and Hooper have the PhD; Edwards just has the MA, which is a great shame. In any case, she may have gotten the PhD by now, because this is all based on 2015 data.

(6) Refer here to Lucy Harmer’s book Discovering Your Spirit Animal: The Wisdom of the Shamans. Astute readers will quickly note that the work has a colon in it, which means that everything in it is absolutely unassailable. Colons have been around since the dawn of humanity; in fact, they’ve always been a part of humanity, and so their presence cannot be questioned, especially when you find them in academic titles published by North Atlantic Books, a California-based nonprofit publisher of somatics, spirituality, ecology, social justice, and self-help books since 1974.


Costa L-JC, Edwards CN, Hooper SR. “Writing Disabilities and Reading Disabilities in Elementary School Students: Rates of Co-Occurrence and Cognitive Burden.” Learning Disability Quarterly. 2016; 39 (1):17-30.

Harmer, L. Discovering Your Spirit Animal: The Wisdom of the Shamans. North Atlantic Books. 2009.

Scales, Christopher. “Powwows, Intertribalism, and the Value of Competition.” Ethnomusicology 51, no. 1. 2007.

Teresa C. Kulig & Leah C. Butler. “From ‘Whores’ to ‘Victims’: The Rise and Status of Sex Trafficking Courts, Victims & Offenders.” 2019; 14:3, 299-321.

Uncredited. “Five Most Dangerous Areas in Boston.” Newsbreak. 2021.   

Yim, L. C., Leung, H. C., Chan, W. C., Lam, M. H., & Lim, V. W. (2015). “Prevalence of Mental Illness among Homeless People in Hong Kong.” PloS one10(10).



About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He received a master’s degree in International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage from the University of Bologna. He lives in Trento.

“American Prayer,” a poem by David Garyan, published in Interlitq

“American Prayer” was first published in Volume 10 of The American Journal of Poetry (January 1st, 2021). 

Please click here read the story behind the initiative to republish all my work lost with the disappearance of The American Journal of Poetry.


American Prayer

A long time has passed
since I’ve been alive;
that was when waves
convinced me
of the ocean’s danger,
when fires lit for no purpose
could feel warm,
when the composer’s ear
still heard joy in laughter,
when the cook’s tongue
never spoke a gloomy word,
when the killer’s hand
cut with the same care
as the surgeon’s,
when a mother’s eyes
could stand to watch
her children fall—
if only, for a second,
to study
the world’s pain.
Say, how do you feel naked
in a room where no one
wants to turn on the light?
How do you feel at home
when every neighbor hates you—
but only because they admire your house?
My world has become a jungle
in which I’m always in danger,
but where I feel no fear;
my thoughts have become a circus
in which I mustn’t trust
the goodness of clowns—
especially when they’re smiling.
I can no longer tell
the lions apart.
I’ve built so many cages
for myself—the wilderness
inside me has escaped;
my anger is an arsonist
happily lighting
just one candle in church—
then leaving without regret;
my depression washes
the windows of skyscrapers
without ever looking down.
The Europe I’ve known
has vanished like a prostitute
everyone wants to sleep with,
but no one cares to look for.
The America I’ve disowned
has returned like an illness
I brought upon myself.
America, I’m a smoker
trying to treat cancer
without quitting cigarettes.
Europe, I need a feminist wife,
the one who’ll obey
my every command
because she wants to—
and feels empowered
to act this way.
What’s next? Asia?
Like winter searching
for love in the mountains,
like summer trying to hide
its secret from fire,
I’ve run away from myself—
I’ve gone somewhere new
where it’s always the same,
where everyone knows
who I am because they’ve never
seen me before.
I’m giving myself away
like an artist no one can stand,
but everyone wants to collect.
The world is imposing itself
like a virgin looking to rape someone.
Every government has made
me hate the silence
of crowded libraries.
Every institution has given
me reasons to question
the shape of a question mark.
I’ve lost all faith in my prophets—
every day I laugh
at their caricatures.
My courage is a cartoonist
living in France who draws
what he wants but never
shows his work out of fear.
My cage is a religion
that tells me I’m free—
so long as I don’t leave it.
No, it’s better to bury
the words of dead
seers and their rules
all over Europe’s streets;
they resemble the abyss
you find at the bottom
of someone’s cup
when they’re drinking alone
and the bartender
will no longer serve them.
Like a terrorist
without friends looking
for a crowd,
I’ve come to hate
the happiness of large parties;
my own whiskey is sweeter
and I can’t stand the bitterness
when I’m not drinking it.
Still, I despise the smiles
of a thousand strangers.
I’ve begun admiring the mountains
like a geographer
who can’t wait to retire.
I start my prayers like poor
people who want to steal,
but don’t have the courage for it.
I watch every sunset
like an old man that knows
he isn’t waking up tomorrow.
I wait and wait for the sunrise
like a drunk woman
anxious to get a better look
at her one-night stand.
At noon, I ask myself questions—
the ones which bore
even fat philosophers
who’ve done too much
sitting and thinking.
After lunch, I think
about the loaded revolver
under my pillow,
and this makes me tired—
I take a nap and fly
myself to the next sunset.


About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He received a master’s degree in International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage from the University of Bologna. He lives in Trento.

7 Poems from (DISS)INFORMATION, by David Garyan, published in Interlitq


The poems “Dear Psychiatrist,” “Smoke and Mirrors,” and “If You Could Be Anyone in the World, Who Would You Be?” first appeared in Volume 5 of The American Journal of Poetry (July 1st, 2018). They subsequently appeared—along with these other poems—in (DISSINFORMATION), published by Main Street Rag.

Please click here read the story behind the initiative to republish all my work lost with the disappearance of The American Journal of Poetry.


Dear Psychiatrist

My life is a supermarket full of choices,
but what I want is not in stock.
When I share secrets,
it’s only the most boring ones—
especially during our session.
Writing this on a blank page turns me on:
“This page is intentionally left blank.”
I resist peer pressure
with my inability to make friends.
All my ideas are pure 100% orange juice from concentrate.
My stream of consciousness
loves slippery slopes,
and this attitude will only get worse.
Cocaine is what I consider rush hour traffic.
I buy shoes that are three sizes too large—
just to leave a bigger carbon footprint.
When I go to a Gentlemen’s Club,
I never meet anyone who doesn’t embody its name.
My dream is to build a thousand landfills
full of nothing but reusable water bottles.
I envision a perfect world, in which Equal Opportunity
won’t discriminate against Opportunists.
My specialty is interest free loans,
where I never forget the favor
and always expect something in return.
My brain is the septic tank
of a mental institution.



Smoke and Mirrors

I like the good old days better, because I wasn’t there to experience them.
—Ozka Wild

Ah, everything was so much nicer back then.
You could smoke in a restaurant.
You could smoke on a plane.
Even children loved second-hand smoke.
Everyone and everything smoked.
Your friendly neighborhood doctor smoked.
Your friendly neighborhood doctor wrote opium
prescriptions to kids who wouldn’t fall asleep.
Firemen smoked while driving Ford Pintos
that were rear-ended by other Ford Pintos
because real men should never be afraid
of explosions and fire, especially firemen.
Fidel Castro smoked. So did Joseph Stalin.
Hitler smoked everything that wasn’t German.
Truman only smoked Japan.
Buddhist monks smoked
themselves to protest the war in Vietnam,
while Nixon blew a lot of smoke
and never made the peace,
but maybe it’s finally time to rejoice:
Smoking rates are at an all-time low.



If You Could Be Anyone in the World, Who Would You Be?

Not Charles Bukowski—his liver;
this is my wish, really.
I thought about other options,
actually for some time now,
and nothing sounds quite as appealing.
Albert Einstein—or his brain—would be nice,
but that involves a lot of thinking
and I don’t have the energy for it.
A friend, some time ago, proposed
the fists of Muhammad Ali;
it was a good suggestion, I admit,
but that entails dealing with constant soreness,
not to mention, hitting
people all the time. No.
When I declined the face of Marilyn Monroe,
my girlfriend got angry, becoming insecure
about her own features.
Maybe it’s because I’m a private person;
people’s constant attention would bother me,
and, also, living longer than 36 is a must.
Old Hank’s liver will just have to do—and it’s not
a compromise, really. Think about this: I’d be happy
all the time, and I wouldn’t think; I’d never knock
someone out (maybe only to sleep). Plus, I’d
be responsible for making the rest of Buk’s body
happy, so he can write about what it is he writes about.
Nobody likes a sober Charles Bukowski,
and the next worst thing is a Charles Bukowski
who can’t process his liquor.
See, I’d be very important;
like Marilyn, I could live in Hollywood,
yet last so much longer: 73 years, to be exact—
that’s more than twice as much.



Freeway: Clearly a spondee

The stress
falls on both syllables:
and way,
because the 101
is never
during rush hour,
and that’s the fastest
to my job in Encino.

It’s like being thrown off a boat,
and given two choices:
sink or swim.
But only one choice
is a real choice,
because I can’t actually swim.
So, I pretend to have freewill
and make the decision to sink.

Yes. In a                free country,
I can do things my way.
I can quit my job and be happy,
but if I quit my job,
then I don’t eat, and if I don’t eat
then I can’t stay alive to make more choices
that I’m not free to make.
So, Kant? How do I freely quit my job,
and, at the same time, choose
not to starve?



Behind the Background

No one knows my name
in a city whose name
everyone knows.
To escape,
I only go to the bars
where people drink
to get drunk—
where bartenders
are always busy enough
not to remember
their regulars.

In a city whose name
everyone knows,
my face is swimming pool
no one has jumped in for years.

In a city whose name
everyone knows,
my eyes are traffic lights
that never turn green.

In a city whose name
everyone knows,
my arms are roadblocks
to dead-end streets.

Why doesn’t anyone know
who I am in a city whose name
everyone knows?

Someone is always awake
in a city whose name
everyone knows.

Something is always open
in a city whose name
everyone knows.

Something new always happens
in a city whose name
everyone knows.

You can always tell old friends
“I’m busy” in a city whose name
everyone knows.
I want someone to remember
me in a city whose name
everyone knows,
but I forget to remember
that I’ve also forgotten
many friends
in a city whose name
everyone knows.



The Post-Modern Man

In Spanish, for instance, a cheetah is always un guepardo (masculine) and a zebra is always una cebra (feminine), regardless of their biological sex.

The post-modern man is a masculine
pronoun in the passive voice—
no longer the grammatical
head of English,
but more prominent than the Queen.
Donny never makes chief decisions;
women in power give him directions,
then decisions are made in his name.
Donny doesn’t fix the car these days;
he leaves it with Sharon, the mechanic,
then tells Suzan, his wife:
“Problems have been solved.”
Donny is a real man; he wants results
by any means necessary.
He doesn’t care who pronounces his verdicts
or who fixes his cars,
so long as judgments are pro-Donny
and he isn’t seen in a mini-van.
Donny likes the 21st century;
he can freely take out the trash
and change Junior’s diapers
because he’s no longer the subject
performing these actions—
Donny is simply a man
being shaped by his wife,
and modernity says it’s okay
for the diapers and trash
to be handled by Donny,
especially when he fears
being labeled a sexist.
Donny is on a moral crusade
against oppressive linguistics;
he wants to close the gender gap
in every tyrannical language,
particularly Russian,
but also Spanish.
How can moloko have a masculine ending
when it’s women who breastfeed?
Isn’t it time we let the cebra decide
what her real gender is?
After all, she can already choose
whether she’s black or white.
Donny’s had enough—
no more Russian misogyny
and Spanish machismo;
the fight for equality won’t stop
until the first sex change operation
is performed on the mother tongue
of Russians and Spaniards.
Donny is outraged—and rightly so:
He makes more money than Suzan,
but he accepts this because Donny doesn’t really make
more money than Suzan; more money is simply received
by Donny and he can do nothing about it.
Give him a break, for God’s sake—
Donny’s no expert in Foucault, or discourse analysis in general.
How much power does one man really have?
Donny thinks he can change things by voting;
he’s an informed voter—
he only cares about the issues.
Donny never votes for Republicans,
unless they happen to be women.
The act of being active in politics
is wholly embraced by Donny,
but he’s totally powerless;
he can’t keep his own promises,
but he’s voting for people who promise
to keep his promises for him.
Donny’s has no agency over the law;
the law acts upon him—makes him who he is.
Donny does all he can to follow the crowd,
but he’s one crowd away from changing his mind.
Words like “humanity” and “manmade”
are thoroughly avoided by Donny;
he believes the weaker sex must be rescued
with excellent lexis,
but only on three conditions:
first, chivalry stays;
second, beach volley ball remains
the sole women’s sport men enjoy watching;
third, men are still expected to pay for the date—
so they can still expect something in return.
Donny’s attitude is a driver in a Hummer
who prefers to go where he’s told,
but Donny would never be a chauffeur,
unless the taxi was being steered by him.
Donny’s mind is a sports car
with an old navigation system;
he never gets lost in familiar places—
the computer always leads him astray.



Where Have All the Vikings Gone?

Agnes says she wants a real man,
someone who’s tall, assertive,
with broad shoulders, and knows
what he wants in life—
a man who can hold his liquor
and watch sad films without crying.

Her friend, Astrid, asks what’s wrong
with her husband, Lorenzo.
Agnes says he never wants to wash the dishes,
or watch Cinderella with his daughter;
he never wants to change the diapers,
or hire a babysitter so she can have a career, too.

Astrid laughs and says that Agnes
is looking for Marco Polo’s ship
in landlocked countries.

Helga says she wants to be swept
off her feet like in the movies,
but she’s tired of soft men
who can’t even pick up a broom—
much less carry her home from the car.

Helga waves her arms in frustration;
she’s tired of weak, indecisive, and insecure men
always asking her “Where should we go on a date?
or “What movie should we see?”
She wants her man to be a man.
She wants him to have a plan.
She’s desperate for passion.

Helga’s friends, Bjorgh and Tilde,
ask how Helga’s date went with Konstantinos.
She says it went horribly.
Konstantinos wouldn’t split the check
and insisted on watching The Pirates of the Caribbean.

Helga wanted to pay for the movie;
Konstantinos refused: “It’s not right—in my culture, men always pay.”
Bjorgh and Tilde laugh.
Helga says she believes in equal rights:
“He thinks I can’t pay for myself? How rude.”

Tilde smiles and says that Scandinavian men are the best—
they’re gentle, sensitive, and always do what you tell them.
“Exactly,” Helga says. “They’re not romantic at all.”


About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He received a master’s degree in International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage from the University of Bologna. He lives in Trento.

Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series: Rooja Mohassessy interviewed by David Garyan

Rooja Mohassessy

May 2nd, 2023

Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series:

Rooja Mohassessy

interviewed by David Garyan


Click here to read Rooja Mohassessy’s poems in Interlitq’s California Poets Feature


DG: Your debut poetry collection, When Your Sky Runs Into Mine, was released to great acclaim and has sold very well. The poems are political in nature, dealing with specific topics such as the Iran-Iraq War, the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka, but also general topics like immigration and discrimination. Can poetry be a way of coping with these events or is your main aim to bring greater awareness to these issues?

RM: My poetry is political in the extent to which political events touch or affect my personal life. Even the poem “A Muslim” about the Easter Sunday attack in Sri Lanka is a very private poem. It is about the way my mother, a Muslim woman, feels when she sees atrocities committed around the world in the name of Islam. It is irrational to feel responsible for or ashamed of these actions, but many Muslims do. It is a natural response. I am glad the poems are proving to be a good example of how the personal is political.

DG: You have dedicated When Your Sky Runs Into Mine “for the women of Iran, its true warriors.” Who are some of your favorite Iranian women writers, and, in addition, what message do you have for the activists in their quest for freedom?

It would be presumptuous of me to have a message for the women of Iran. They are the ones risking their lives. For forty-five years they have put up with brutality and oppression at the hands of a patriarchal regime with narrow, antiquated interpretations of Islam. The women of Iran are forward thinkers and at the forefront of the current opposition movement. I follow their plight primarily as a woman, and then as an Iranian woman living in the diaspora. I am not surprised that that they have not succumbed to the brainwashing tactics of the current regime. Whatever the shortcoming of the reign of the Pahlavi Monarchy, it was a time of tremendous progress for women’s rights in Iran.

DG: As you write, the majority of poems in When Your Sky Runs Into Mine, “were inspired by the art of my uncle Bahman Mohassess (1931-2010). Can you talk more specifically about his influence on you, why art and poetry are indeed so closely linked, and which of his paintings affected you most profoundly?

RM: My poems stand on their own as they pay homage to Mohassess and his art. A good number of the poems in the collection explore our relationship. Some are addressed to him, at least one is in persona, from his vantage point. His New Year gift to me of a pastel drawing of a fawn playing the flute (image below) is perhaps the work I cherish most. The pinks and blues in this piece are an unusual color palette for Mohassess.  He used to say of me that I only saw the good in people. Perhaps the pastel hues were for my benefit, a window into how he imagined I experienced the world. And of course, we grow into the vision of those who love us.  The poem I wrote in response to this piece is not included in When Your Sky Runs Into Mine. Maybe someday I will publish it.

B. Mohassess, 1990. Pastel on paper

DG: You left Iran on the eve of the war with Iraq. Can you describe some of the emotions you felt and do you see yourself ever returning to the land, which, to this day, is the heir to Hafez, Omar Khayyam, Ferdowsi, Nizami, and the countless great Persian poets of that time?

I left the country four years into the Iran-Iraq war. The first two sections of the book, I would even go so far as to say the entire collection is my recount of that experience. Poetry has been my safe space for exploring these memories. As to returning to Iran, I am entirely open to living in Iran.

DG: When Your Sky Runs Into Mine begins and ends with an image of stepping out—of going from one place to another (“off the pedestal onto the grass,” and the act of applying kohl before going out). In this sense, the collection begins with the general topic of Iranian politics and ends with a very specific poem dedicated to your great-grandmother Khanoom. Two questions: Can you briefly talk about how the Iranian diaspora has been affected by recent events, as opposed to those who, in a sense, have not stepped out of the country?

I cannot speak for the Iranian diaspora. However, I can say that many, not only Iranians, around the world have mobilized to support the women-led movement Zan, Zendegi, Azadi in Iran. The media coverage has been varied. I, like many, receive news of the happenings in Iran through social media and through relatives. And of course, like many, I am hopeful and watching.

DG: Often politics and sometimes art, even, fail to bring us together. What we have left is food, and even here issues are contested. Nevertheless, food is the one culture we must all partake in. If you had to recommend one Persian dish, which one would it be?

I enjoy good food from all cultures. I love the Jamaican dish Ackee and Saltfish which, for me, tastes very similar to Mirza Ghasemi, a dish from the Caspian region of Iran where my uncle was from. His version did not include tomatoes. The dish is made of four simple ingredients, garlic, turmeric, eggplant, and egg. But good luck making a good one! My uncle was an excellent cook. By his standards, I never mastered the Mirza Ghasemi. I can make a good spaghetti Carbonara though, which is another dish he taught me.

DG: Do you already have a sense of how your next collection will begin, or is it still too early to think about that?

I don’t have a particular project. I write about whatever I am moved by, something in the garden, on the news, a memory. Though at the moment I have been writing in response to the unrest in Iran.

DG: What are you reading or working on at the moment?

I am reading “unHistory” by Kwame Dawes and John Kinsella, “The Water Between Us,” Shara McCallum’s first collection, and “Everybody’s jonesin’ for something” by Indigo Moor.



About Rooja Mohassessy

Rooja Mohassessy is an Iranian-born poet and educator. She is a MacDowell Fellow and an MFA graduate of Pacific University, Oregon. Her debut collection When Your Sky Runs Into Mine (Feb 2023) was the winner of the 22nd Annual Elixir Poetry Award. Her poems and reviews have appeared in Narrative Magazine, Poet Lore, RHINO Poetry, Southern Humanities Review, CALYX Journal, Ninth Letter, Cream City Review, The Adroit Journal, New Letters, The Florida Review, Poetry Northwest, The Pinch, The Rumpus, The Journal, and elsewhere.