The Art of Writing

Last Year, This Year

This is a slightly more complicated exercise which may appeal more to older students – but it is still based on the idea of representing abstract feelings with concrete images.
First, read both poems and let the students enjoy them. Burnt Kabob is very much a translation – a shortened, unrhymed version of a formal Persian ode. Shukria knew both poem and translation and was a Farsi speaker, but she based her poem on the English version.

If you look up Shukria’s name on the internet, you will find videos of her reading some of poems and talking about her work.


Last year, I admired wines. This,
I’m wandering inside the red world.

Last year, I gazed at the fire.
This year I’m burnt kabob.

Thirst drove me down to the water
where I drank the moon’s reflection.

Now I am a lion staring up totally
lost in love with the thing itself.

Don’t ask questions about longing.
Look in my face.

Soul drunk, body ruined, these two
sit helpless in a wrecked wagon.
Neither knows how to fix it.

And my heart, I’d say it was more
like a donkey sunk in a mudhole,
struggling and miring deeper.

But listen to me: for one moment,
quit being sad. Hear blessings
dropping their blossoms
around you. God.

English rendering by Colman Barks

A Glass of Tea (after Rumi)

Last year, I held a glass of tea to the light. This year,
I swirl like a tealeaf in the streets of Oxford.

Last year, I stared into navy blue sky. This year,
I am roaming under colourless clouds.

Last year, I watched the dazzling sun dance gracefully. This year,
The faint sun moves futurelessly.

Migration drove me down this bumpy road,
Where I fell and smelt the soil, where I arose and sensed the cloud.

Now I am a bird, flying in the breeze,
Lost over the alien earth.

Don’t stop and ask me questions.
Look into my eyes and feel my heart.

It is bruised, aching and sore.
My eyes are veiled with onion skin.

I sit helplessly in an injured nest,
Not knowing how to fix it.

And my heart, I’d say
Is displaced

Struggling to find its place

by Shukria Rezaei

When the students are ready, they can make their own version:

  • Think of a time in the past when things were different to how they are now. That’s your ‘last year’.
  • Now build up a series of contrasting images.
    Last year, what drink were you? (wine, tea, lemonade?) This year?
    Last year, what food were? (Burnt kabob?) This year? And are you eating or being eaten?
    What weather were you? What time of day? And now?
    What animal are you?
    What bird are you?
    And what about your heart?
  • And now, to end the poem, tell the reader something directly. What should they do?