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.