English majors Merit O’Hare ’12 and Lauren Amoros ’12 performed side-by-side with celebrated poets from around the world during Semana Poética X. Held Oct. 23-27, the international poetry festival featured noted writers from the United States, China, Cuba, Spain, Egypt, Germany, Russia and Canada.
“It’s an unbelievably valuable opportunity to interact with professional writers—to discover how they view the craft, what inspires them and how and why they write,” said O'Hare, whose work has been published in The Portland Review, The Potomac Review and Mad Poets Review. “It also introduced me to international poets I might not otherwise get the opportunity to read.” [Story continues below.]
Throughout the week, the professional poets met with students in language and literature classes and presented public readings of their works. Those who emerged from non-English-speaking countries performed both in English and in their native tongues. At each of the five performances, audience members received free chapbooks—which included English translations, when applicable—of the works performed that night.
“It’s like a breath of fresh air to [meet the poets] and hear their poetry in the language in which it was written,” said Amoros, who took a break from a busy student-teaching schedule to participate in the event.
Each of the professional writers has impressive credentials that extend beyond their acclaimed poetry. Versatile Marica Bodrozic (Germany) and Eduardo Jorda (Spain) earn accolades for poetry, prose and nonfiction. Guggenheim Fellow Cole Swensen (United States), the author of 13 volumes of poetry, has taught at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop for a decade. Mohamed Metwalli (Egypt), a former University of Chicago poet-in-residence, co-founded an independent literary magazine and represented Egypt in the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program.
Dina Ripsman Eylon (Canada) and Ming Di (China) combine poetry with cultural and linguistic scholarship: Eylon, a branch manager of the Ontario Poetry Society, publishes poetry in both Hebrew and English, and Di, a co-founder of a bilingual poetry journal, translates Western poetry volumes for Chinese readers. Kirill Medvedev (Russia) and Victor Casaus (Cuba) use poetry to effect social change. Medev is a poet, activist, translator, critic and founder of the Free Marxist Press. Causus, the recipient of the 2009 Castro journalism award and a literary honor bestowed by the Cultural Ministry of Nicaragua, also is a noted filmmaker who has directed 15 documentaries and two full-length films.
A noted figure in the contemporary Cuban arts scene, Casaus traveled to Dickinson as part of a cultural-exchange tour. A group of Dickinson students and professors will complete the exchange next March, when they travel to Havana to visit the Pablo de la Torriente Brau Cultural Center.
Led by Casaus since 1996, the nonprofit center promotes public performances by young musicians, produces music by young songwriters, publishes books of social and political importance and hosts international exhibitions and workshops. While visiting, Dickinson students will meet with young Cuban songwriters, writers and graphic artists. They also will attend workshops and view an exhbition of select works that had been exhibited at Dickinson as part of Semana Poetica X.
Brave new worlds
Appearing onstage with internationally recognized literary figures was both challenging and thrilling, said the student poets who participated in the festival’s opening and closing performances. For Amoros, the challenge lay in the performance itself. “Reading my poetry in front of anyone completely frightens me, but every time I am forced to do it, I learn a little about myself,” she said, adding, “even if it’s just that I can actually survive reading my poetry out loud.”
And when her work garnered praise from the pros, Amoros was elated. “They wanted me to autograph the chapbook [that included] my poem. That was really exciting,” she said.
O’Hare triumphed over fears of a different sort. She related that while participating in the 2008 Semana Poetica, she was hesitant to share her works-in-progress with the pros—but no longer. “I now realize that only by taking risks like those will I be able to improve,” she said.
“Now, getting my work out there—and having conversations about it with poets who really know the craft—is, more than anything, fun.”
Story and design by MaryAlice Bitts Jackson
Portraits by Carl Socolow ’77