Poet, Writer, Editor, Literary Translator
“Sholeh Wolpé’s stunning new translation—the first in over 30 years—renders Attar’s engaging, singular voice with wit and flourish.” — Literary Hub
“Attar’s grand allegory for the journey of the soul as it seeks union with the divine has influenced countless artists, poets, mystics, and believers around the world. But never before has it been rendered in English with such beauty, elegance, and precision. Wolpe’s translation of this epic is sure to be as timeless as the masterpiece itself.” — Reza Aslan, best selling author of No God But God, and Zealot
“In this beautiful rendering of Attar’s Conference of the Birds, Sholeh Wolpe, herself a passionate poet, transports us to another time, another language & another world, while reminding us of how enduring & universal great works of imagination are, how they create spaces within which we not only acknowledge and appreciate our differences but also recognize & celebrate our shared humanity. Only a true poet could achieve such a feat.” — Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran
“Sholeh Wolpé, the most recent translator of Attar’s epic into English, writes in the foreword to her new version that “the parables in this book trigger memories deep within us all. The stories inhabit the imagination, and slowly over time, their wisdom trickles down into the heart. The process of absorption is unique to every individual, as is each person’s journey. We are the birds in the story.” This is a plausible response to Attar’s pedagogic intentions. We are plainly meant as readers to identify ourselves (or at least our souls) with the birds.” — The New York Review of Books
“I was struck by this accomplished translation, which moves the reader along from one stanza to the next in strong, compelling rhythms. I think what Sholeh Wolpé has done exceedingly well is to bring this medieval poem over into lively, contemporary English that feels absolutely right and not at all forced. It was a real pleasure to read and enjoy this text from a literature and a world I know so little about.” — Edith Grossman, author of Why Translation Matters
“The Conference of the Birds has fascinated writers from Rumi to Borges, and Wolpé’s translation strives to make Attar’s unorthodox and mystical vision accessible to contemporary Western readers.” — Guernica
“Sholeh Wolpé takes audiences on a journey through the soul’s search for meaning as she rediscovers the light of Attar, considered by Rumi to be the master of Sufi mystic poetry.” — Poets House, New York
“In this new lyrical translation, Sholeh Wolpé uses her incredible skill as both poet and translator to bring Attar’s spiritual masterpiece into accessible English. As close to the original a reader can come in translation, and imbued with the same kind of revelation, it makes clear why Attar remained such a strong influence on Rumi. The reader travels, along with the poet’s birds, to greater spiritual insight through transcendent verse.” — Roger Sedarat, Persian translator
“PEN chose well when it selected Sholeh Wolpé for the translation grant it has named for the late master translator Michael Heim. In her version, this sly, knowing Sufi classic will surprise and delight a new generation of readers.” — Jack Miles, general editor of The Norton Anthology of World Religions
From Norton’s Winter catalogue:
Award-winning translator Sholeh Wolpé recaptures the beauty and lyricism of one of Persian literature’s most celebrated masterpieces.
Considered by Rumi to be “the master” of Sufi mystic poetry, Attar is best known for his epic poem The Conference of the Birds, a magnificent allegorical tale about the soul’s search for meaning. The poem recounts the perilous journey of the world’s birds to the faraway peaks of Mount Qaf—a mythical mountain that wraps around the earth—in search for the mysterious Simurgh, their king. Attar’s beguiling anecdotes and humor intermingle the sublime with the mundane, the spiritual with the worldly, and the religious with the metaphysical. Reflecting the entire evolution of Sufi mystic tradition, Attar’s poem models the soul’s escape from the mind’s rational embrace.
Sholeh Wolpé is an award-winning poet in English, as well as an award-winning translator. Thus, she is able to recreate the intense beauty of the original Persian in contemporary English verse and poetic prose, fully capturing for the first time the beauty and timeless wisdom of Attar’s masterpiece for modern readers.
Sholeh Wolpé is an Iranian-American poet and writer. She is the recipient of the PEN/Heim grant, the Midwest Book Award, and the Lois Roth Persian Translation prize, among others. Wolpé lives in Los Angeles.”
“When Sholeh Wolpé asks ‘How hard is it to write a long song?’ she is reflecting on beauty and love in times of war and personal upheaval. She is reflecting on poetry’s absurd covenant with pain, loss, and violence–and its promise to find beauty through these human horrors. Her beautiful poems are at once sensual, meditative, raw in their honesty, and judicious in their fit use of language. This collection delights and disturbs, often in the very same poem.”
“Like dreams peopled with healing clues, Wolpe’s poems are rich with surrealism and harmony, telling deep truths of women across cultures and languages.”
“A gifted Iranian-American poet beautifully explores love and the loss of love, beauty and war and the ghosts of the past.”
–Shelf Awareness Magazine
Sixty American poets Speak to the World
Edited by Sholeh Wolpé (University of Arkansas Press, 2013)
Read a review of this anthology on: World Literature Today
“A deeply humane and aesthetically exhilarating collection.”
–Robert Olen Butler
“Every piece in this anthology situates the poet in a world at war with its citizens throughout history and around the globe. They seek to expose both tyranny and tarnished examples of liberty: the bloodied, ill-fitting coat of General Washington, the “stained cheeks” and “weathered plumage” of Lady Liberty who wanders the streets of New York, the ghosts of Tiananmen Square, and the protesters in white shirts “on the other side of the world.”
–-World Literature Today
“A truly miraculous collection. Sholeh Wolpe has not only brought together some of the most prominent poets in the world today, she has created a work of both truth and beauty that gives voice to the voiceless across the globe.”
“Sholeh Wolpe provides generous service in showing readers the different ways that poets commit to their own voices as they call out The Deadly Silencer, sounding off in a world that does not listen, indifferent to their commitment. (Robert Bly’s poem, beginning the collection, speaks to this indifference and apathy.) Despite the world’s resistance, this collection affirms that what Shelley said is true: “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”
List of poets in this anthology:
NATASHA TRETHEWEY, ROBERT BLY, RITA DOVE, NAOMI SHIHAB NYE, YUSEF KOMUNYAKAA, ELOISE KLEIN HEALY, JORIE GRAHAM, MARILYN CHIN, BILLY COLLINS, JOY HARJO, CAROLYN FORCHÉ, CHRISTOPHER MERRILL, DAVID ST. JOHN, KIM ADDONIZIO, ALICIA OSTRIKER, TONY BARNSTONE, MARILYN HACKER, KIMIKO HAHN, ANDREW HUDGINS, DANA GIOIA, STUART DISCHELL, RICHARD KATROVAS, MICHAEL S. HARPER, NIKKI GIOVANNI, DAVID MASON, STANLEY MOSS, WILLIAM HEYEN, SAM HAMILL, MARY JO BANG, MARVIN BELL, DAVID WAGONER, GARRETT HONGO, BRIAN TURNER, ANNIE FINCH, CHARLES HARPER WEBB, WILLIS BARNSTONE, CHARLES BERNSTEIN, CAROL FROST, ROBERT WRIGLEY, COLEMAN BARKS, TOM SLEIGH, JEAN VALENTINE, JAMES RAGAN, NORMAN DUBIE, MAXINE KUMIN, DORIANNE LAUX, CAROL MUSKE-DUKES, MAXINE HONG KINGSTON, QUINCY TROUPE, JUAN FELIPE HERRERA, GERALD STERN, BARBARA RAS, MOLLY PEACOCK, SHARON DOUBIAGO, RALPH ANGEL, CHRISTOPHER BUCKLEY, CARL DENNIS, THOMAS LUX, GALWAY KINNELL, and PHILIP LEVINE.
Winner of 2013 Midwest Book Award in Poetry
During the 1979 revolution, Iranians from all walks of life, whether Muslim, Jewish, Christian, socialist, or atheist, fought side-by-side to end one tyrannical regime, only to find themselves in the clutches of another. When Khomeini came to power, freedom of the press was eliminated, religious tolerance disappeared, women’s rights narrowed to fit within a conservative interpretation of the Quran, and non-Islamic music and literature were banned. Poets, writers, and artists were driven deep underground and, in many cases, out of the country altogether. This moving anthology is a testament to both the centuries-old tradition of Persian poetry and the enduring will of the Iranian people to resist injustice. The poems selected for this collection represent the young, the old, and the ancient. They are written by poets who call or have called Iran home, many of whom have become part of a diverse and thriving diaspora.
“These poems put a very human face on a people, country, and culture often deeply misunderstood in the West while reminding us once again that poetry embraces and illuminates our deepest human bonds and hopes. They are a most welcome gift.” –Sam Hamill
“Red marks a state of emergency in the state of the heart. This collection powerfully testifies to the emergency in beloved Iran. Every human, no matter culture or nation, has a heart. Every culture and nation has a heart. We here on this small earth share a heart. Poets are the heart’s singers. Iran’s singers call out from the kitchen tables, prisons, streets, and homelands. What demon can withstand against these beautiful and truthful singers? What heart will not open when they hear these poems?” –Joy Harjo
“I need say little more beyond praise for the editor’s keen introductory essay on literature and politics, and the exceptional quality of the poems, which is to praise also the translators. Wolpe distinguishes well between the empathy of literature and ‘religious and ideological fanaticism.’ And I hope she is right for the entire world that in Iran literature is like rain. I can praise the poems despite my ignorance of the original language because the editor understands translation as ‘a recreation, a re-rendering of what cannot be literally duplicated.’ Hence when I say I admire these poems, I mean poems co-created by author and translator. Comparison of original with translation is a different, scholarly enterprise.” –Dr. James Richard Bennet, founder of the OMNI Cetner for Peace, Justice and Ecology
Recipient of Lois Roth Persian Translation Award
Translated and edited by
Foreword by Alicia Ostriker
International Orders: Book Depository, UK
For the first time, the work of Iranian poet Forugh Farrokhzad is being brought to English-speaking readers through the perspective of a translator who is a poet in her own right, fluent in both Persian and English and intimately familiar with each culture. Sin includes the entirety of Farrokhzad’s last book, numerous selections from her fourth and most enduring book, Reborn, and selections from her earlier work and creates a collection that is true to the meaning, the intention, and the music of the original poems.
Farrokhzad was the most significant female Iranian poet of the twentieth century, as revolutionary as Russia’s Akhmatova and Tsvetaeva and America’s Plath and Sexton. She wrote with a sensuality and burgeoning political consciousness that pressed against the boundaries of what could be expressed by a woman in 1950s and 1960s Iran. She paid a high price for her art, shouldering the disapproval of society and her family, having her only child taken away, and spending time in mental institutions. Farrokhzad died in a car accident in 1967 at the age of thirty-two. Sin is a tribute to the work and life of this remarkable poet.
“Translated with deep admiration by Sholeh Wolpé, a poet fluent in both Persian and English, these lucid translations capture the absolute ferocity and passion that have made Forugh Farrokhzad so beloved and so infamous.” —American Poet
“Wolpé deserves much credit for the fluidity and freshness of her translations.” —The Daily Star, Lebanon
“Poetic modernism came to Iran as late as the 1960s, when Farrokhzad (1935-67) streaked across the literary horizon. Rebellious from childhood, Farrokhzad entered young womanhood as many more were to do in the West a decade later. She insisted on her sexuality and wrote of it rapturously in her earliest poems, which immediately appeal in their celebration of lovemaking, including sexual objectification of the male. Of course, she became a scandal, one that endures to this day. A family member of Wolpé’s, when told that she was translating Farrokhzad, responded,’Why are you wasting your time on that whore?’ The answer is obvious in the poems, which become more powerfully compelling as they take up the issues of life as a woman in modern Iran, issues that are realized through feelings and predicaments with which any Western reader can sympathize. Meanwhile, the poems’ long lines and musical repetitions sweep the reader away as effectively as any American projective verse (the Whitman to Hart Crane to Ginsberg tradition) or Vicente Huidobro’s Chilean modernist classic Altazor (1931).”
“A poet of sensuous extremes, Farrokhzad at times fuses with the living natural world. …She is either feverishly alive or hopelessly dead. But part of her immediacy is that she always writes as if she were speaking—to herself, or a lover, or the reader. Perhaps to all three at once. Sholeh Wolpé, a poet and artist in her own right, Iranian-born and cosmopolitan, is a daughter of the freedom made possible by poets like Farrokhzad. Her translations are hypnotic in their beauty and force. This book will be treasured by readers who crave not a clash of cultures but a connection.” — Alicia Ostriker
“In Wolpé’s fresh and vital translation, a musical and compelling English version that draws the reader along and captures a sense of the exquisitely balanced pacing of Farrokhzad’s language, and the immediacy and authenticity of her voice, the members of the Lois Roth jury found themselves experiencing Forugh’s Persian poems with new eyes.” —Excerpt from the Lois Roth judges’ award statement
“Sholeh Wolpé’s exquisite poetic voice and her superb command of the art of translation meld together in translations that exude the passion, defiance, and crackling wit that mark Forugh Farrokhzad’s poetry. Capturing her alternating mood, cascading images, and rippling emotions, Wolpé’s translations make Farrokhzad’s poetry burst into life in English. Wolpé is the best imaginable guide to this gifted Iranian woman’s poetic universe. ” —Nasrin Rahimieh, Director of Dr. Samuel M. Jordan Center for Persian Studies at UCI
“Maligned and admired in her all-too-brief life, demonized and eventually banned soon after the Islamic Revolution, Forugh Farrokhzad is a literary icon and guru in Iran today. Her poetry, like the response it elicited, is a perfect metaphor for a society in transition. Sholeh Wolpé’s selection of poems and the lush lucidity of her translation convey the quickly evolving and the richly paradoxical nature of Farrokhzad’s poetry. It is a welcome addition to the slim body of literary translations available in the U.S.” —Farzaneh Milani, Director of Studies in Women and Gender and Professor of Persian and Women Studies at the University of Virginia
Forugh is a dynamic inventor in life and poem, risking all to create a role for women’s place, art, spirit. Her poetry has a Houdini slight-of-hand perfection of the impossible, each word poised, of raw reality and acrobatic beauty, yielding unparalleled verse. Compact, extravagantly imagistic, she left a complete corpus, but her heart-breaking early death, like that of Miguel Hernandez and Garcia Lorca to war’s brutality, has deprived the world of this genial magus. Her Persian voice survives. Sholeh Wolpé’s translations, meeting the rigor and esthetic of her compatriot, flow and carry us into rare catharsis. They resurrect Forugh.” —Willis Barnstone
Listen to Forugh Farrokhzad read “Windup Doll” in Persian
“Sholeh Wolpé’s Rooftops of Tehran is that truly rare event: an important book of poetry. Brushing against the grain of Persian-Islamic culture, she sings a deep affection for what she ruffles. Her righteous aversion to male oppression is as broad as the span from Tehran to LA, as deep as a wise woman’s heart. This is a powerful, elegant book.” —Richrad Katrovas
“These poems (in Rooftops of Tehran) confirm the positive reaction that I have had to Sholeh Wolpé’s work–the irrepressible originality, the insouciant wit, the occasional stabs of pain, the fearless honesty, the instant evocation of a time and a place are all here in an enjoyable and endearing mix. Brava!” –Amin Banani, Professor Emeritus of Persian and History, UCLA
“A stark and wondrous journey through and beyond the worlds looming on top of the aching roofs of Tehran, the poems in this collection are as vibrant as they are brave. Sholeh Wolpé poetry proves to be rumination, prayer, song. This book is an irresistible unrest. ” –Nathalie Handal
“In Sholeh Wolpé’s Rooftops of Tehran, an unforgettable cast of characters emerges, from the morality policeman with the poison razor blade to the crow-girls flapping their black garments, from the woman with the bee-swarm tattoo emerging from her crotch to the author as a young girl on a Tehran rooftop with a God’s eye view “hovering above a city / where beatings, cheating, prayers, songs, / and kindness are all one color’s shades.” Here is a delicious book of poems, redolent of saffron and stained with pomegranate in its vision of Iran and of the immigrant life in California. Wolpe’s poems are at once humorous, sad and sexy, which is to say that they are capriciously human, human even in that they dream of wings and are always threatening to take flight.” –Tony Barnstone
translated into Persian by Sholeh Wolpé and Mohsen Emadi
(A project of The International Program at the University of Iowa)
Sholeh Wolpé (Red Hen Press, 2004)