— Nicholas Schoggen’01
Most writers will tell you that poetry is not where the money is. But looking at the turnout for Beloit College’s three-day Festival of International Poetry in September, you probably wouldn’t believe a word of it. As a start, audiences were introduced to five of today’s most influential international poets: Marjorie Agosin, Sergey Gandlevsky, Ulla Hahn, Gustavo Perez Firmat, and Hubert Lucot; respectively representing Chile, Russia, Germany, Cuba, and France. Chinese poet Bei Dao joined the group; he is in residence this year as the holder of the Mackey Chair in creative writing.
The event was an occasion for discussions of the literary and political challenges that poets face today. To this end, poetry was everywhere. Students read works from their favorite international poets, poets talked to students, poets and faculty conducted roundtable discussions, and as a finale, a poetry reading filled the Poetry Garden edge to edge with a delighted audience that attracted passers-by.
For first-day openers, students read poems from such greats as Aleksandr Pushkin, Charles Baudelaire, and Jorge Luis Borges. Poems ranged from the somber "How others see" by the Hungarian poet Miklos Radnoti, to the sly "Woman and cat" by French author Paul Verlaine. The audience was treated to a six-person production and reading of "The City" by the Chinese poet Gu Cheng. This lyrical, almost musical piece featured the voices of John Rosenwald, professor of English, and Phil Straffin, White professor of mathematics and computer science, among others. In addition, the participants discussed the challenges of translating such a poem. In fact, translation was a key topic during the festival.
More than 15 voices were heard in the first part of the festival. They spoke Russian, Hungarian, French, Japanese, German, Portuguese, Chinese, Croatian, and even a little English. It was a perfect beginning to the event which was developed by a number of faculty members, with organization provided by Donna Oliver, Russian studies chair.
Prof. Rosenwald said, with an air of something like exhaustion, "These last couple of weeks have been unbelievable," but smiled and added, "Hectic, but great." The heart of the festival focused on Saturday readings in the Poetry Garden, a perfect showcase for each of the poet-guests. Listeners got a chance to sample the effects of translation. Each of the poets read his or her works in the original language, and listeners, using the programs provided, could follow the English translation or the original language.
Even passers-by stopped now and again to take in the simple stoicism of Gandlevsky or the rapid, fluid narration of Lucot. Firmat’s quick, clever "Bilingual Blues" had the audience laughing aloud by the end. Bei Dao’s reading was followed by a special guest: Zhang Zhen, a young Chinese poet and fan of Bei Dao, read three of her own poems in English. Each poet was able to showcase his or her individual style.
The background of each poet influences his or her work. Marjorie Agosin was raised in Chile, and came to the United States to escape the military coup that overthrew the Socialist government of Salvador Allende. She is Jewish, and the experiences of growing up Jewish in Chile are major influences on her poetry.
Sergey Gandlevsky, a native of Moscow, has been writing poetry since he was 18. He met with a great deal of success in small foreign journals, but his work has only begun appearing in Russian journals since the 1980s. After growing up near Cologne, Germany, Ulla Hahn trained for industrial sales and completed her second education "poetry" at night school. She has published numerous books and has been awarded several literary prizes.
Bei Dao - Mackey Professor, creative writing
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