The Same Gate: A Poetic Exchange

“Inside the Great Mystery that is,
we don’t really own anything.
What is this competition we feel then,
before we go, one at a time, through the same gate?”
 ─Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi

Seventeen poets and writers from the U.S., Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, and Iran arrived in Konya, in central Turkey, between May 3 and May 8, 2013, to participate in The Same Gate conference. The gathering centered around the life and work of celebrated 13th century poet Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, a central poet in Afghan, Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and Turkish literature, and the bestselling poet in America. The conference included discussions, collaborative writing sessions, and visits to museums, shrines, and cultural sites, and culminated in a collaborative book of ghazals (a poetic form employed by Rumi), prose reflections, and translations composed by participants as a homage to the spirit of international exchange. 

Participants met with Esin Celebi Bayru, Rumi's great granddaughter (21 generations removed), visited the Rumi Shrine and the shrine of his mentor, Shams-e-Tabris in Konya, and traveled to the southern town of Karaman to explore a village where Rumi once lived with his family. The Same Gate sought to foster greater understanding between Iranian and American poets in particular, building upon the memorandum of understanding signed by the presidents of the University of Iowa and the University of Tehran to increase collaboration between the two institutions. Beirut-based documentary filmmaker Nigol Bezjian recorded the encounter.

With Rumi’s poetry as common ground, the project brought poets together to think and talk about poetry and to produce innovative new collaborative work, nearly 800 years after Rumi composed the ghazal that gave The Same Gate its name.

The Same Gate conference has been documented in tHREE formats:


The volume The Same Gate:  A Collection of Writings in the Spirit of Rumi,  edited by Nataša Ďurovičová and Christopher Merrill, and published by Autumn Hill Books.



The conference participants answer a simple question: Who is your Rumi? (13 min)

Scarlet rugs with intricate designs hang

Nigol Bezjian’s lyrical documentary The Same Gate: a Poetic Exchange follows the seventeen poets and scholars from Konya to Cappadocia, overhearing their conversations along the way. (48 min)


Farkhonda ARZOOABY, director of the Partaw Cultural House, is a journalist, writer, and human rights activist in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif.  She is the editor of the Dari monthly, Partaw, published by the Partaw Cultural House.  She is currently a fourth-year student in the Department of Dari Literature at the Faculty of Languages and Literature of Balkh University.  She studies Dari literature, including the works of Rumi. Her research articles on Rumi have been published and broadcast by the Dari daily Hasht-i-Subh and Deutsche Welle.  She has also collected and compiled the Dari poems of youth in Mazar-i-Sharif under the titles Drang dar Rang (Focus on Color) and Farda Waraq Bezan (Look forward to Future).

Born in Iran, Mohsen EMADI is the award-winning author of four collections of poetry published in Spain and in Iran, and four books of translations. He is the founder of the web gallery The Persian Anthology of World Poetry, featuring more than 300 world poets, and translators. He writes for the Encyclopedia of Iranian folklore, Ketab Kuche.  He has been featured at many international poetry festivals, including the International Poetry Festival of Moncayo, Mahalta International Poetry Festival,The International Symposium on Rumi (Turkey), and International Symposium on Nietzsche (Finland). He was awarded Primeo de Poesia de Miedo in 2010 and IV Beca de Antonio Machado in 2011.  Presently, he lives in Mexico City.

Emre Erdem (playwright, theatre critic, dramaturg, researcher; Turkey) is Vice President of the Theatre Education Committee (TEC) at the World Congress of ITI-UNESCO. He has worked on several “drama in education” projects for poor youth in Turkey’s earthquake zone; and he founded the One Ray of Hope Project with the help of German theatre instructors from Grips and the Dresden Young Generation Theatre. His project, Ich, Du, Und (‘I, You, And’) publishes writing by children and teenagers. He has received a Goethe Institute Artist Fellowship and served as a visiting scholar at the Universities of Essen and Lüneburg in Germany. Among his awards is the X. Sadri Alisik Young Generation Theatre Prize. In 2005, he directed the UNICEF 2005 Gala in Turkey as the Fund’s artistic advisor.

Ömer ERDEM is a poet, editor and media journalist born in Konya and now based in Istanbul.  He began publishing poetry in late 1980s; a first collection, Dünyaya Sarkıtılan İpler, appeared in 1996. It was followed by the volumes Mesafesi Kadar İnleyen Rüzgar, YitirişlerYarım AğaçlarEvvelKireç and  Kör.  In 1997 he founded Kaşgar Journal.  He edits and reviews, and is a regular contributor to the book supplement section of the daily Radikal

Tarik GÜNERSEL is a poet, playwright, translator, actor, and the current president of PEN Turkey. His works include collections of poetry, short & nano stories, aphorisms, travel memoirs and opera libretti. Since 1974, he has been writing A Toy Called Time, a multi-genre mosaic. In 1995, he initiated the Poetic Space Lab. His plays include Threat, A Wolf in Armour, Billennium, and Fate Planners. Among his stage adaptations is a monodrama, Being Anne Frank. His Amore More Ore Re is a selection of ideas from world culture, his aphorisms and his daughter Baris Günersel’s poem about the future. His translations into Turkish include works by Perry Anderson, Samuel Beckett, Tim Burton, Vaclav Havel, Savyon Liebrecht and Arthur Miller. As a dramaturge at Istanbul City Theater, he has acted on stage and in films, and directed some of his plays. He is a columnist for the Fearless Ink section of the online literary magazine Sampsonia Way.

Marilyn HACKER is the author of twelve books of poems, including Names (2009),  Essays on Departure (2006) and Desesperanto (2003), and an essay collection Unauthorized Voices (2010). Her eleven volumes of translations from the French include Marie Etienne’s King of a Hundred Horsemen (2008) , which received the 2009 American PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, Hédi Kaddour’s Treason (2010), , and Vénus Khoury-Ghata’s Nettles (2008). For her own work, she received the National Book Award for Presentation Piece, an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2004, the American PEN Voelcker Award for poetry in 2010, and the Argana Prize from Morocco’s Bayt as-Sh’ir for 2011. She is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She lives in Paris.

Golan HAJI is a Syrian poet and translator with a postgraduate degree in pathology. He was born in Amouda, a Kurdish town in the north of Syria. He studied medicine at the University of Damascus. He has worked as a translator from English and American literature, and has translated Robert Louis Stevenson's Scottish classic Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde into Arabic, in addition to Dark Harbor , selected poems of Mark Strand, Rear Window, scenario of Alfred Hitchcock's movie, Elephant by Dan Wylie, and Notebooks of Anton Chekhov. His first collection of poetry in Arabic, Called in Darkness, won the Al-Maghut prize in poetry. His second book of poetry, Someone Sees You as a Monster, was published during the event celebrating Damascus as the Capital of culture in 2008. His next collection, My Cold Faraway Home, is forthcoming in Beirut. He lived in Damascus until he had to flee his country, and has now settled in France. Golan Haji contributes regularly to the cultural press in Lebanon. He has participated in many poetry festivals in Syria and all over the world. His poetry appeared in French, English, Italian, Danish, Maltese, Kurdish and other languages.

Mr. Mohammad HASSAN is a Pashtun poet, analyst, and writer from Afghanistan's Nangahar Province. He is the author of two collections of poetry. His book Islam and Music on Islamic Sufism, includes a focus on Rumi.  His parents fled to Pakistan in 1979 to oppose the Soviet-backed communist regime in Afghanistan.  A graduate of the University of Science and Technology in Peshawar, he has worked as a reporter and held various administrative positions with the Afghan governement. He currently heads the Cultural Committee of the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan and serves as an advisor to the Commission of Nomads, Frontier, Nationalities and Tribes of the Afghan National Assembly. 

Richard KENNEY is the S. Wilson and Grace B. Pollock Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Washington. He is the author of four books of poetry: The Evolution of the Flightless Bird (1984), Orrery (1985), The Invention of the Zero (1993), and The One-Strand River (2007). His work has been published and reviewed widely in magazines, and has attracted honors, among them fellowships from the MacArthur, Guggenheim, Ingram Merrill and Lannan Foundations, the Rome Prize in Literature, and the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize.

Christopher Merrill has published seven collections of poetry, including Watch Fire, for which he received the Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets; many edited volumes and translations; and six books of nonfiction, among them, Only the Nails Remain: Scenes from the Balkan Wars, Things of the Hidden God: Journey to the Holy Mountain, The Tree of the Doves: Ceremony, Expedition, War, and Self-Portrait with Dogwood. His writings have been translated into nearly forty languages; his journalism appears widely; his honors include a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres from the French government, numerous translation awards, and fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial and Ingram Merrill Foundations. As director of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa since 2000, Merrill has conducted cultural diplomacy missions to more than fifty countries. He served on the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO from 2011-2018, and in April 2012 President Barack Obama appointed him to the National Council on the Humanities.

Ali Mohammad MOAZZENI is a full professor of Persian language and literature at the University of Tehran. He has taught in almost every field of Persian literature, with a focus on mysticism. He directs the Center of Excellence in Mystical Language and Literature at the University of Tehran and serves as a member of the Planning Committee of Persian Language and Literature in Iran's Ministry of Science and Technology. His works include Dar Ghalamro Aftaab (an introduction to the impact of the Quran and Hadith in Persian literature) and his numerous papers on Persian literature have been widely published in Iran and abroad. He has served as a visiting professor in Pakistan and India and spoken and participated in conferences at McGill University (Montreal) Charles University (Prague) and elsewhere.

Jila MOSSAED was born in Iran but has lived in Sweden for the past 26 years.  She is the author of 17 books, 5 of them published to critical acclaim in Swedish. Her work has been translated in to other languages such as English, German, Italian, Estonian, Dutch and Spanish. She was awarded the ABF prize on 1999 and the Gustav Frödings grant, the first time it was awarded to a non-Swedish poet.  Jila has researched Rumi’s poetry and held performances in Swedish of his work. At the moment she is finishing her sixth book in Swedish.

Abdul Qayum QAWIM is a professor in the Department of Dari at the Faculty of Languages and Literature at Kabul University.  He has published numerous articles and books on literature and history.  Born to a Tajik family in Afghanistan's Takhar province, he is a graduate of Kabul University, the School of Oriental and African Studies at London University, Tehran University, and Tajikistan State University, where he earned his Ph.D. in Classical Persian Literature.  A former Chancellor of Takhar University, he returned to Kabul in 2005 to resume teaching.  He has served as the editor of Kabul University’s quarterly Adab, registrar of Kabul University, and dean of the Faculty of Languages and Literature.  He is the author of both the poetry collection The Bubble of Hands and A Glance at the Literary Development in Afghanistan.

Somaia RAMISH is a leading Herat-based poet whose work has been published in a number of poetry collections.  She is a member of the Herat Literary Association, a founder of the Khana Adabeyat Javan (Young Literary Home) and the director of the Naw Andishan Cultural and Social Foundation (New Thinkers).  In addition to her profession as a poet, she contributes to the women’s page of the Etafagh Aslam newspaper.  She also manages a radio station for girls in Herat City. She is currently completing her degree in Dari Literature at Herat University.

Bina SHAH is a Karachi-based journalist and fiction writer, and has taught writing at the university level. She is the author of two short story collections, Animal Medicine (1999) and Blessings (2007), and four novels: Where They Dream in Blue (2001), The 786 Cybercafe (2004), Slum Child (2009), and A Season For Martyrs (2010). Her work has been translated into Urdu, Spanish, and Italian. She has written extensively for international and Pakistani newspapers, including The Independent, The International Herald Tribune, Dawn, Libas, The Friday Times, and (online) at Chowk and Granta magazine.

Sholeh WOLPÉ is an award-winning poet, literary translator, and writer. She is the author of Keeping Time With Blue Hyacinths, Rooftops of Tehran, and The Scar Saloon; an award-winning book of translations, Sin: Selected Poems of Forugh Farrokhzad; a full co-translation of Walt Whitman's Song of Myself into Persian as part of the Whitman Web project; and two anthologies, The Forbidden: Poems from Iran and its exiles, and Breaking The Jaws of Silence -- Sixty American Poets Speak to the World.  Sholeh is a regional editor of Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East edited by Reza Aslan, and the editor of 2010 Iran issue of the Atlanta Review which became the journal's bestselling edition. She is also a contributing editor of Los Angeles Review of Books.  Her awards include 2010 Lois Roth Persian Translation Award, The National League of American Pen Women's Soul Making Literary Prize, and Artists Embassy International's Cultural Achievement Award in poetry.  Sholeh's poems, translations, essays and reviews have been translated into several languages. She holds graduate degrees from Northwestern University and Johns Hopkins University, and teaches in the Stonecoast Masters of Fine Arts program at the University of Southern Maine. She is based in Los Angeles.

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