Multicultural Mashups

Salgado Maranhão (Brazil)

Salgado Maranhão of Brazil is just one of the international poets appearing at this year's Semana Poetica.

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

Life's big questions—and most of its little ones—are the same the world over, but the ways they're framed and answered can vary considerably. That makes for interesting conversations on campus each fall, as Dickinson hosts a weeklong, public festival spotlighting ideas and expressions from across the globe.

Sponsored by the Office of Academic Affairs, the Center for Global Study & Engagement and the departments of Spanish & Portuguese, French & Italian, German, Russian, Middle East studies, English and music, the 2012 Semana Poética (lit. "Poetry Week") is a unique mashup of poetic voices, offering public performances by accomplished poets from Brazil, Italy, Turkey, Russia, Germany, Honduras, Spain and the United States.

The poets read their works in their native tongues, so translations will be projected on a screen as those from non-English-speaking countries perform, and audience members will receive free poetry chapbooks listing each poem in both original and translated forms.

The festival's reach also extends beyond the public readings. Poets will hold lectures and workshops for students in foreign-language, cultural-studies, literature and creative-writing classes, and a weeklong on-campus installation, the Poet Trees, offers printed poems to all passersby.

Schedule of Events

All events are free and open to the public.
Sunday, Oct. 21
Opening Ceremony: 6:30 p.m., Stern Center Great Room

Salgado Maranhão (Brazil)
Fabian Hernandez '15
Devin Beaugureau '13
Robert Courtland Noyes '15
Music by Matthew Orwitz '13 (French horn)
Monday, Oct. 22
7 p.m., Stern Center Great Room

Ernesto Livorni (Italy)
Elizabeth Frost (U.S.)
Tuesday, Oct. 23
7 p.m., Stern Center Great Room

Gökçenur Ç. (Turkey)
Elena ‪Fanailova (Russia)
Wednesday, Oct. 24
7 p.m., Stern Center Great Room

Jan Wagner (Germany)
Oscar Gonzales (Honduras/U.S.)
Thursday, Oct. 25
Noon, Stern Center Great Room

Eduardo Jordá (Spain)
6:30 p.m., Stern Center Great Room

Lost in Translation?

Three student poets will have the distinct honor of performing side-by-side with the pros: Devin Beaugureau '13, Fabian Hernandez '15 and Robert Courtland Noyes '15 will perform original works during the festival's opening and closing ceremonies, along with musicians Matthew Orwitz '13 and Alexander Strachan '13.

Beaugureau, a double major in Spanish and women's & gender studies, greatly appreciates the chance to hear poets read their works in the language in which they were intended, thanks to lessons learned while she was a study-abroad student in Argentina and Ecuador.

"I not only had to translate words from Spanish to English but also cultural references from one city to another, and in doing so, I realized the impossibility of direct translation of poetry," she says, referring to the ways in which a word's context and sound color its meaning. "Something is always inevitably lost [in translation], but when poets are given the opportunity to present their work in both forms, authenticity is preserved, and the audience is also able to construct new meanings."

Hernandez, a California poet who grew up in a Spanish-speaking home, understands this better than most. He notes that the original poems he writes in Spanish, which he has performed at Latin American Club events, differ greatly from the English-language poems he performs as part of Dickinson's spoken-word club, Exiled. That's partly because of each language's singular musicality and vocabularies—there are some Spanish words and sounds that have no true English equivalent, he stresses—and partly because of the distinct associations each language holds for him.

"It's a personal thing, because the poems I write in Spanish are coming from a different place; they're coming from home," he explains. "That's why when I went to Semana Poética [last year] and saw poets reading in Spanish, I was blown away. The way it sounded reminded me of home, and I was excited to see that Dickinson was a place that embraced so many different cultures in this way."

Interpersonal inspiration

For Noyes, who has a minor in creative writing and is the recipient of the 2012 Academy Poets Prize, Semana Poética represents a chance to gain rare insight into the lives, work and techniques of working writers. He was thrilled when, during last year's festival, he received career advice from American poet Cole Swensen over a cup of coffee and chatted with Cuba's Victor Casaus about his creative process. He's looking forward to meeting Brazilian poet Salgado Maranhão during this year's festival, because some of Maranhão's writings reference one of Noyes' favorite poets, Pablo Neruda.

"The ability to interact with poets in an informal setting is invaluable," he says. "You learn what excites them about writing, what techniques they use, and how they really live and work."

Hernandez adds that the chance to perform side by side with such poets is an even greater honor. "They are coming from all over the world to be here," he observes. "Performing with them gives me confidence and motivates me to keep writing."

Published October 19, 2012