4 Poems by Persis Karim & Sholeh Wolpé

6 September, 2018

Poet­ry in the Mid­dle East has always been beloved, from the ancients to such 20th cen­tu­ry mod­erns as Khalil Gibran, Ado­nis, Mah­moud Dar­wish or Nizar Qabani. It’s a fact that ven­er­at­ed poets of Iran con­tin­ue to define Iran today; indeed when you think of Per­sian cul­ture you auto­mat­i­cal­ly think of Rumi, Hafez, Fer­dowsi, Omar Khayyam, Attar and more recent­ly For­ough Farrokhzad.

We are delight­ed to observe how Iran’s rich cul­ture con­tin­ues to inspire new gen­er­a­tions of poets and writ­ers around the world, and among them Iran­ian Amer­i­can poets are mak­ing their mark—from Per­sis Karim and Sholeh Wolpé to new-gen bards Sol­maz Sharif and Kaveh Akbar, you’ll dis­cov­er there is a wealth of indi­vid­ual poet­ry col­lec­tions, antholo­gies, nov­els and mem­oir writ­ing which con­vey the expe­ri­ences of immi­grants, refugees and oth­ers in the Amer­i­can diaspora.


Poet/writer and educator Persis Karim.




Per­sis Karim is a poet, edi­tor, and pro­fes­sor of Com­par­a­tive and World Lit­er­a­ture and the inau­gur­al direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Iran­ian Dias­po­ra Stud­ies at San Fran­cis­co State Uni­ver­si­ty. Her poet­ry has appeared in a vari­ety of pub­li­ca­tions includ­ing Caesura, The New York Times, Callaloo, and Leaf by Leaf among oth­ers. For more about her work vis­it persiskarim.com.



the word/world is

a mine/mind field

            of possibility

write a dif­fer­ent sto­ry.  



Waist-deep in water, stand­ing in the rubble

Four days of bomb­ing in your ancient city

Clutch­ing your child on the open sea

Search­ing for your broth­er or sister

Among the car­nage at a con­cert or hospital

Trav­el­ing by foot across mountains

Or deserts, filled with thirst and sorrow

Depart­ing the only home you’ve ever known

Through a hole in the fence, shot at by a sniper

On a day you mark as remembrance

For the cat­a­stro­phe that has come before

How your life can feel urgent and frozen

in the min­utes and days that play

like a movie or in the thin hope

of your aching song

of hope that someone

some­where will



Poet and translator Sholeh Wolpé.



Sholeh Wolpé is an award-win­ning Iran­ian-Amer­i­can poet, play­wright and lit­er­ary trans­la­tor. She was born in Iran and has lived in Trinidad, Eng­land and the Unit­ed States. Wolpé is the author of four col­lec­tions of poet­ry and three books of trans­la­tions of work by For­ough Far­rokhzad, Attar and Walt Whit­man. She has writ­ten the plays “Shame” and “The Con­fer­ence of the Birds” and is the edi­tor of three antholo­gies. Vis­it sholehwolpe.com.




I know what it’s like to be an out­sider, a kharejee.



You used to creep into my room,


I was eleven and you kept coming,

night after night, in Tehran, slid in

from inside the old radio on my desk, past

the stack of geom­e­try home­work, across

the fad­ed Per­sian car­pet, and thrust

into me, with rock and roll thumps.


I loved you more than bub­ble gum,

more than the import­ed bananas

street ven­dors sold for a fortune.

I thought you were azure, America,

and orange, like the sky, and poppies,

like moth­er’s new dress, and kumquats.


I dreamed of you Amer­i­ca, I dreamed

you every sin­gle night with the ferocity

of a lost child until you became true like flesh.

And when I arrived at you, you punched

your­self into me like a laugh.

I know how Eng­lish sounds

when every word is only music.

I know how it feels not

to be an Amer­i­can, an Eng­lish, a French.

Call them

           —Amrikay­ee, Ingleesee, Faransavi,

see them

           see me as alien, immi­grant, Iranee.

But I’ve been here so long.

they may call me American,

       with an Amer­i­can husband

       and Amer­i­can children…

But mark this— I do not belong anywhere.

I have an accent in every lan­guage I speak.