As in each of the previous 16 Multi-Cultural Poetry Reading and Pot Luck Lunches, we had a wonderful time at the 17th Annual Multi-Cultural Poetry Reading and Pot Luck Lunch. Over 30 people, from 8 years old to over 80 joined us for an afternoon of fun, cultural adventure and enjoyment of new friends. We heard poetry read in English, Chinese, French, Hebrew and Spanish.
Our afternoon began with a sumptuous banquet of international potluck food.
Some chose to eat outside in our pleasant breezeway on this perfect summer afternoon.
Others chose to eat inside at the table with books to choose poetry in various languages plus English and get to know the international poets attending.
After our Meet-Greet-Eat session, we gathered in the air-conditioned garage-studio to enjoy performances and then our readings.
Our first entertainment was a lion dance. Judy Cheung played cymbals, Cathy Ringstad played drums. Cathy's son, 8 year old Nicky was the lion head. Miles Johnston, 10 years old, was the tail.
Our RECA lions like to get to know their audience up close and personal.
Cathy Ringstad read a poem in English and Chinese that she called up on her i-phone. Xiao Qing Sullivan performed a veil dance to the poem.
We had a Tai Chi demonstration by the RECA Tai Chi Club led by David Chung.
Ellen Hickman, 18 years old, gave us a preview of her performance at the Palace of the Legion of Honor Art Museum in San Francisco on September 16. She performed a dance to a poem, "Water Fairies," that her mother read during the performance.
Cathy Ringstad read again while Xiao Qing Sullivan performed an umprella dance.
After our entertainment, which was the most extensive ever for this event, we proceeded to the Pick-a-Partner readings where people chose a poem and a partner to read a poem in English and another language. Even if a person could read both languages, we asked that they choose a partner, especially if they did not know the person, to read the language they did not read.
After the Pick-Partner read-around, we finished with a poet's choice read-around where the person reading could read solo or with a partner or group, in English or another language or both. Discussions on translation and translation techniques took place throughout the readings.
Poems were read in English, Chinese, Spanish, French and Hebrew this year. Over the past 16 years, we have had about 20 different languages represented. This year, Hebrew was added to our list.
Feedback after the event was all complimentary. Tanya Joyce submitted a poem and an article, both about listening to poetry in many languages and the art and complications of translating poetry from one language to another. The following article and poem by Tanya Joyce were both published in the August edition of the Poets of the Vineyard Newsletter. POV is one of the sponsoring organizations of this event. The other two sponsoring organizations are Artists Embassy International and the Redwood Empire Chinese Association.
MultiCultural Poetry Reading
by Tanya Joyce
Thank you for a wonderful Multicultural Poetry Day!
As we were coming back to the East Bay Area, a thought came to me that I wanted to tell you about right away. Over the past four or five years I have been involved in several in depth discussions about translations of poetry. Today’s conversation is the only one of that group in which people understood what translation is all about. The conversation at RECA seemed so intelligent, so on the mark, so knowledgeable that I did not even think how exceptional it was until I reflected on it.
Why do I think today was so exceptional? Many people assume that if you know two languages — if you read them or speak them, or both — it means you can translate from one to the other. Just “look it up” in the dictionary and you’re done. This came up during Angar Mora's art salons at Cafe Arrivederci in regard to Pushkin’s poetry, when a painter whose art work I liked a lot, told us about Pushkin. She was very interesting. I felt I learned quite a bit about Russian culture from her. However, she ended by saying that translations of Pushkin into English were uniformly awful because they did not translate the EXACT words Pushkin used and that this distorted the meaning.It was clear that she did not understand the process of translation — what you try for, what you decide not to try for. She was very bitter about all this and it was not possible, at least at that time, to change her mind from the opinion that speakers of English had, more or less willfully, done Pushkin a disservice.
When I worked on Dreams of Pan with Semion Mirkin, at first he thought he could read me the Russian (I do not speak Russian and he knew that), and I would “feel” the Russian from the sound of the words. Then he would tell me a bit about the story line of a poem, I would make notes, and create rhymed English versions of his Russian exactly. After three years or so, we took a different, more successful approach — versions, revisions, reading, talking, etc. — and achieved what you can read in the book. I like Semion and his family and the feeling is mutual. That is what kept us together. His wife Mila was very helpful in going over drafts — orally, in conversation — as well. I took the project on because I am very interested in Russian culture.
Things were much more knowledgeable in working on a Viet Namese translation. By that time we each had various translation projects completed. Again, since I do not speak Vietnamese I would never have taken on this project except for the fact that one of my partner Bob’s aunts taught English in Hue. She later taught Vietnamese in Australia and we learned a lot about Vietnam from her and the many pieces of silver jewelry, pieces of embroidery (mostly Hmong), paintings, and stories she brought back to California when she moved here. She is also one of three authors to have written what is considered the best modern book on learning Vietnamese for speakers of English published recently — about 10 years ago.
Just for the record, I speak two forms of older English and I speak French — rusty, put possible. (Not too much call for French in California.)
It is thanks to RECA and the Multicultural Poetry Day that this excellent conversation about translation happened this afternoon. There was no idea that any language is, by its nature, superior or inferior to another — way ahead of the curve on that! There was deep understanding that a translation provides insight into the culture and milieu of an original, but does not literally duplicate it because all languages include subtleties that express interests of a culture in which that language is spoken — and what is vital to Culture One is not necessarily the same as what is vital to Culture Two. Kudos!!!
I once heard the question posed: If you can not translate literally — same poetic form in two languages, same rhymes, same sound, exactly the same meaning — why bother with translation at all? We didn’t seem to need to discuss this today since it seemed that we all knew at least a few answers, all in the ballpark of — we are interested in how another culture sees the world.
We did discuss this in the car going home, circling around the same idea. We are curious about things having to do with other cultures. For me personally, a few years ago I fell in love with Punjabi folk music. After a while I wanted to know what the lyrics meant. I was blown away to discover that this highly danceable, buoyant, over the top rhythmic, happy music is very often sung to 17th and 18th century Sufi poetry that has great depth and is not always happy poetry. In the Punjabi folk view, there seems no contradiction between what sounds cheerful and what reads as “serious.”
Surprise! Contradiction! Mystery! All play a part in what we experience in translation and, of course, we put our own stamp on it as well.
Thanks again, you guys,
It is All So Very Different
Words from anthologies –
Flipping pages, noting countries
Some of interest – others not
But when you are sitting shoulder to shoulder
Looking across a circle of poets
Listening to those next to you
Hearing their breath,
Their ways of pronouncing syllables,
It is all so very different.
India – disgust at butchering for meat,
Steps on worms and snails crossing a sidewalk
In the first sprinkles of monsoon
Philippines – writing of political freedom
And the leadership of poetry
His father and grandfather followed
Philippines – passing out programs, taking photos
Australia – professional translator of Japanese
Mentions sakura, cherry blossoms, like those
On her furoshiki. U.S. – high school love in rhyme,
Native Americans – reading bilingual,
Lakota and English. Greetings and Thanks
In Lakota and Cherokee.
Professor from China, visiting Venice
Is impressed that this city of waterways
Was founded by refugees from Rome,
Feeling watched by his nation’s secret police,
Eyes he could not distinctly observe,
The feeling of refugees. He finds a lake with ducks,
Wonders whether the ducks have clipped wings
To keep them near the pond. His seven year old son
Is fond of ponds with ducks.
A poet from here at home in a U.S. state
Writes about household objects
That speak of her mother’s passing.
From another state come gifts,
Offerings of poems and photos,
Loving to mix it up with Photo Shop,
To help a cousin return from grief.
Sitting in a circle late at night.
Shoulder to shoulder
From around the world, it is not like
Reading an anthology. It is all
So very different.
We need sleep, but can not give up
One more round of poetry,
One more journey around the circle.
We all need sleep so we remember
To be present for the mayor’s talk tomorrow.
We all need sleep, but
Shoulder to shoulder
It is all so very different,
Someone reading about
“The joy of simplicity”
You can’t help it
In the middle of the night
Words for a poem
Arrive. Not to awaken my fellow poet
I fumble for pen and paper in the dark,
Tiptoe into the bathroom,
Turn on the light
Only after closing the door
Sit on the toilet lid
Move the bathmat closer
So my chilly feet do not rest
On cold tile
It is all
So very different.
Tanya Joyce 2016
This poem was written about the 24th World Congress of Poets held in Rohnert Park, CA in November, 2016, with President Judy Hardin Cheung. Our Multi-Cultural Poetry Reading and Pot Luck Lunch is like having a mini World Congress of poets. The next World Congress of Poets to be held by United Poets Laureate International, will be near Bangkok, Thailand in July of 2018. For more info, please visit www.upli-wcp.org, or contact Judy Cheung, UPLI secretary, at email@example.com. (you will probably have to cut and paste these contacts. The links do not seem to be connected.) I hope to see you at our next Multi-Cultural Poetry Reading and Pot Luck Lunch on the second Saturday of August, 2018, at the Redwood Empire Chinese Association Center. For more info, contact Judy Cheung at firstname.lastname@example.org.