Connecting to the world through literature

Published 10:12 am Thursday, February 5, 2015


Sholeh Wolpé, award-winning poet and translator, explains how literature can cause change with empathy, through her “shift-circle” concept.

By Susanne Reynolds

On Monday afternoon, acclaimed poet, writer, editor and literary translator, Sholeh Wolpé began her five-campus tour of Georgia colleges and universities with Bainbridge State College, where she conducted a workshop for aspiring writers and a poetry reading.

According to Wolpé, a native of Iran and now resident of Los Angeles, California, literature connects people to other parts of the world. Rather than relying on the media and politics for answers.

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Wolpé said, “Literature and the arts are the answer to world problems. The world is presented through the lens of the media. Every day, I beg students to read literature in translation. It allows them to enter into another world, giving perception through the author’s eyes.”

Through her “shift-circle” concept, Wolpé explained the power of empathy and movement, which ultimately leads to change and personal growth.

“Literature can cause empathy, which is the key word,” she said. “By placing yourself in others shoes and looking at issues from their perspective, you begin to understand them, whether you agree with them or not. Empathy can lead to change, even if in small ways.”

Wolpé also spoke about the importance of translating literature, an act that beings an awareness of other cultures to readers who might not otherwise have access to those views. She believes only poets who are fluent in both languages and cultures should translate the materials. By doing so, the poem retains its message and cultural significance.

“I began translating because I wanted to bring a piece of Iran to the United States,” said Wolpé, sharing her mission for translating Iranian poems from Persian to English. “I wanted to show that the people have struggled and there are great things there, even though the government is corrupt. The people aren’t their country’s government. The translations will show the traditions of the people in Iran through poetry.”

The poet hopes through the encouragement of reading translated works, the world will come a little closer to a much-desired peace.

She said, “If you read it, you have the power to receive more literature from around the world and a movement can begin.”

Wolpé concluded the evening by reading her own acclaimed poetry, including selections from Keeping Time with Blue Hyacinths and Rooftops of Tehran. The poems detailed her journey from Iran to Trinidad and the United Kingdom to the United States.

This event was co-sponsored by the Georgia Poetry Circuit and the Bainbridge State College Carter Arts and Lecture Series. Upcoming events include the Fairfield Four on Feb. 19; Calidore String Quartet on March 12; and poet Noah Blaustein on April 14. All events are free and open to the public.