International Poetry Reading Night returns in-person

Various students, faculty and community members read as well as celebrate poetry on Wednesday

Anna Smith

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The event’s details, courtesy of their Facebook.

The 16th Annual International Poetry Reading Night is right around the corner, featuring celebrations of poetry and multiculturalism among students, staff and poets in the Eau Claire community.

Poetry lovers, or even new poets, were able to submit their poems to “promote language diversity and cultural understanding,” according to Volume One.

Kaishan Kong, associate professor of Chinese and co-organizer of the evening, started work at UW-Eau Claire in 2014 and soon began reading poetry in 2015 after hearing about the event itself.  Kong beame co-organizer in 2017.

“When Audrey Fessler and Jeff Vahlbusch (the founders of this event) left UW-Eau Claire,” Kong said. “I became a co-organizer and a reader to continue their legacy.”

Josh Bauer, senior web developer in UW-Eau Claire’s Learning and Technology Services department, and Casey Dahl, a fourth-year Spanish and marketing student, also work alongside Kong in setting up the event.

Kong said the International Poetry Reading event can be described as “an evening of culture,” and something to celebrate cultural diversity. It seeks to honor other languages and encourage students to experience that ambiguity.

“It is an annual event dedicated to building cultural understanding through the beauty of poetry,” Kong said.

Every year, students, faculty and local Eau Claire residents are welcomed to read poems in a language other than standard English. This includes upwards of 16 different languages, including Icelandic, Chinese, Hmong and Korean.

“We hope to increase public awareness of the assortment of languages that there are and offer opportunities for those poetry and language lovers to showcase their talents,” Kong said.

Bauer, Kong and Dahl said that even when the listeners do not speak the language, words still carry meaning just the same. 

Students can come and enjoy refreshments as well as relax to poetry, or maybe hop behind the mic if they feel inspired during the night. Each attendee leaves with a publication of the night’s work, as well as surprise souvenirs for the road.

“We are incredibly excited and grateful to see our community members again,” Kong said. “We hope to have more people participate in this event as the audience and maybe as the readers too.”

Kong said that the event had been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in previous years. In 2021, the poetry reading event was held virtually, but this year, there will be a hybrid component.

According to the organization’s Facebook page, several posts housed poems that each reader would have shared the year the event was canceled. This series was titled “International Poetry Reading: Quarantine Edition,” as it took place in April 2020 during the scheduled poetry evening.

“There is a significance to the event, especially after the disruption caused by the pandemic,” Kong said. “We want to take this chance to embrace togetherness.”

The International Poetry Reading Night takes place virtually and in-person on Wednesday April 20, from 6-8 p.m. in the Ojibwe Ballroom of the Davies Student Center.

Smith can be reached at [email protected].