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Sheila Banani  

poetry, U.S.A.

Sheila Banani, 2003.

At the age of 62 (in 1995), and with our two daughters grown and married, I have arrived at a "place" in my life where I feel "free" to express myself more fully. Since I can't paint, sing or dance, words come most easily to me.

I was born in New York where my father, Charles Wolcott, was working, mostly in radio for Big Bands such as Paul Whiteman, and other shows. When I was 5 years old the family moved to California (Hollywood). My father then was working with the Walt Disney Studio as head of the Music Department. I grew up with Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and the Three Caballeros, like most children, but for me their images had real voices (people) attached! Trips to the Disney Studio to see my father working (conducting the orchestra for films, etc.) were more fun than going to Disneyland today. Daddy left Disney's just about the time I got married.

He went to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studio (MGM) where he became head of their Music Department. It was there that he put that song by Bill Haley "Rock Around The Clock," along with some music bridges he wrote, in the film "Blackboard Jungle" and the craze for rock'n'roll took off.

I was just starting university (UCLA) when I met Amin and we married in February 1951. We decided to pioneer when Shoghi Effendi put out the call for the Ten Year Plan, and we took our 10-month-old daughter Susanne to live in Greece (1953-1958). During our years in Greece we had the priceless opportunity to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and meet the beloved Guardian. He later gave us the title, Knights of Baha'u'llah, for being the first Bahá´ís to pioneer to Greece. Our parents were very supportive of our pioneering. My father had recently been elected to the National Bahá´í Assembly in United States and Amin's parents had gone pioneering in East Africa (Uganda) in 1951 and his father had been appointed a Hand of the Cause in 1952. They understood our desire to serve the Faith in this way until, after 5 years in Greece, we were no longer able to get work permits, and returned to the United States. Amin taught at Stanford, Harvard and Reed College (in Portland, Oregon) and I accompanied him, working in various university-related jobs until I could go back to university and finish my degrees. Our second daughter, Laila, was born just before we returned to California and UCLA, where I was able to complete my BA in Sociology and MA in Urban Planning in the mid-1970's. I began teaching sociology at Santa Monica College and also worked as a coastal planner, in the 1980's, in the Advanced Planning Department of Santa Monica City Hall. Of course, during all this time, I was asked to do various Bahá´í services.

The pivotal event(s) in my life which "brought out" poetry from my soul began to occur in 1979 with the persecution of the Bahá´ís in Iran. Of course, some Bahá´ís had been suffering in Iran since the founding of the Faith, but a new frenzy began in 1979 and I was appalled at what was being done to those innocent ones, particularly the women and children.

I seemed so helpless and all I could do was cry out in words. My first poem "We are One" was published in the World Order magazine (Vol. 17, No. 1, Fall 1982, p. 35).

Roger White had encouraged me when I had sent it to him asking, "Is this a poem?" From then on, as I remembered my life's experiences, and as I looked at the world, poems began to be my catharsis and my way of making peace with myself and the world.

One of Amin's university students (who was Japanese) said to me, "In Japan, when women get older, they write poetry." Maybe I am Japanese at heart. My feeling is that almost all women would write if they were permitted by the culture. Of course, today's women don't wait for permission, thank God!

I was not an English major in university, nor am I conversant with all the various styles of poetry writing although I do love to read poetry, in all styles. My own poetry style is what I guess is known as "free verse." A few years ago, I took some poetry workshops with a very well-known local poet, Jack Grapes, and as a result I started writing more surrealistically. The poem "My Daddy Wrote Rock-n'Roll" is an example. It incorporates some imagery of my father's film studio days and Peter Pan's Tinker Bell, as well as my travel teaching in the Caribbean.

Brush stroke
swept across the page
trails bubbles of
like the sun
leaning over the edge of the world
promising return
like winged Icarus
melting in love.


When the winter snow is gone
and the ocean's thunder rides
the crest of my city
the horses of my soul
starving to run free
feed on the green of your Voice
and lie down in your Garden

My Daddy Wrote Rock'n'Roll

My Daddy wrote rock'n'roll, almost
starting the craze,
not the bobby socks.
This is how the story begins:
Tinker Bell wanted a part in
"Blackboard Jungle"
and everyone was dancing in the aisles.
But let me begin at the beginning.

Melted butter popcorn won't lie still
and the gang's all gone. Not funny.
Let's begin again.

My Daddy said "Rock Around The Clock"
would fit the story
and he fit it,
like trees in the forest
cracking wood, sounds just right.

Like the pirate's boat in Castries
slipping into the cove on St. Lucia
cutting through the clear water
nudging over my toes curled over
not dancing
but wanting to fly.

Published in ONTHEBUS literary magazine, fifth issue, Vol. II, No. 1, Spring 1990, pages 26-27.

Actually, as Roger White observed, I prefer the tight compression of feeling in my poetry which is meant to "open up" in the heart of the reader. This is the experience I want for my reader and, if it does it to me, maybe it will to the reader as well. I truly love poetry as my form of self expression; it is extremely satisfying emotionally to me, both writing and reading it. As far as subject matter is concerned, I have divided my poetry generally into the following categories: literary, philosophical, religious, Bahá´í persecution, place related, humorous, and family. When I look over what I've written, I see that the major portion of my poetry is what I call "literary/philosophical" and "family themed." Many have been published from the first group but few from the second. Probably because I feel it is too personal and I don't usually submit them for consideration.

I must tell you about my only really successful published poem "Life's Rainbow" which has now sold over one million copies! This is unheard of for a book of poetry and stories. If 4,000 copies are sold it is usually considered a success.

I wrote this poem in 1983 and I submitted it, in 1987, to a small press which wanted to put together a book on women and aging. I was later told that over 600 people had submitted work. The editor responded very favorably to the poems I sent and asked to use one, "Life's Rainbow," which was put as the closing poem in the book which they entitled When I Am An Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple.

This book was re-published in a second edition in 1991 and has won all sorts of awards. The publisher sends me royalties annually (usually poets are paid only in copies) and I still can't believe it!


Beginnings are lacquer red
fired hard in the kiln
of hot hope;

Middles, copper yellow
in sunshine,
sometimes oxidize green
with tears; but

Endings are always indigo
before we step
on the other shore.

Reprinted from When I Am An Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple, Papier-Mache Press, 1st edition 1987, 2nd edition 1991, page 181.

My father's work at the studios (Disney and MGM) was largely dictated by the film industry's perceived needs.

However, he wrote musical "settings" for Bahá´í prayers which reflected his deep feelings about being a Bahá´í. These include "From the Sweet-Scented Streams" (1954), "Blessed is the Spot" (1957), "O Thou By Whose Name" (1957) and "Blest Art Thou, O House" (1985).

The last one, unpublished, was sung by a Bahá´í choir at the Dedication of the House of Worship in Samoa. The first one was sung by the Northwestern University Choir at the Dedication in 1953 of the House of Worship in Wilmette. I remember him telling other young composers that they should not give only their "tired hours" to composing.

I think he longed to have more time himself to be able to compose, but the last 26 years of his life he spent in Haifa focused on the work of the Faith. He was elected to the International Bahá´í Council in 1961, so he and my mother moved to the Bahá´í World Center. He became a member of the Universal House of Justice in 1963 and he remained there until his death in 1987.

As far as my own creative work is concerned, I cannot easily separate it from my life as a Bahá´í. Although my parents were Christians when I was born, they became Bahá´ís when I was 5 years old. When I began writing and publishing poetry (5 years before my father's death), I used to send copies to Haifa to my family.

One time, Roger White wrote me, "Your mother was very touched by 'Visit to Liberty Street' (a poem dedicated to my mother and about the house in which she was born), though its poignancy caused her to wonder whether you were happy. Readers always suspect that poets write about poems from pain. I told her you were taking stock, as one does at 50, and she accepted that as reasonable."

Roger was wonderful. He knew just the right thing to say.

of thoughts into words

God's ideas into creatures/beings
reductions, all

But transformation . . .
creat - ing
rises from that aching space
at the end of a breath
or in the silence running out.

From Arts Dialogue, March 1995, pages 24 - 26.


Summer heat
Moon glow
Blind-eyed deepwater fish

Tell me why
you are blanched
to colorlessness

and I will show you
the black pearl
under my shell

A labyrinth of meanings
we can share
in this puzzle of a universe

My black and your white
shout its secret
cosmic color code
but like a woman's voice

Sheila Banani, USA, 1984

From the "Los Angeles Times," 2 July 1986: "An exotic six-sided animal thought to be extinct and a previously unknown type of blind shrimp have been found living near geysers on the Atlantic floor, a scientist back from an expedition two miles beneath the ocean surface said. Dr. Peter Rona of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said his team also saw massive mineral deposits. The blind shrimp roams around the edges of the geysers to eat while trying to avoid being scalded by the 660-degree water, Rona said. The six-sided creature about the size of a silver dollar, covered with rows of black dots, previously had been seen only in rock fossils more than 70 million years old."

From Arts Dialogue, March 1996, page 12.

  • Poem: Riddle, in Arts Dialogue, March 1996
  • Artist Profile and 5 Poems: My Daddy Wrote Rock'n'Roll, Watercolor, Return, Life's Rainbow, Translation in Arts Dialogue, March 1995

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