Despite being separated by the sea and eight centuries, both of these poets share feelings of exile and displacement and exile as they wander more or less aimlessly around their respective countries, attempting to sort themselves out through writing poetry. They also share the good fortune of having attracted excellent biographers, who let them speak freely and directly through their poetry rather than simply writing about their deeds and personalities. Readers as a result vicariously travel with the poets, feeling their experiences directly and responding to them viscerally and emotionally as well as intellectually.

One of the most fascinating and mysterious literary phenomena is the process by which one author, Shakespeare, Pushkin, Dante, or in this case, Hafez, comes to loom so high above all their talented and successful contemporaries. Most poetry lovers outside of Iran will not recognize the names of any of Hafez’s rivals and colleagues, and would be surprised to learn that they once enjoyed reputations equal to his.

Born in Hong Kong and raised in Portland, Marilyn Chin is one of the most celebrated contemporary Chinese-American poets. Winner of the 2020 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, her collections include A Portrait of the Self as Nation (2018), Hard Love Province (2014), Rhapsody in Plain Yellow (2002), Dwarf Bamboo (1987) and The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty (1994, 2009) alongside a novel, Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen (2009). Also a translator, she has translated poems by the modern Chinese poet Ai Qing and co-translated poems by the Japanese poet Gozo Yoshimasu.

In this extended essay, David Chaffetz, a scholar of Persian and related literary traditions who has lived for years in China and Southeast Asia, zeroes in on erasures in the history of these traditions: the brilliant and highly trained women virtuosos—poets, singers, and dancers—who cut a swath through the opulent courts of Iran, India, and China.

Three Asian Divas: Women, Art and Culture In Shiraz, Delhi and Yangzhou, David Chaffetz (Abbreviated Press, November 2019)
Three Asian Divas: Women, Art and Culture In Shiraz, Delhi and Yangzhou, David Chaffetz (Abbreviated Press, November 2019)

The diva is a nearly universal phenomenon. Wherever poetry, music and mime have been practised with virtuosity, great women performers always take centre stage. Traditional Asian divas are however less well known and understood among English language readers than the great divas of Mozart and Puccini. Whether from Shiraz at the court of the Injuids, from Delhi during the twilight of the Moghuls, or from Yangzhou under the last Ming emperors, these Asian divas constitute the first identifiably modern women.