Greetings for the holiday season!
Sholeh Wolpé the Iranian- American award-winning poet, translator and playwright guest edits our December issue.
We became acquainted over mails about poetry readings. Then I read her stunning translation of Attar’s often whimsical and profoundly mystical The Conference of the Birds. After which I read her elegant, deceptively ‘simple’ poems and found her verses burn away boundaries, torch hate, call to compassion; her poems seem to spread and return like mountain echoes, both familiar and magical.
About her writing she says in a 2005 interview, “The universe is one long poem. I think some of us just tap into that poem and snatch little pieces of it and translate it into words. Every poem is a translation of this sort.” Read her beautiful poems here. You can hear her read her translations of Attar here and here.
Sholeh Wolpé presents a splendid, sumptuous folio of diverse voices from Iran, written in Persian and English, from poets residing within the country and its exiles, poems contemporary and from earlier times. As we know, Persian society traditionally honoured its poets, and poetry holds a place of significance and immediacy in Iranian culture even today.
Many poems are from an anthology she edited called The Forbidden, a book not accessible to most of us. I’m delighted that much of this folio is in resonating literary translation as , in these turbulent times, we need even more to connect and celebrate differences, not clash or condemn each other. We need to sing with voices raised in other languages, voices raised in protest, praise or loss — as, this way, we perhaps understand our need to live in harmony with the world outside and the one within us.
Come, join us at Poetry at Sangam for a fabulous read!
— Priya Sarukkai Chabria
A people is not always its government and conversely, a government does not always represent its people. What does represent a people is their literature and the arts, ones created freely and not as a part of a propaganda machine, be it in the Trump-era America, Putin’s Russia, or the Islamic Republic of Iran. World over and throughout ages, poets are and have always been a threat to despotic regimes. Indeed, the first to recognize the power of the word are the tyrants themselves. They fear the poets, jail them, torture them, and send them into exile. But literature, and particularly poetry, is like rain—it cannot be arrested. Vast umbrellas of censorship can be raised, people can be forced underground and into dungeons, but the water will eventually seep in, cleanse, nourish, and create a new landscape.
Featured here are eleven gifted poets from Iran. Some still live in their country of birth, others in exile. Some are alive—old or young—others have been dead for decades or centuries. I hope the journey of these poems enrich and expand your mind, heart and soul, as they have and continue to do mine.
Inevitably, there are numerous poets who deserve to be featured here as well, but their poems have not yet been translated into English. Hopefully, that will change in the coming decades, as the number of bilingual and bicultural poets of Iranian origin take up the task of translation in earnest. In this ever-shrinking world, good literary translation is a necessary service imperative to the soul-health of humankind. Today, perhaps more than ever, we stand in need of empathy, that most effective dispeller of darkness brought on by extremism, tyranny and injustice. And nothing, but nothing, brings us that jewel more readily and effectively than literature.
Here come the octopi of war
tentacles wielding guns, missiles
holy books and colorful flags.
Don’t fill your pens with their ink.
Write with your fingernails, scratch
light upon these darkened days.
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