Monday, April 27, 2009

A Translation Success

"A Translation Experiment" happened at Hugo House on Saturday 25 April. It was a WPA event co-sponsored by Richard Hugo House and I was its creative director. The idea was to give the audience one poem in various forms --dance, movement, voice, flowers and visual art -- and have them write it again in English. Five artists were asked to translate this one poem into their own medium and then it was performed live, in those forms. After watching it all, the audience was asked to consider carefully, to take notes and work at its meaning.

Gene Frogge, a fantastic local photographer, has a smugmug page full of gorgeous, richly textured images from the day - workshops, open mic and setting up the main stage. Many thanks to Gene!!


Can a poem move between genres and hold its message? What kinds of translation are worth while? Where does translation stop and interpretation begin? How is it that I receive the message of a poem? Can seeing the same thing, provoke the same response in us?

We started with an hour of poetry in languages. Languages included Mandarin, Hebrew, French, Japanese, German, Nahuatl and Spanish. Adela, above, read a poem in Spanish by Rafael Alberti.

We got the audience in the mood by offering them poetry as rhythm, by asking them to listen for the poetry of a given language and just to enjoy it.


Shhhhh! It's the secret source poem. In a prescribed meeting place, one month before the show, the featured artists met to choose a poem. They discussed their choices for a bit and made their decision. It was unanimous. Then, over the next month, Christian Swenson, Linden Ontjes, Keely Isaak Meehan, Barbara Anne Allin and Horatio Cordero considered the poem. Now, having seen their polished and provocative translations, it is without a doubt they put every effort into it.

What came out was a five-side, sumptuous, vivid, true-to-the-poem original.

A poem drawn into dimensions. With facets. Something infused. And experienced.

And there in the background, a flay of tulips, a squirrel's nest, a floral translation.

In a secret gallery that opened out of the darkness on stage left, just before the close of the experiment, came one final image, this one drawn by a 5-year-old boy living on Cape Cod. Horatio. A young poet of merit whose work should not be overlooked. Horatio offered his own translation of the secret source poem, full of the same matter, yet made with younger tools. Horatio's work made a wonderful complement to the four that went before. It was unique and familiar, serious and humorous, bright and dark. Hooray Horatio!


A pre-show Translation Panel was moderated by Dave Jarecki.

Panelists included Zachary Schomburg, Debby Watt, Lyn Coffin, Vanessa Dewolf and Andrea Lingenfelter.

At the and of the evening, audience members were invited to bring their translations forward to become part of a glass assemblage made by Clinton Bliss. At the exit doors, all those departing were handed wax-sealed envelopes containing the secret source poem and instructions to "receive these words well."

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Translation Experiment

Designed by aka for the WPA

Saturday 25 April 7P
$8 advance ticket sales


Can you dance a poem? Can you arrange a poem in flowers? Can you move a poem from language to language without losing its message? I want to know.

7pm - "Translation Panel" includes guests Lyn Coffin (poet & translator), Vanessa DeWolf (performance artist & writer), Andrea Lingenfelter (literary translator), Zachary Schomberg (poet and literary translator) and Debby Watt (experimental musician, vocalist, performer).

8pm - “Around the World in Poetry.” An hour of multi-lingual readers in the Hugo House theatre, non-poets from other cultures will share a favorite poem.Hebrew, Romanaccio, Spanish, French, German and Japanese.

9pm - “A Translation Experiment.” Five artists will present one secret source poem (hidden from the public until the end) in their various "languages." After you see/hear/watch the poem performed multiple times in various genres, you will be asked to write the poem and contribute it to a visual art piece. On your way out, you will be given a sealed envelop with the source poem in it. It is up to you when you open this (straight away or much later in the comfort of your own home).

This day-long festival also includes a morning translation workshop by local literary translator Andrea Lingenfelter, who will work from Chinese (cost $60), and an afternoon workshop with WA State Poet Laureate Sam Green who will work with poetry as a translation of the life experience (cost $80). Register for a workshop. Just before the evening experiment, there is a panel discussion on translation moderated by literary journalist Dave Jarecki of Portland, OR. This is included in your ticket price. Tickets will be on sale at the door for $10 starting at 6:30pm.

The Lenin Poems - Our First Strut

Friday 17 April @ 7P at The Lenin Statue in Fremont

We took it to the streets. A little crowd formed. We began to read. Three local poets shared their Lenin Poems on the corner beneath The Lenin Statue in Fremont. Leo, pictured above, posted more photos here.

The artist wants to know how the people of Fremont feel about The Lenin Statue (clearly there are some strong feelings), and how Lenin feels about the people of Fremont (not so clear), and what this all means to people who live here and visit. I asked the poets to begin to explain. We received 59 poems. In 2 months, we'll have a contest winner. In the meantime, let's enjoy the poems.

This is, I hope, the start of what will be a rich discussion about what our community values and fears.

A contest winner has not yet been chosen. This reading was a sneak peek into the submissions. Judges are currently reviewing the poems (anonymously). Judges include: Vanessa DeWolf, Gregory Crosby and A. K. Allin (who will not read submissions anonymously). We received 59 Lenin poems, poems both small and light, large and serious, in English and Russian, in rhyming and in free verse. We thank the poets of Fremont and the world for taking the challenge.

Once a winner is chosen, that poem will be cast in bronze and placed with the statue. The judges will choose "the best of the rest" for publication in "The Lenin Poems," a chapbook which will be “publicly poured” over the statue on 4 July 2009. This "pouring" will read as performance and publication date. The hope is that these poems will be seen, read, taken and remembered.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Onion Breaking Ceremony

Easter Day
Gas Works Park

"Inside my imagination, inside my dream's shoes I found a mimi onion. The light around me was blue with a coming storm. I poured little letters inside, heard them sing against the ceramic. I poured little tears inside, salting and curing, and woke to a white pillow, a bright sky, a release and grace." Phoebe Caulfield

We met at a cafe at 10am. We sketched onions on vellum. We wrote about whispering vegetables and tears and release. Curious souls approached our table, "OK, I've just got to ask. What's up with the onions?" A few more tears collected.

It was raining. It was going to rain. We drew tears on our faces. We sliced lemons half way through. Vanessa handed me the rock she had been warming. I put it against my belly, stretched my shirt over, tucked it in and cinched my belt. This was my burden. We carried white umbrellas and handed out raw onions along the way.

We walked one block down the hill and caught our first glimpse of the hill. The Hill! Such a green has been sucking in water all night. We beckoned the heavens. We addressed the trees. We advised the mud. "These are our tears. Prepare to take them."

I carried a wicker basket of onions, onions filled with our tears, tears of joy & sorrow. It was time for release. The onions had been out collecting tears for over month by Lake Union (February - March 2009) carefully placed with instructions for all to release.

Six "onion breakers" were present for the ceremony at on Sunday: Vanessa, Danae, Kate, Chris, Deb & Mimi.

I made a circle of real and ceramic onions on the summit of The Hill. I whispered, to each person present, something I had discovered that morning while writing. We passed around the mallet and each of us broke an onion. The onions broke with happy, white cracks. The rolled and folded little notes blew out and rocked around and found puddles to settle into. We read silently and collected them into envelopes made of onion sketches.

Then we broke open our lemons and squeezed them over the area, to freshen and purify it.

It was time to connect with the lake. We took out our smiles, paper smiles, and held them up to our faces. We showed them to heaven & earth. "This is what release looks like." I took the stone from my belly and placed it on the ground. I began to roll it toward the edge. The others helped. We rolled it down the hill towards the lake. Deb gave it a final push under a thicket of blackberry bushes and it fell into the lake with the sound of final release.

This was a ritual, a performance and an exploration into what brings release. If you are unfamiliar with The Onion Years project, see the previous post.