SANTA MONICA, Calif. – In one of the poems she read during The Red Hen Press Poetry Hour, Sholeh Wolpe wrote, “I ask myself, is home my ghost?” Home, or the search for it, has been a recurring theme in her life and in her work as both a poet and a playwright.
“Finding home has always been a holy grail for me,” she said, curled up on a carved canopy bed in her backyard. “I’m always looking for where is home.”
Born in Iran, she says her sense of otherness began when she was a young girl and felt she was not equal to her brothers. At 13, she was sent to live with a relative in Trinidad, at a time when a majority of the island’s population was of either Indian, African or Chinese descent.
“And I didn’t fit in any of those categories,” she remembered. “I wasn’t a white girl, but then what was I?”
Next, she attended a boarding school in Great Britain, again feeling like an outsider among the white British upper class. Wolpe was 17 years old, a student at George Washington University, when the Iran Hostage Crisis began and people threw rocks at her windows.
“The status of those of us who had become refugees in this country changed in the eyes of Americans because all of a sudden we were all terrorists,” she recalled. “This sense of this otherness was palpable.”
It’s palpable in her work as well. She recently read three poems as part of the virtual series presented by The Broad Stage at Home.
“But mark this,” she read, her eyes staring straight through the computer screen to the audience on the other side, “I do not belong anywhere.”
This is the second season of the online program, with monthly episodes hosted by Sandra Tsing Loh. July’s theme, Finding Truths and Creating Art in Exile, was a perfect fit for Wolpe.
“Exile is a suitcase with a broken strap,” she read from another selection.
Wolpe’s poems are deeply personal, full of raw emotion and true stories, even humor. One details a time she was once scrutinized by TSA agents while translating ancient Persian poetry while waiting for a flight.
“A terrible idea at an American airport,” she laughed.
She says there’s a sense right now that everything is divided, but she believes artists are bridgemakers. She hopes her poems help people see the world through her eyes and gain a new understanding.
“We need to get a point where we don’t view each other very superficially, based on our skin colors or the language we are speaking, but as…let’s say souls,” she said.
Sitting in her beautiful backyard oasis, Wolpe says she’s has finally found home. Not here, in this physical space, but within herself. And if you have that, she says, you will be at home wherever you go.