Thirty languages featured in International Poetry Reading
When associate professor of foreign languages Jeff Vahlbusch and assistant professor of English and women’s studies Audrey Fessler taught at Washington College in Maryland, they discovered a tradition that had been around for more than 30 years, Fessler said.
The tradition was an annual gathering in which students and faculty got together to read poetry in many languages.
“We loved participating,” she said. “We found those gatherings a wonderful way not only to celebrate the beauty and diversity of languages, cultures and artistic movements, but also to build unity of the college community at the same time.”
This is how Vahlbusch and Fessler got the idea to start a similar event at UW-Eau Claire. Fessler said they proposed the idea to the English Fest organizers, who “embraced the event and included it within the Fest schedule.”
Along with the English Fest organizers, the event is also sponsored by the Center for International Education and the Department of Foreign Languages, Fessler said. The first annual International Poetry Reading was Wednesday night from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Tamarack Room in Davies Center. Students, faculty and community members got together to read poetry in 30 languages, ranging from Macedonian, Yoruba, Korean and American Sign Language. Attendees were given a packet with the poems printed in their original languages, as well as English translations of each poem.
Each poem reader took turns reading at the podium, after which he or she drew the name of the next reader. Many of the readers were native speakers of the languages in which they read, Fessler said.
Famous writers wrote most of the works, she said, but added some poems were written by the readers.
Fessler said she hoped people would listen to the poems rather than just read them.
“Folks can always read the English translations later, after the glory of those sounds and rhythms have washed over them,” she said. “I think auditors will be surprised by how much they can discover about the mood and tone and ideas of the poem just through the sound play.”
Fessler said poetry is important because “poets can break through the hard casing of our preoccupations, our indifference, or – at the end of the semester anyway – our exhaustion.”
She said the purpose of the event was to recognize and celebrate “the linguistic and cultural diversity of our little community.”
Senior Tyler Michelson said he is an aspiring poet and jazz musician and thought the evening was a enriching experience.
“The melodies and rhythms are understood in all art forms,” he said.
He said it was hard to pick a favorite poem because they were all very good. He did, however, particularly enjoy the poems in Chinese.
“I took a year of Chinese,” he said. “It was interesting to hear it in a poetic context.”
“They were all so good,” Michelson said. “I dog-eared so many.”