Visiting Writers Series Interview with Sholeh Wolpé

Visiting Writers Series Interview with Sholeh Wolpé



hello and welcome to Brook Dale's visiting writers series my name is Michael Brook I'm a professor here in the English department at Brookdale and I'm very excited today to be speaking with Shola won't pay thank you for joining me here you are a poet a translator and editor a playwright probably missing something and a woman and a woman that's of course and I want to touch on many of those things but most recently you have a book of translations that's been published the conference of the birds translations of Sufi mystic poets ATAR right which most Americans probably are not familiar with no at all they're more familiar with with Rumi not Lee so who is at our and how did you wear them involved with the splatterhorn is um Rumi wrote about a tour a tour traveled the seven values of love while I am at the bend of the first alley that's what Rumi thought about a tour um a tour was one generation earlier metru me when Rumi was a child foretold his greatness Ruth but Rumi learned from ATAR rua thorns masterpiece he was the 12th century Sufi mystic poet his masterpiece is the conference of the bird and it's the story of the birds of the world gathering to seek their sovereign and the hope Oh which is this gorgeous bird in reality I mean if you go and look it up on the internet you see this gorgeous bird with a beautiful crown he steps forward and says I know where our beloved lives it's in mount off and I'm going to lead you there and then of course every bird comes up then with excuse not to go sounds familiar right we do that when we want to take a difficult journey and the Hoopoe answers them one by one and they eventually take this journey and and and they arrive there and they find they find their beloved by the name of Seymour but in Persian if you break down the word see more see more it becomes 30 Birds and only 30 Birds make it to the abode of the beloved it's a beautiful journey of the soul it's going it's a story in allegory in fact a tour invented this form of storytelling it's very entertaining it's instructive and yet through parables very entertaining terrible's he allows you to enter these instructions that he's giving you the spiritual instruction so it's I I just I just loved translating it but can I say one more thing the beautiful allegory of the of the book is that we all have to take our own journey we each have our own journey and all of us are heading towards what he called the Great Ocean metaphorically and he said pay attention to your own journey don't keep turn around and try to judge other people pay attention to your own give up your ego because ego is the most dangerous thing that you can possibly possess and strive to arrive at the great ocean as a pure drop of water that's when you can join the ocean become the ocean know the ocean and yet if you arrive at it wrapped in your ego as a pebble the ocean never says don't come in since welcome you enter you sink to the bottom I will always know yourself and that's help so very powerful how did you come to know the story did you know it as a child you were born in Iran I was going to Iran okay I left when I was 13 I went to the Caribbean to Trinidad and then to the UK and then I came here but you know for Iranians poetry is part of our lives okay much more so than oh my god much more so than here on Friday afternoons Fridays in Iran are equivalent to your Sunday you know I start day off we would I remember after a big meal with a family we would all gather and we would take a stack of cards with poetry of Hafez on each card and we would pass it around and then that would be like our fortune it would be offers we tell our fortune that was wonderful I mean I grew up with that we memorize poetry yeah very different so I knew I knew ATAR of course I mean as a child right it's a lovely story knew some of it by heart actually really no longer what was the process like of moving from 12th century Persian which I assume is also different from contemporary language to English how do you do that what do you lose in that process or what do you gain in that process what is that like well I feel just 13 I didn't speak a lick of English so that was very difficult to make that transition from one language to another and so but it gives me also an ear for the music of language because I remember in Iran I was fascinated by by English language but I could only hear its music I would turn on you know the radio pretend I understood but you know it was so I think later when I moved into translation thanks to poet Galway Kunal who really really encouraged me because he knew farouq farouq thought iconic 20th century iranian poet the most important female poet of the 20 century and he knew her and he encouraged me to translate her which I did as her actually okay beautiful woman by translated her first and for me as I've written in the conference of the birth of the introduction translation is recreation I'm not a scholar I've never claimed to be a scholar so I approach language and poetry as a poet myself right so one of the things that I've written about is that ice I believe that languages two poems in two different languages are the like the sky and the ocean like the sea and you can only reflect the sky into the sea the sea will never be the sky right but in your reflection you will see the gestation of of the moon the movement of the clouds the birds and for me that is the process of translation okay that's movement from one to another right so in no way is a literal word-for-word Oh God no yeah no no I detergent say God forbid no ah no no no no that's a scholarly way of doing it right um what I believe needs to happen in translation recreation is recreating the experience of poetry without sacrificing the meaning okay so it's difficult so you've also translated English you translated Whitman song of myself into the person what was that like yes I did that I could translated it with an iranian poet most an ahmadi we spent a year one section a week for the University of Iowa's international program we were commissioned to do that it was a beautiful experience beautiful experience in Persian Walt Whitman is gorgeous will Josh McGee remoter all nice r om ho drove the Hajj to atone a man Azana – ha ha booth Rosaria man the jamon more you jus had a toast gorgeous right now wouldn't what you have to ask you what section beginning that's different yeah I sing myself and and what is beautiful about what's happening is that we sent back to Iran of course it was published in the United States we send that to Iran for publication it's been sitting in the censors office all these years now it's been released so at the same time Walt Whitman is coming out in Iran at our is coming at in in the United States Hospital the universe is speaking to us right and fascinating to that Whitman is censored in because in the original I mean it's it's it's sexy it's disturbing it's you know it's rebellious the languages yeah that in some sense that's still very true yeah it's really fascinating I'm amazed I've heard the book has been released from the censors office untouched really I'm crossing your feet yes and when you just spoke it one of the first things I thought was how do you capture the sound of Whitman which to me is one of the most beautiful things about song and myself in particular but to hear you speak it it's so musical yes that's because as poets that you know this is probably a controversial thing to say and here I'm saying it on television but um but I believe poets should translate poetry as much as possible scholarly translation is important if necessary absolutely but if you want to experience it as poetry how can you translate something as poetry if you're not a poet yourself for it no it really makes sense and as a poet of your own work have you found that the translation that process has changed your work or informed your own oh absolutely how can you not be touched by something that you're cutting into its bone and marrow you know how can you not be touched by that so I think in a way it's a too 'we process because not only i am taking in the the language of what of what i'm translating but also the poet i'm translating is taking my poetic language as well because after all in english whatever comes out is my poetic language alright it's a two-way process and it's beautiful that's really fast yeah we're going to take a quick break we're here today with poet translator playwright show they will pay and we'll be right back the dress tell faculty here they really want you to succeed they really want to see you reach for the stars and push you beyond your limits to make you into the person that they see in you and that you may not even see in yourself finding a friend or finding a mentor and somebody that you've once viewed as your teacher and somebody that you can now go to not only with school stuff but with life stuff I know that Brookdale has prepared me to transfer to wherever I want to go and I can't thank them enough for that I graduated from Brookdale and 2014 and I just graduated from Rutgers Business School I was working two part-time jobs a little bit over 30 hours a week while attending school at minecraft the material Texas full-time I was fortunate enough to get a good internship in the city continually finance more education more secondly I stated so many challenges that hadn't given up I wouldn't be where I'm destined I applied here to look down as a civil engineering major Brookdale is a great place to start especially for someone that comes from a small high school the class sizes are small teachers actually take the time to learn your name and engage with you I interned at T nun associates they offered me an internship again this summer and I have a job lined up on receiving my bachelor's degree my book deal experience gave me a first step out of my comfort zone and pursue dreams I never met hi I'm Laura McCullough and I'm an associate professor of English in the humanities Institute here at Brookfield Community College I'm also a writer I'm a poet and an editor I have a number of books out and I work my butt off writing and teaching some of the things that we teach in the creative writing program here are a mix on the creative writing class it's an introductory class we teach poetry fiction creative nonfiction and screenwriting there are two reasons to take classes in creative writing here at Brookdale and the first is easy if you want to be a writer we can help you figure out an educational and career path to do what you love and what you're talented at but the other reason is because creative writing is about tapping into your imagination it's about finding the creative person inside of yourself and you don't have to be a writer to keep creative writing the number one attribute that businesses and organizations need and want today is thinking creatively looking at a problem and not saying it's either this or that but finding a third way so creative writing classes will help you to think more creatively it will also help you to be more empathic to understand yourself better and to understand your place in a very changing complex world we love our creative writing students here we work with them in class and out and if you're at all interested in tapping into your creativity finding out what kind of writer you are come and take one of our classes or email one of us the creative writing faculty here are all active writers and we'd love to hear from you hello and welcome back to Brookdale visiting writer series going to continue our conversation with Shirley wolf a so we were talking about translation but I want also talk about your original poetry your most recent book is keeping time with blue hyacinth mm-hmm I want to talk about the language which is so sensual and so beautiful but one of the themes that seems to run through that book and I think your others is the idea of the Exile or the person who has left and I wanted if you could could speak to that one yes being an exile something that well occurs home is a missing tooth the tongue reaches for hardness but falls into absence um because I left at age thirteen and I and I moved from country to country I was in the Caribbean then I was in the UK then I was in this country at you know different in different states going to different schools the idea of home I became obsessed with the idea of home because at some point I realized I cannot go back to what I considered to be home the 1979 revolution became was hijacked by the Islamic regime and you know a lot of people fled including my parents and I just I just couldn't go back at the time so I became obsessed with it and of course as a writer you once you're obsessed with something you keep writing it over and over until you realize where you are and I think finally where I have arrived that is that like Dorothy in Oz I've always carried home inside of myself no matter where I go I am at home and I realized that my gosh if the world truly understands that we will have no more boundaries at home is wherever you are and whoever you're with they are your people so I think the process of writing helped me to arrive there but in terms of exile you know I still would love to go back to Iran yes but I cannot I'm not really able to with with guarantee safety as a writer as a woman you know right and you've edited an anthology of poems by around American yes poetry yes for the forbidden poems from Iran and it's exiled yeah and because I wanted to showcase all the poets old and young well published and not so well published showcase them in an anthology to just to to to connect their work with the American public because honestly I believe anyways I believe literature is the best kind of bridge between cultures and people and I really wanted the english-speaking world in particular the Americans to know that your audience through their poetry not through our politicians who come and go so that sense the language transcends those boundaries so transcends national is I mean look over the thousands of years what remains to us today's whatever is its the arts in the literature where are the you know chest-beating politicians of eternal therefore going what absolutely they did not mean anything right you know yeah this power of language is that would also drew you to another anthology that breaking the draws of silence what is the silence there that you're talking about with the genesis well I used to get emails from some Iranian writers saying you know we put our voices out there we are writing it you're translating but we don't hear from the American poets addressing us when I thought interesting and with a pen USA in in Los Angeles we started this project collecting poetry from American writers that address the world okay and so we had a huge event at at Armand Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and then we thought well this is an anthology we really got to put together to put it together and the poets the 60 poets in the anthology were very generous they donated those poets to the to to pen don't we were able to so the silence that they're breaking then is a silence of politics or not writing about politics and not writing about engage being engaged in the world or whenever any levels I think at all of those things yeah yeah and were they writing do you feel like toward iranian-american some did some some directly added like there were a couple of poems directly addressing what happened with Ned ah who was shot it went viral the video the girl who was shot in the head right oh yeah yes which I also had a poem about it but some we're just addressing the world through personal meditation mm-hmm you know like meditating on say the American flag what does it mean you know so some of them were quieter some of them were louder mm-hmm fascinating and you have another book that you've edited as well correct you have I have three three I really feel anthology what has drawn you to being an anthology to being an editor because their translator poet and editor what's that point other than um sort of being a workaholic other than that is that you know as a poet you meet a lot of poets right and you sort of want to gather their voices maybe it's I'm a very social person and so maybe in my writing also I wanna have parties and maybe it's a way of throwing a party but but I have you know I like because I think being an editor of an anthology you're also a creator because you're creating something out of many many different voices right like a the breaking the jaws of silence indeed I urge the reader to read from the very beginning to the very end because it is like a symphony the way I've arranged it it's a journey you're not just throwing them no I'm not I'm not throwing it um together I did another anthology but I cook I was a regional editor for tablet and pen which I am reza aslan was the editor of that so and that was a beautiful experience because I was able to pull together voices from Iran yes and you're also a playwright and you have a play now shame directed that is in staged reading yes around the country yes so the title itself is intriguing shame what shame are we one of the characters in my play says don't you see shame is that boogeyman it's um it's a play about the cost of happiness happiness at what cost what are we willing to give up to to to to claim personal freedom especially in in Iranian culture there is a word called a brew and that means the water over the face and in a way what that means is that the veneer the veneer you build here has to reflect things that are absolutely beautiful no matter what's going on behind it so high and yes so we are taught to hide things to hide things that are shameful even though they make us miserable even though they take away our personal freedom and this play tackles that can you give us a specific example of a character or situation that when one of the characters is a woman who's just found out she's gay and the sister they're together and the sister is terrified both terrified that if their parents find out the mother character who's come to visit she would just die die of shame and he said there is this struggle that's going on between them because long ago there was a case of abuse family member abused the girls I don't want to say too much because I want you to see the play John but but they hid it because they thought it's a shameful thing if a parent in their childhood mind and it's something that they they kept up and now if they come out if she comes out with the shame again that sacrifice they made long ago not telling it keeping it under would go for nothing so there is this struggle there then there is this Iranian man who's come there and he's trying to protect himself and his family but it's his sister who's having an affair with this character so there are many many there this is just one example right right yes you've been so successful as a poet what moves you to start to write for the stage or why could this why could shame not be written as a book of poems yeah in Sufi mystic philosophy what I love about it is that dualism does not exist things are not black and white it's a pantheistic way of thinking and what it is it that everything is at very very different levels at the same time so I think of my own writing in the same way I feel like yeah I I am a poet because I've written poetry but that should not stop me from expressing myself in other forms of art because ultimately Who I am my creative self is not this thing that's one thing or another I exist as a creator also in the middle I don't really think of myself as a poet or a translator a playwright I'm I'm just someone who's very fond of expressing herself in whatever form my hand do you see yourself writing more please absolutely in fact I have I'm working on a couple of other place but I would love I know I know that a play has been long time ago was written based on the conference of the birds but I would like to to to write a play based on this book as well I would love to see it yeah every wonderful awesome what thank you very much Charlie first man tonight of course I'm really looking forward to reading this evening I campus and for Brook Dale's visiting writers series I'm Michael Brooke thank you for watching you

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