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Coleman Barks and Rumi

RUMI: VOICE OF LONGING (Sounds True) • Coleman Barks

Be still my soul.

I used to have a cassette years ago of Coleman Barks reading his impeccable translations of this Persian mystic poet, considered by many the greatest spiritual poet. I'm not exaggerating when I say I must have listened to it a thousand times, I couldn't get enough of that tape--those words, that voice, that music. Sometimes I'd be giving a friend a ride somewhere, and the tape would come on when I started the car up, and after a few minutes they'd look over and ask, wild-eyed, " What is this?" like they'd heard a ghost. I always liked that.

One of the reasons Rumi is so popular today is that his words ring true, peculiarly true and pertinent nine centuries after they were written down. (And we sometimes talk of songs standing the test of time, indeed...)

Although I adored the oud on that cassette (by the master Hamza el Din), the accompaniment here is superb, otherworldly and thus appropriate. Appearing in various combinations, Marcus Wise plays tabla and percussion, David Whetstone plays sitar, Tom Kehoe plays Japanese flutes, and Steve Goldstien plays ghatam and African pots. The music on this 2-cd set is on the whole much more soothing than that tape, and so is the reading. This further assures that these incredible beams of light that are the words of a saint come ringing through the centuries, piercing the veil of all that we're obsessed with or worried about. They touch us in that place that is so hard to reach, and so incredibly important, if we are to remember what and who we are beyond this little personality moving through a world so crowded and complicated that we can't possibly matter.

Along with being a globally venerated translator of ecstatic Sufi poetry (in collaboration with Persian linguist John Moyne), Coleman Barks is, to my ears, a voice of quiet crazy brave happiness. His tone pulls me right out of my bag, and into the words of the ages, the magic of someone speaking who wears his soul on the outside.

I should also mention that disc 2 features an appearance by Robert Bly, suddenly showing up in the manner of an unannounced guest musician at a gig, waiting in the shadows, unnoticed by the audience until they hear his distinctive playing--then the two poets take turns reading for a while, like a couple of Jazz giants joyfully tossing short solos back and forth. (You can get a taste of their exchange in our extended clip "A Chickpea Leaps.")

We're very excited to have come upon the sublime offerings of a great Colorado company called Sounds True. Check out their website, and sample the soul stirring sounds of Rumi on the Listen page. • FG

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colemanbarks.com       soundstrue.com

a cool thing       a brief rumi bio

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