World Poetry Day

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So it is that the first day of spring this year corresponds with World Poetry Day, a designation made by UNESCO in 1999 — a more fortuitous collision of days.

The declaration states that, “Poetry reaffirms our common humanity by revealing to us that individuals, everywhere in the world, share the same questions and feelings. Poetry is the mainstay of oral tradition and, over centuries, can communicate the innermost values of diverse cultures.”

According to UNESCO, “one of the main objectives of the Day is to support linguistic diversity through poetic expression and to offer endangered languages the opportunity to be heard within their communities.”

With this in mind I’d like to share a few lines from poets the world over whom I turn to often.

We all know and love Bashō, but few have heard of the extraordinary woman poet who went by the name of Rengetsu (Lotus Moon) and who wrote unforgettable poems in classical Japanese waka style. The translation here is by John Stevens.

Spring Rain

Random thoughts

And loneliness trouble me

But I am soothed by the

Anticipation of cherry blossoms

And spring rain falling on my hut.

Here is a short excerpt from the poem Stage 8 form the Danish poet Inger Christensen – translated into English by Susanna Nied.

STAGE

8

Time:      dregs of words

like nubbly slugs.

Place:      solidarity of things

like random stones.

This past summer I did a reading in Barcelona and was chastised for not knowing the Peruvian writer Carmen Ollé. Below are a few lines in Spanish from her powerful book, “Noches de Adrenalina” (Adrenaline Nights)

“Tener 30 años no cambia nada salvo aproximarse al ataque
Cardiaco o al vaciado uterino. Dolencias al margen
nuestros intestinos fluyen y cambian del ser a la nada.”

From Chile, a poem by the Mapuche poet Elicura Chihuailaf. The Mapuche territory encompassed most of Chile and a big part of Western Argentina. Mr. Chihuailaf writes in Mapuche. The poem below was translated from Mapuche into Spanish the into English by John Bierhost.

THINGS TURN OUT ASTOUNDINGLY IN THE COUNTRY SIDE

And at times there is nothing, I tell them. Nothing

The uneventful days pass by

My brother says to me

Listen to the song of the stream

(Come, let’s lean over and drink from its banks)

Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill is an Irish poet who writes exclusively in Irish and has played a big role in fomenting a renaissance of the Irish language in modern poetry. The English translation of A postcard home can be found here: https://wfupress.wfu.edu/poem-of-the-week/poem-week-postcard-home-nuala-ni-dhomhnaill/

Cárta Poist Abhaile

Tá earraí ana-dhaor san áit seo.
Inné
bhíos ar mo shlí síos feadh na gcéibheanna
go caifé
nuair a chonac i bhfuinneog siopa
scata éanlaithe stuáilte.
Do chuimhníos láithreach ortsa, a chroí,
nuair a chonac an t-éan is mó is ansa leat,
an bonnán buí,
ina sheasamh suas cruinn díreach,
a mhuineál leata is cuma na scríbe air.
Cheapas go bpriocfainn suas é
ar neamhní
is go dtabharfainn mar fhéirín abhaile chugat é.
Ach nuair a d’fhiafraíos díobh cé mhéid é
gheit mo chroí.
Bhí sé i bhfad i bhfad
thar raon m’acmhainne.

Ko Un has written 135 books and been shortlisted for the Nobel Prize for Literature. His book Songs of Tomorrow was published by Green Integer and translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Gary Gach.

A Drunkard 

I’ve never been an individual entity.

Sixty trillion cells!

I’m a living collectivity

staggering zigzag along.

Sixty trillion cells! All drunk.

Hailing from South Africa, Vuyelwa Maluleke’s chapbook, Things We Lost In The Fire, appears in the collection Eight New-Generation African Poets (Akashic Books) edited by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani. 

Black Girl

Black girl, loan me your lonely,
don’t bother washing it or giving it a pretty press,
let me have it at its worst
and I will keep it for you,
till there are more hands to share it.

Because I can go on and on, I will end now with a poem by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish translated here by our local, most talented poet Lena Khalaf Touffaha.

From: And We Have Homelands

“and we have homelands without borders,

like our idea of the unknown, narrow and wide

– countries whose maps narrow to a gray tunnel

as we walk in them and cry out

in their labyrinths: “And still we love you.”

Our love is an inherited disease.

Countries that grow
by casting us into the unknown.”

Word Poetry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Beginnings

easy speak

There is magic in beginnings. The anticipation of what might be and the force behind the thought that generated the action conjure excitement to each start we endeavor no matter how small. February has been a month of beginnings for me. I started a year-long creative residency at the Seattle School of Visual Concepts where I have been invited to discover everything related to letterpress printing and design. And of course the big beginning happened at the Passing of the Laurels ceremony on January 31st when I took over as WA State Poet Laureate from the amazing Tod Marshall.

The Monday after the Passing of the Laurels I was the featured reader at Easy Speak at Jude’s Old Town in Seattle’s Rainier Valley organized by Paul Nelson – (http://easyspeakseattle.com) I was my first time at this small but mighty local restaurant and after the fine evening I have every intention of returning. A good crowd gathered that Monday evening and between servings of gumbo and libations we enjoyed a range of poetic expression and thematic concerns.

The following Sunday I had the privilege to read at the African-Americans’ Writers Alliance ongoing monthly series at the Columbia City Library (http://www.aawa-seattle.com) Those of us gathered there remembered that Tod Marshall had also read there at the beginning of his term. I was in the audience two years ago and was so pleased, along with everyone else, at how personable and inclusive his presentation was.

Both of these events use a similar format: a featured poet is followed by an open mic. On the Sunday I attended the Columbia Library more than twenty people shared their poetry and stories. At the Easy Speak the number was similar and it included someone who gave a beautiful plaintive rendition with his bugle. It was fantastic.

Events like this, which happen all across our state, showcase the best of ourselves in that as poets we come to share art and as citizens we convene in a positive spirit, with openness in our hearts. We gather to celebrate beauty and in so doing, grow communities that affirm tolerance and promote diversity and inclusion.

I know the two events I mention here augur many similar others and look forward to discovering communities large and small all over Washington State.