By Samantha St. Marie
On Jan. 27, 2015, faculty and students escaped the snowy weather outside and gathered in Karp Hall around candles and hors d’oeuvres to recite poetry from around the world.
The Schaffer Library, the Modern Languages and Literatures Department and the English Department co-sponsored the International Poetry Fest.
The event was organized by English Lecturer Anastasia Pease and Head of Access Services Librarian Robyn Reed to “celebrate poetry as a human universal and to feature as many voices and languages as possible.”
Shortly before the poetry reading commenced, Pease expressed concern that the weather deterred some readers from attending the event, but the turnout was overwhelming and those in attendance made light of the blizzard outside.
The night began when Jamal Aram ’17 read two of his own poems.
In his second piece, entitled “My Beautiful Angel,” Aram took the audience on an adventure, as he described different parts of the world, from deserts to grasslands to the Himalayan Mountains.
He ended the poem, saying, “I will walk and walk and walk to you, my beautiful angel,” which filled the room with applause.
Following Aram’s performance, Professor Pease announced that a her friend from Senegal would read a poem about the opposition in the African region, which was written by English Professor of Madison Area Technical College Cherif Correa.
Senegal, a country located on Africa’s northwest coastline, is a predominately French-speaking country, but there are several native languages, one being Wolof, in which the poem was written and recited.
Despite most of the audience not being able to understand a word of the poem, audience members shared that the meaning of the poem seemed to transcend the language barrier.
A few lines stood out which, when translated to English, read: “I will cry because of your people’s suffering; I will cry because of your leader’s ruthlessness.”
To lighten the stilled atmosphere, Assistant Professor of Classic Tommaso Gazzarri delivered a poem in Italian that listed various names for male genitalia.
Following the English translation, read by a hesitant audience member, the room filled with laughter and applause.
Associate Professor of English Bunkong Tuon used the poems he recited to honor his grandmother and his childhood in Cambodia.
He said, “I thought getting a Ph.D. and becoming an English professor made me immune to racism, but it did not. Some students ask me how the Chinese food was last night, thinking it is a joke and thinking I will laugh, but the comments bring up the sadness of my childhood.”
Tuon delivered his second poem in honor of his grandmother, who is currently not doing well.
In light of the weather, Tuon ended his recitation with a snow poem.
His poems were not in a foreign language, but Tuon’s readings took the audience on a journey back in time to his younger days when he was halfway around the world, which revealed the ever-present tones of racism that still exist today.
The snow theme of the night continued when Pease stepped in front of the audience to read a snow poem in Russian, which mentioned experiencing blizzard conditions much more extreme than the one that took place outside during the event.
Reed delivered a Dutch poem about a hooker. She mentioned that she learned Dutch while living in the Netherlands for four years.
Having experienced the Dutch lifestyle firsthand, she joked that the topic of the poem is “pretty typical for the Netherlands, unless you’re talking about weed too,” which was well received by the audience.
Pease’s Russian class recited a poem in Russian together that they had rehearsed several times prior to the event, and several more volunteers read German poetry and some of their own creations.
Then, Pease announced that the evening would come to a close. She thanked everyone for attending and kindly expressed, “I am overwhelmed by all the beauty and honesty today. I need to go home and process it.”
Correction: Feb. 26, 2015An earlier version of this article listed Bunkong Tuon as an assistant professor of English at Union. His official title is associate professor of English.