• Instructors include American poet Kiki Petrosino, who teaches at the University of Louisville.
    Brochure Cover_Girl Writing gimped to 800.jpg
    [iae|548|l] The University of Iowa’s Between the Lines (BTL) creative writing and cultural exchange program, which brings aspiring writers ages 16-19 from around the world together for two weeks of intensive study, has announced that it will be...
  • Sridala Swami in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (where she took part in a Jazz Poetry Festival). Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo
    A view from my terrace of the western sky.
    [iae|545|r] Over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing several short essays commissioned from writers who participated in the 2013 International Writing Program Fall Residency as part of the Shambaugh House blog's annual "On...
  • IWP Distance Learning offers several free writing-related Open-Application Courses and MOOCs each year.
    Instructor Cutter Wood is a graduate of the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program.
    15 applicants representing a broad geographic range will be selected to participate in the seminar.
    [iae|542|r]The idea of nonfiction is simple: tell the truth. But as anyone who has ever attempted it knows, telling the truth can be a lot more complicated than it looks. How do you write a scene if you can’t remember exactly what everyone said? How...
  • Sholeh and Mohsen at a cafe in Mexico City, where they often worked on the translation of the 52-section poem.
    Sholeh Wolpe worked with co-translator Mohsen Emadi to produce the first-ever complete Persian translation of "Song of Myself"
    Sholeh and Mohsen on the last day of translation.
    [iae|533|r] As more than 2,000 poetry lovers around the world journey through "Song of Myself" with Every Atom: Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, "My Barbaric Yawp" offers a special glimpse into the process, challenges, and delights of rendering...
  • Bilal Tanweer will travel from Pakistan where he teaches creative writing and contemporary literature at LUMS, Lahore.
    [Click to Enlarge] Suvani Singh will travel from Nepal, where she publishes La.Lit magazine.
    Silk Routes is a new 3-year project designed to stregthen creative and cultural ties along the ancient Silk Road
    [iae|528|r] March 16th-22nd, 2014 twelve writers, teachers, literary organizers, and cultural entrepreneurs from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Kyrgyz Republic, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the United States will meet in the Maldives for a symposium focused...
  • Anthony Marra's humorous play ASSEMBLING A FLUGINFLABINLUG AT A MILITARY BLACK SITE touches on torture in the War on Terror.
    REVOLUTIONARY PORCELAIN by Maksim Osipov debuts in Moscow. "The title, to a Russian ear, is funny," says translator Anna Barker.
    Robin Romm's play 7 MINUTES IN HEAVEN, about two strangers locked in a closet, will appear on the University of Iowa stage.
    In WE, THE PEOPLES by Ksenia Dragunskaya a climate refugee causes a stir in a remote Russian village.
    [Click to Enlarge] Herman Sadulaev's play A THREE WAY DREAM will premiere, in English translation, on the Univ of Iowa stage.
    [Click to Enlarge] Michelle Carter will travel to Iowa City to see her play, LUNCH, premiere at the Moscow Art Theatre.
    [Click to Enlarge] Q&A with directors and playwrights in the U.S. (on stage) and in Baghdad (on screen) for Book Wings Iraq 2014
    [iae|522|r] Tomorrow, Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 11am CT (8pm Moscow time) the University of Iowa will link up with the Moscow Art Theatre to present the third annual performance of Book Wings, a collaborative theatre initiative...
  • [Click to Enlarge] Emerging Iraqi playwright Ammar Ali's play MY RIGHT will premiere on the University of Baghdad stage.
    [Click to Enlarge] Zoom meeting software will allow audiences in Baghdad, Iowa City, and online to experience the show together.
    [Click to Enlarge] Heather Raffo's new play, SHELTER DRILLS, will premiere at Book Wings March 11th, 2014.
     [iae|517|r] On March 11, 2014 at 9am CT (5pm Baghdad time) a team of more than forty actors, writers, directors, translators, engineers, producers, and information technology specialists at the University of...
  • [Click to Enlarge] The new "Romanian" tab on the WhitmanWeb multimedia gallery.
    [Click to Enlarge] The first of fifty-two sections "Song of Myself" in Romanian.
    [iae|513|r] As more than 2,100 poetry lovers around the world journey through "Song of Myself" with Every Atom: Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, the My Barbaric Yawp series offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the process, challenges, and...
  • [Click to Enlarge] Actors on the University of Baghdad stage rehearse for Book Wings during a Zoom test call on March 3, 2014.
    Book Wings commissioned playwright David Kranes.
    [iae|509|r] Salt Lake City-based playwright and fiction writer David Kranes, former artistic director of Robert Redford’s Sundance Playwrights Lab, will travel to Iowa City, IA next week to participate in Book Wings, a theatre collaboration that...
  • [Click to Enlarge] WhitmanWeb translator Luis Alberto Ambroggio.
    [Click to Enlarge] Luis Alberto Ambroggio at work on WhitmanWeb translations.
    [iae|507|r] As more than 2,000 poetry lovers around the world journey through "Song of Myself" with Every Atom: Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, the Shambaugh House blog series "My Barbaric Yawp" offers a special glimpse into...

Oscar Ranzo On Going Home

The "On Going Home" series offers a glimpse of what returning home means for authors who have spent three months in the U.S. as part of the International Writing Program's Fall Residency. This week's installment comes to us from Oscar Ranzo, writing from Uganda in January 2014:

[Click to Enlarge] Ranzo (at center, in red shirt) with family in Uganda.
[Click to Enlarge] Ranzo (at center, in red shirt) with family in Uganda.
Several weeks have passed since I returned home from the States.  Incognito.  Chose to do so because I didn’t want any fussing, by family and friends, surrounding my return from the 10-week residency at the University of Iowa. The plan had been to sneak back into the country without telling anyone (aside from my younger brother, who I’d given the task of picking me up from the Airport) spend a few days adjusting back into Ugandan mode, before plunging into my pre-departure routine, of writing, visiting schools, and running the day to day business of the Oasis Book Project as swiftly as though I had never been away. I’d hoped I’d be able to lay low for some time while gradually shocking people who still thought I might be abroad by calling them using my Ugandan phone. But as soon as I called the first person, the word quickly spread that I was back, and before I knew it the very thing I’d been desperate to avoid – the excitement synonymous with returning home from a trip to America – was happening: the fusspots were organizing a welcome party for me. In vain I tried to stop it, but my siblings were adamant it had to happen, and gave so many reasons why it had to, until in the ended I relented and let it be, but not without insisting that it be kept a kindred affair.

And a lovely Kindred Affair it was, a rare get together which started with my first proper Ugandan meal in months (Ugandan food is the only thing I seriously missed in Iowa) and ended with me sharing my American story right from being nominated and selected for the International Writing Program to being awarded the title of Honorary Fellow in Writing at the end of the residency, from time to time my narrative being interrupted by questions from a curious brother, sister or cousin. ‘So what does that title mean?’ A cousin asked, and everyone paid attention, but didn’t seem to understand, while I tried to explain the significance of my honorary title. That’s when it occurred to me that for the first time in months I was the only writer in a room of more than two people. Throughout my time in Iowa I had become used to being in the company of writers, most of them much more accomplished than me, and it always felt nice listening to and learning from the deep literary conversations they often had.

But that was Iowa, a UNESCO city of Literature; this was home, a literary desert, and now that I was back, I knew I had to, and have once again, become used to being the only writer, not only in my close circle of family and friends, but also in my entire hometown of more than 70,000 people. Without doubt I miss the company of other writers, and all the literary activities, especially the book readings and writer discussions that were commonplace in Iowa City. At times I also have nostalgic recollections of my life in Iowa: I particularly miss the warm baths, the washing machine, and the weekly house cleanings. I, too, miss the spacious, well stocked libraries, the gigantic book stores, the street benches, where my muse was always on a high, and, every time I use the internet here, with its frustrating speeds and unreliable connections, I miss the very fast internet speeds, let alone the stable connections that were the norm in America.

 

[Click to Enlarge] Ranzo teaching in Uganda.
[Click to Enlarge] Ranzo teaching in Uganda.
Yet, despite the aforementioned shortcomings, I have also realized that writing in a literary desert also has its advantages, the most noteworthy of which is the fact that my stories are often the only ones by a local writer available on sale in schools, helping me sell books in numbers that upcoming writers in America, Europe and other literary advanced countries would find enviable. Ever since returning home I have been exploring ways of making the most of my 10-week stay in America to increase the popularity of my stories at home: I have given press interviews and invited a big media house to support our campaign to promote the reading and writing culture in the country; and, all being well, I am optimistic that in a few years I will be able to sell enough copies per month to enable me afford the good life I lived in Iowa City.

Worthy of Pursuit: Spectator notes from Book Wings Iraq 2014

A special guest post by GWENDOLYN GILLSON, a PhD student in the University of Iowa Department of Religious Studies, who was in the audience during the March 11, 2014 Book Wings theatre exchange with the University of Baghdad.

Book Wings Iraq was a really fascinating experience. The performances were captivating and intellectually stimulating, although I admit that I was not up for some of the intellectual challenges. The plays themselves were politically charged and sometimes the tensions in the plays were palpable in the audience sitting in the Iowa City theater, as though the performances on stage and the images on screen were reaching out and affecting the audience in ways only live theater can do.

One of the highlights of the performances for me was the idea of linguistic boundaries. These performances emphasized and at the same time minimized the spaces between our respective cultures and languages. Surtitles helped with following along with the basics of communication, but I know that my inability to understand Arabic hindered my appreciation for the symbolic intricacies of those plays. At the same time, the visual format of the plays worked on a more emotional and less intellectual level so that even when I did not understand what specifically was happening on stage, I was able to connect emotional through the visual medium. When it was revealed that “Shelter Drills” was to be a completely embodied performance without speech, I was surprised but also intrigued because it challenged me to think about the ways that powerful meaning can be conveyed without words.

[Click to Enlarge] The Iowa stage (with the Baghdad team on screen) during the talk-back following the performance.
[Click to Enlarge] The Iowa stage (with the Baghdad team on screen) during the talk-back following the performance.
Through various means, both sides were able to cross linguistic boundaries in order to encourage dialogue while at the same time being brought in direct contact with the importance of language in coherent communication. Questions in the Q/A period, whether coming from the audience present or via the Twitter feed never translated quite right from English into Arabic so that the answers given were fascinating, but not really answering the original questions posed. In a relationship as fraught as the one between the United States and Iraq, the fact that questions can be easily misinterpreted in such a welcoming environment points to the need for better communication in order to encourage international dialogue and cooperation. Performances like Book Wings are perfect places to stimulate strong cross-cultural communication and point to mutual appreciation of artistic expression.

[Click to Enlarge] TRAIN OF DEATH by Iraqi playwright Hassab Allah Yahya.
[Click to Enlarge] TRAIN OF DEATH by Iraqi playwright Hassab Allah Yahya.
Also of interest was the comparison of the staging of the plays. The University of Iowa stage was minimalistic with very avant-garde performances, while the Baghdad University stage was much more elaborate, with more traditional but still highly emotional performances. The juxtaposition of these two interpretations of the plays also helped highlight differences of artistic interpretation that only served to strengthen the dual commitment to artistic expression. Despite the different ways of performing the plays, they all were able to stir up deep emotional connections with the audience that transcended any particular instances in the plays.

Looking toward the future, Book Wings is an artistic experience extremely worthy of pursuit. It helps people who may not understand each other work through differences and gives a new way of thinking about language and cultural relationships. Art is an excellent way to cross boundaries and Book Wings challenges people to look across boundaries that many people do not even want to consider. For the future, I hope that there will be a more equal linguistic exchange, such that the American side will have an Arabic-language translator on location. Only through understanding and respect will the world be able to move towards peaceful solutions. Performances such as Book Wings are excellent exchanges of culture, language, and art.

Iowa City, 3/21/14 

 

Whiti Hereaka On Going Home

The Shambaugh House blog's annual "On Going Home" series offers a glimpse of what returning home is like for authors who've spent nearly three months writing and researching in the U.S. as part of the International Writing Program's Fall Residency. This week's installment comes to us from Whiti Hereaka.

I have phantom jandal1 syndrome.  I can feel the memory of them on me:  where the rubber straps that meet between my toes bites, where the straps have rubbed and calloused the skin on the sides of my feet. I have been wearing my cheap supermarket jandals daily during the New Zealand summer; but now the weather has started to turn Autumnal and I’m wearing them less often.

I’ve been back in New Zealand now longer than I was away. When I left America in November the first snow had started to fall in New York. I arrived home to blue skies and the beginning of summer. There’s nothing like an abrupt change of season to remind you that you’ve been on the other side of the world for ten weeks.

Ten weeks doesn’t sound like a long time. Ten weeks isn’t a long time. But it is long enough for the seasons to change and the earth to shift, long enough for subtle changes in my world to compound. My nephews and nieces were taller. My garden had overgrown.

But have I changed too?

Whiti reading at Shambaugh House (on the University of Iowa campus) during the 2013 Fall Residency.
Whiti reading at Shambaugh House (on the University of Iowa campus) during the 2013 Fall Residency.
“How was it?” people ask me ; as if I am able to compress the weeks, the continent, the people into a sound bite. The constant retelling reduces the experience to a laundry list of places and sights. The friends I spent my time with in Iowa are diminished to the short-hand of name, nationality and genre – there is no room for the nuance of individuality in the question “How was it?”

That’s what I miss most; the people. I will never go to another reading in the same way as I did at the IWP – surrounded by my new whanau2 of writers, supporting the ones whose turn it was to share their work with us and the public. I miss the impromptu dance parties in the common room – crowded around a laptop shouting for our favourite songs. I miss the good-natured mimicry of my accent when I’d say “eggs” or “seven”.

I've been home for months now, but I feel like a part of me is still at the Iowa House Hotel, or at Shambaugh House, or at Prairie Lights. I’m no longer in Iowa, but the memories of my experience and the people I met there have left their mark on me. I can still feel its influence lingering like a pair of well-worn jandals.

1 Jandals = "Japanese Sandals" what New Zealanders call "flip-flops" or "thongs" (which I find a more disturbing descriptor)

2 Whanau = "family" in te reo Maori

IWP Offers $10,000 in Scholarships to U.S. Students 16-19

The University of Iowa’s Between the Lines (BTL) creative writing and cultural exchange program, which brings aspiring writers ages 16-19 from around the world together for two weeks of intensive study, has announced that it will be administering $10,000 in need-based scholarships for the summer 2014 session, to be held on the University of Iowa Campus June 21st – July 5th, 2014. BTL is organized by the International Writing Program (IWP) in partnership with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

“I came to BTL because I loved to write,” says BTL alumnus Amr Bennis of Tripoli, Libya, now a senior at Harvard. “At BTL I found a group that was warm and welcoming and that provided me with the motivation to keep writing and with skills I still use today in my writing.”

 APPLICATIONS DUE APRIL 13, 2014

Instructors include American poet Kiki Petrosino, who teaches at the University of Louisville.
Instructors include American poet Kiki Petrosino, who teaches at the University of Louisville.
The 2014 session will bring together twelve students from across Russia, twelve from Arabic-speaking countries across the Near East and North Africa, and twelve U.S. students. International applicants had to first be nominated by their respective embassies, with dozens of students competing for the coveted slots, but U.S. students can apply directly to the program through the IWP's online portal: https://iwp.grad.uiowa.edu/.  Applications are due from U.S. students by April 13, 2014. Tuition for accepted American students is $1,800, including room and board, materials, instructor fees, printing and photocopying, and transportation during the program. The $10,000 in need-based scholarships will include both full and partial awards, along with the possibility of travel funds. Students will be able to apply for scholarships once they are accepted into the program.

“We’re thrilled to be able to offer these scholarships,” says BTL Program Coordinator Kelly Morse, herself an accomplished writer and translator. “This will help ensure that talent and interest in creative writing remain the primary criteria in selecting young writers for the program.”

INTENSIVE CREATIVE WRITING MENTORSHIP

Students accepted to BTL will spend two weeks on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City, a UNESCO City of Literature and home of the world-renowned Iowa Writers’ Workshop. They will participate in intensive writing workshops and seminars about their respective literatures (Arabic and Russian-speaking students divide their time between craft study in their native language and in English), attend literary events, and even give public readings at local book stores.

The students, who will room together in dorms on the University of Iowa campus, forge friendships that endure even after they return home. “I wish we could all come back to live the experience together again,” says 2012 alumna Laura Abaza, who fled her native Syria for the relative safety of Jordan and remains in contact with BTL friends through Facebook and email.

“BTL opens a door to the world for many students,” Morse says. “It’s a kind of cultural diplomacy in miniature; BTLers find common ground and gain greater understanding of each other’s’ cultures and literatures. Part of what makes BTL unique is that is encourages students to discover and interact with other cultures around a shared interest—writing,” Morse says.

2014 BTL students will hone their craft by working closely with authors. Instructors include poet Kiki Petrosino who teaches at the University of Louisville, and acclaimed Russian novelist Alan Cherchesov, an alumnus of IWP’s prestigious Fall Residency.

“Having passionate instructors who are successful writers themselves is part of what makes BTL a formative experience for students,“ Morse says. “They encourage students to consider writing and literature from new angles and help students bring their own writing to the next level.”

The online application portal will remain open to U.S. applicants until midnight central time on April 13, 2014.

Sridala Swami On Going Home

Sridala Swami in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (where she took part in a Jazz Poetry Festival). Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo
Sridala Swami in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (where she took part in a Jazz Poetry Festival). Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing several short essays commissioned from writers who participated in the 2013 International Writing Program Fall Residency as part of the Shambaugh House blog's annual "On Going Home" series. "On Going Home" is a way to keep in touch and get a glimpse of what returning home is like for authors who've spent nearly three months writing and researching in the U.S.. We asked the authors to include a photograph that represented "home" in some fundamental way. This year’s first installment comes to us from Sridala Swami.

As I write this, I’ve been back home from Iowa City for more weeks than I spent there. In this time, my mother has had two cataract surgeries, and I woke up one day to find I now lived in Telangana instead of Andhra Pradesh. In exactly ten weeks from today (7 March), India will have a new government, after massive general election.

And I still have a huge IWP hangover.

My last coherent memory of the US, before being blinded by sadness at leaving all my friends behind, is sitting by the window at a Starbucks in New York with Shandana, watching my first and last proper snow. It was also the season’s first snow and it came down gently and evasively, rather like the snow in Howard Nemerov’s poem.

A view from my terrace of the western sky.
A view from my terrace of the western sky.
When I returned home, it was to that changing season before Hyderabad’s very brief winter. But it wasn’t the weather that was on my mind; I had precisely two weeks before my son had to head back to boarding school and all I could think of was that I had already missed most of his vacations.

So my first two weeks back home was like a bubble in which everything was suspended. It was a slo-mo interlude of clarity and intensity, and it was only when the train taking my son back to school disappeared from view that the bubble burst.

I want to say that after that, it was all real life; that it was all boring, routine, business-of-living stuff...but it wasn’t! Something about the IWP magic remained because in early December, I was at the Goa Arts and Literary Festival, where I met past IWP fellows Bilal Tanweer and Ranjit Hoskote. Spending time with other writers and artists so soon after I’d left Iowa City made me think the energy and optimism I brought back from the IWP need not vanish; that daily responsibilities and the (urgent) need to earn money notwithstanding, it would be possible to hold on to the sense of literary community and dialogue.

It was in that spirit that I continued to write through the end of the year, and right into the new one. In fact, that is how I spent my New Year’s Eve: I wrote through the evening, took a moment to shake out cramped fingers as I wished myself a happy new year and continued right on writing.

Two months in, I may have lost some of that verve to a general feeling of anxiety – to the feeling that so much good stuff must be balanced out with less-than-pleasant news. When such feelings paralyse me and make me incapable of writing, I take comfort in two things: one, of a friend saying to me, “The universe doesn’t care about you or your poetry that much!” and the other, of Iowa City and the bench by the river.

In time, when other things about the IWP – the conversations, the small incidents and memories – fade away, this will remain: the time I spent watching the river and the sky, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends, in changing seasons and moods.

I look outside my window as I am writing this, and the mango tree outside has lost all its headily-perfumed flowers in a spell of unseasonal rain. There is what horticulturalists call ‘flush’ – new leaves that not only replace the flowers but also indicate that there will be no more of them. What this means for us is that there will be no mangoes on this tree this year.

But everywhere in the city, the trees are full of flowers or new leaves: the coppery brown of the peepal, the bright reds and yellows of the palash and the peltophorum and the pale pink of the tabebuia rosea, and I can’t, just yet, bring myself to care about the fruits. There is too much in the recent past and in the present to enjoy. There was no better time than the fall, to have been in Iowa City. There is no better time than now to have returned home. 

Advanced Nonfiction Seminar deadline extended to April 5, 2014

15 applicants representing a broad geographic range will be selected to participate in the seminar.
15 applicants representing a broad geographic range will be selected to participate in the seminar.
The idea of nonfiction is simple: tell the truth. But as anyone who has ever attempted it knows, telling the truth can be a lot more complicated than it looks. How do you write a scene if you can’t remember exactly what everyone said? How do you spend only a paragraph describing a character you’ve known for 30 years? How do you pace a story that has spanned your entire life?

Fifteen nonfiction writers selected from around the world will have an opportunity to explore these questions and others when the International Writing Program's newest Distance Learning course, an Advanced Nonfiction Seminar taught by nonfiction writer Cutter Wood, begins in early May 2014.

Instructor Cutter Wood is a graduate of the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program.
Instructor Cutter Wood is a graduate of the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program.
"Best professor I’ve ever had," tweeted Samantha Abrams, after Wednesday's announcement that the deadline for applications to the seminar to be taught by Wood had been extended to April 5, 2014 to allow more international writers time to apply.

Applications to the course (including a CV, statement of purpose, and three-page nonfiction writing sample) may be submitted electronically free of charge.

Writers selected to participate in the free course will meet online in a live video classroom once a week for eight weeks (access to a computer with a webcam and a stable internet connection are required) to explore in detail both how nonfiction is crafted and the forms it can take, with the essential goal to understand the literary techniques employed by nonfiction writers as well as the vast array of nonfiction produced by these techniques. Instructor Cutter Wood will encourage students to examine short works of nonfiction from around the world, across the genre and throughout history. "We’ll be reading a few canonical authors such as Montaigne and Sei Shonagon, as well as more contemporary writers like Joan Didion, Julio Cortázar, and Eliot Weinberger, and we’ll use these works as the basis for our own short weekly writing experiments," Wood explained. Students will finish the course by using the techniques they’ve learned to produce their own full-length work of nonfiction.

IWP Distance Learning offers several free writing-related Open-Application Courses and MOOCs each year.
IWP Distance Learning offers several free writing-related Open-Application Courses and MOOCs each year.
By extending the application period by one week (originally applications were to be due March 29, 2014), the IWP hopes to encourage a greater geographic diversity among the applicant pool. 387 writers from 49 countries and representing every continent except Antarctica applied to participate in the previous open-application course, an Advanced Fiction Seminar offered by IWP in fall 2013.

To learn more about IWP's Distance Learning opportunities, visit: http://iwp.uiowa.edu/iwp-courses/distance-learning-courses

My Barbaric Yawp, with Sholeh Wolpé

Sholeh Wolpe worked with co-translator Mohsen Emadi to produce the first-ever complete Persian translation of
Sholeh Wolpe worked with co-translator Mohsen Emadi to produce the first-ever complete Persian translation of "Song of Myself"
As more than 2,000 poetry lovers around the world journey through "Song of Myself" with Every Atom: Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, "My Barbaric Yawp" offers a special glimpse into the process, challenges, and delights of rendering Whitman’s words, world, and intent into another language. This week we hear from Sholeh Wolpé, who, working with co-translator Mohsen Emadi, spent nearly a year producing the first-ever complete translation of "Song of Myself" into Persian as part of online multimedia gallery project WhitmanWeb.

How (well) is Whitman known in your country/language?

Sholeh Wolpé :  Not very well. Those who are familiar with his poetry have read him in English. But this will soon change. My co-translator, Mohsen Emadi, has found a great publisher for our translation of Song of Myself (complete with Ed Folsom and Chris Merrill’s notes for each section) in Iran. Hopefully it will be available by the end of the year. We are also considering a couple of Persian publishers in Europe so that it can be made available to Persian speakers outside of Iran.

What is your favorite section of the poem and why?

Sholeh Wolpé : As we were translating Song of Myself, or rather recreating it in Persian, I realized that my favorite Whitman poems in Persian were different from the ones I had originally favored in English . Every language has its own music and Persian is far more musical than English. You can swear in Persian and still give it the rhythm and beauty of a song or poem.

That is a bit harder to do in English. Also, the message itself changes when you present it to a different culture, because each culture has different points of reference, histories and identities. For example, even the phrase “I celebrate myself” feels different in Persian than it does in English. In English it is natural to put the emphasis on “celebrate”. However in Persian, you naturally place a much greater emphasis, if not all of it, on the word “myself”.

That being said, it’s still hard for me to choose just one favorite. However, there are two sections worth mentioning here, one for its sheer poetic beauty, both in Persian and in English:

Press close bare-bosom'd night — press close magnetic 
    nourishing night!
Night of south winds — night of the large few stars!
Still nodding night — mad naked summer night.
 
Smile O voluptuous cool-breath'd earth!
Earth of the slumbering and liquid trees!
Earth of departed sunset — earth of the mountains misty-topt!
Earth of the vitreous pour of the full moon just tinged with blue!
 Earth of shine and dark mottling the tide of the river!
Earth of the limpid gray of clouds brighter and clearer for my sake!
Far-swooping elbow'd earth — rich apple-blossom'd earth!
Smile, for your lover comes.
Prodigal, you have given me love — therefore I to you give
    love!
O unspeakable passionate love.
 
And another for its wisdom and translucent truth that is unfortunately not heeded in our world:
 
I have said that the soul is not more than the body,
And I have said that the body is not more than the soul,
And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one's self is,
And whoever walks a furlong without sympathy walks to his
    own funeral drest in his shroud,
And I or you pocketless of a dime may purchase the pick of
    the earth,
 

How did your relationship with Whitman evolve over the course of the translation? How did translating Whitman inflect your own thinking, your relationship to your own mother tongue, and your sense of American culture? --Which passage(s) were particularly difficult to translate? Why?

Sholeh Wolpé :   I didn’t have a strong relationship with Whitman’s poems before University of Iowa’s International Writing Program commissioned me to translate Song of Myself. I say that because a “relationship” implies something that is reciprocal. I had read Whitman’s work but had not spoken to it, nor had it spoken to me. Whitman’s Song of Myself existed for me the way a beautiful flower exists in a garden. You see it, smell it, maybe touch its petals, but then move on to the next flower, and eventually go back to your meal, lover, bed, etc...

This project took me back to the garden, to this flower which I brought back to my room, rubbed it’s petals over my face and body, examined it under a microscope, tasted it on my tongue, put it to my ear to hear the whispers inside its stem.

Sholeh and Mohsen at a cafe in Mexico City, where they often worked on the translation of the 52-section poem.
Sholeh and Mohsen at a cafe in Mexico City, where they often worked on the translation of the 52-section poem.
Mohsen and I had to deliver one section per week, including my audio recording of that section in Persian. That’s 52 weeks of living and breathing Whitman. Some nights I went to sleep with his poems scattered on my bed, which means I can say that I have slept with Mr. Whitman, or at least his spirit. I spent most of such nights preoccupied with how I was to get through the rest of the section we were translating, record and deliver it on time to the International Writing Program.

Each morning I’d make strong coffee and video Skype Mohsen in Mexico City. We’d talk for hours, sometimes discussing a single line, or word. It is no exaggeration when I say we tasted the marrow of this poem.

My co-translator and I are both poets, and we believe all translators of poetry owe it to the poem and the poet to deliver a living, breathing poem in the target language—if not as good as the original, then one that is even better; a recreation. Therefore, this was an exhilarating, exhausting, challenging but ultimately very rewarding project for Mohsen and I.  We were given the opportunity, and more importantly were trusted, to recreate Song of Myself as a living, breathing poem in Persian.

During the year of translating Song of Myself, Whitman sang in my head, spoke to me, teased me with lines I thought impossible to translate. This is a poem that is deeply rooted in the American culture, and hence transporting it to another culture and language does at times require re-interpretation, or complete recreation. Further, line such as, Endless unfolding of words of ages! (line 477), I resume the overstaid fraction (line 967), and I am afoot with my vision (line 716) require great attention so that translation does not oversimplify their depth.

Sometimes phrases or expressions that may appear very simple in English are actually quite challenging in Persian. For example, And am around, tenacious, acquisitive, tireless, and cannot be shaken away (line 147) seems straight forward enough. Yet, we spent two days on words “around” and “shaken away.”  There are many ways to translate these words in Persian, but we needed to accurately communicate not only the meaning and intention of the poet but also maintain the beauty of expression and language it demanded.

 Another example of the type of challenges we faced is section 35 in its entirety. It is written in a completely different voice. It is almost impossible to bring the Iranian reader’s imagination so suddenly to the American sailor who is telling his story in such an intimate, yet “sailorly” tone. After much discussion we decided to employ the diction of a typical, tough street guy— an accent and way of talking that is readily recognized by Iranians, and communicates to them the class and background of the speaker.

Whitman is also fond of making up words, and he does so in this poem quite brilliantly. How is one to recreate this in a language and culture so vastly different from Whitman’s America? One night, the night before Christmas to be exact, I went to bed thinking about “slough of boot soles” in section 8. I was in regular correspondence with Ed Folsom who is the Whitman Scholar connected to the project, and with the director of the International Writing Program, Chris Merrill. So I appealed to them for help.

I wrote: My dear Ed and Chris, I cannot figure out how to translate “sluff of boot-soles” in

section 8, particularly if it is a sound. Help!!!

Chris replied: I have the feeling that Whitman's coinage contains the idea of a snake sloughing off its skin, the image of a man shuffling down the street, and the sound of boots scraping the sidewalk. (Hass and Ebenkamp suggest that it is "pure onomatopoetic invention.") Shuffle, shamble, scuff, scrape, soft-shoe, rub, skip, graze... Is it common to coin words in Persian? If so, then this may be such an occasion. Good luck!

Ah, I thought to myself. Good luck to me indeed.

Then came Ed’s answer:  I've always heard Whitman's "sluff of bootsoles" as his invention of the sound boots make as they slog through mud.  "Sluff" is a phonetic spelling of "slough," which as a noun is a muddy bog, not unlike Manhattan sidewalks and streets in the mid-nineteenth century. As a verb, "slough" is to shed or cast off.  So all those boots walking the muddy streets are continually taking on mud and shedding it off, all the while making a distinctive sound that echoes both the noun and the verb-- the sluff of bootsoles.

Sholeh and Mohsen on the last day of translation.
Sholeh and Mohsen on the last day of translation.
First thing in the morning, I jumped out of bed in a nerdy ecstasy. I dialed Mohsen on video Skype. I was still in my PJs, and poor, sleepy Mohsen, his massive salt and pepper hair a tangled mess, was astounded (and amused) to see his crazy poet friend, that’s me, doing a crazy dance before the computer camera, yelling: “I got it! I got it! Kelesh Kelesh. Kelesh Kelesh.” That was the precise sound- translation of Mr. Whitman’s onomatopoetic invention.

Later, Ed wrote: Sluff Sluff Sluff: I hear it every time I witness someone walking through mud!  And now I'll hear kelesh kelesh kelesh as well . . .

What did this translation teach you about your own language’s special traits?

As a poet and a literary translator I didn’t learn anything I already didn’t know. It merely confirmed my belief that each translation is a new creation, and that only poets should be trusted to recreate poetry in another language.

In the line “I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world” (section 52) how did you translate the onomatopoetic “yawp” and what can you tell us about the decisions that went into finding the best equivalent?

We started with repeating “barbaric yawp” twenty times to get a feel for how it should move in the mouth. Then we made a list of words that meant “barbaric”. There is no equivalent for “yawp” in Persian, so we had to imagine what would work and be understood in Persian. Iranians are very particular when it comes to language. We did not want to create a word that would have a comedic effect. After several days of thinking and discussion, we decided that verrajee  (nonstop talking without pause for breath,) coupled with vahshee (wild as in a wild animal,) and na-behanjar (without order), would convey what Whitman was after with his barbaric yawp both in sound and intention. Hence we arrived at: verrajee-yeh vahshi-yeh naw- beh-hanjaw-ram . It may sound long and unpronounceable to you, but believe me, it sounds great in Persian.

It is my hope that Iranians who read this poem, recognize the echoes of their own great mystic poets Rumi and Attar, and readily rise upon hearing Whitman call: Who wishes to walk with me?

Silk Routes Symposium: Creative Minds Meeting in the Maldives

Silk Routes is a new 3-year project designed to stregthen creative and cultural ties along the ancient Silk Road
Silk Routes is a new 3-year project designed to stregthen creative and cultural ties along the ancient Silk Road
March 16th-22nd, 2014 twelve writers, teachers, literary organizers, and cultural entrepreneurs from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Kyrgyz Republic, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the United States will meet in the Maldives for a symposium focused on the heritage, tradition, and practice of creative writing in their respective countries. The symposium will mark the beginning of the first major phase of Silk Routes: Heritage, Trade, Practice, a new three-year program designed to strengthen cultural and economic ties among countries located along the ancient trade routes of the Silk Road through creative-writing and cultural exchange. Silk Routes is organized by the International Writing Program (IWP) at the University of Iowa and funded by a grant from the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

SHARED TRADITIONS, LOCAL PROJECTS

[Click to Enlarge] Suvani Singh will travel from Nepal, where she publishes La.Lit magazine.
[Click to Enlarge] Suvani Singh will travel from Nepal, where she publishes La.Lit magazine.
The symposium will begin with a series of lectures and discussions on the writing traditions, pedagogies, and practices in the participants’ respective countries. Silk Routes participants will bring a variety of cultural experiences and areas of expertise to the table. Participants include humor writer Shandana Minhas of Pakistan, Indian poet Sridala Swami, literary organizer Suvani Singh of Nepal, and Sri Lankan writer and publisher Ameena Hussein, who also brings extensive experience in community organizing. Building upon shared heritages, participants will collaborate to design and propose culturally-relevant bi-lateral and multi-national educational initiatives centered on creative writing, with an emphasis on engaging youth and empowering women. Two subsequent online symposia will allow participants to further develop and refine their proposals.

Bilal Tanweer will travel from Pakistan where he teaches creative writing and contemporary literature at LUMS, Lahore.
Bilal Tanweer will travel from Pakistan where he teaches creative writing and contemporary literature at LUMS, Lahore.
Successful local project proposals will receive funding to allow Silk Routes participants to implement them at the local level. American novelist and teacher Ron Carlson and poet and editor Barbara Ras will also be on hand to observe and participate in the knowledge-sharing and will undertake site visits to observe the projects once they are underway.

In parallel with these projects, to support them and expand their reach, the IWP will assemble a Gallery of essays, video-talks from participants, and pedagogical materials, to serve as a resource for educators.

THE NEXT GENERATION

In 2016, twelve students from the Silk Routes region, identified by Silk Routes participants through their local projects, will travel to Iowa City, Iowa to participate in Between the Lines (Silk Routes) a dynamic two-week creative writing and cultural exchange program for young international and American writers ages 16-19. This meeting of young people, made possible by the creative and cultural exchange that will begin in the Maldives in March 2014, will demonstrate the effectiveness of artistic collaboration in strengthening the cultural linkages along the ancient Silk Road.

Moscow Art Theatre & University of Iowa Link up for Book Wings

[Click to Enlarge] Herman Sadulaev's play A THREE WAY DREAM will premiere, in English translation, on the Univ of Iowa stage.
[Click to Enlarge] Herman Sadulaev's play A THREE WAY DREAM will premiere, in English translation, on the Univ of Iowa stage.
Tomorrow, Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 11am CT (8pm Moscow time) the University of Iowa will link up with the Moscow Art Theatre to present the third annual performance of Book Wings, a collaborative theatre initiative that uses the latest new media technologies to bring together actors, writers, directors, translators, and stage spaces 5,000 miles apart to produce one unified theatre experience.

[Click to Enlarge] Michelle Carter will travel to Iowa City to see her play, LUNCH, premiere at the Moscow Art Theatre.
[Click to Enlarge] Michelle Carter will travel to Iowa City to see her play, LUNCH, premiere at the Moscow Art Theatre.
The works commissioned for Book Wings 2014 on the central theme of “Contact” touch on issues from gay marriage to climate change to torture in the War on Terror.

The bilingual performance is free and open to the public, and will be viewable worldwide via live Internet stream at: http://www.writinguniversity.org/page/book-wings-live-streaming 

Robin Romm's play 7 MINUTES IN HEAVEN, about two strangers locked in a closet, will appear on the University of Iowa stage.
Robin Romm's play 7 MINUTES IN HEAVEN, about two strangers locked in a closet, will appear on the University of Iowa stage.
Audience members in Iowa City, Moscow, and online are invited to Tweet comments and questions for the live talk-back following the performance using the hashtag #bookw.

Moscow Art Theatre School Director Anatoly Smeliansky and University of Iowa International Writing Program Director Christopher Merrill came up with the idea for Book Wings during a working group meeting as part of the Bilateral Presidential Commission to reset relations between Russia and the U.S. in Moscow in December 2010. “Over the last twenty years we’ve trained a thousand American students in the Stanislavsky Method, and now I can talk to my daughter every night in Cambridge, MA on Skype. Can’t we find some way to meet in the virtual world?” asked Smeliansky.

[Click to Enlarge] Q&A with directors and playwrights in the U.S. (on stage) and in Baghdad (on screen) for Book Wings Iraq 2014
[Click to Enlarge] Q&A with directors and playwrights in the U.S. (on stage) and in Baghdad (on screen) for Book Wings Iraq 2014
The 3-year Book Wings initiative designed in response has commissioned short works from poets (2012), playwrights (2013), and prose writers (2014) on the common theme of “contact,” and performed them on digitally-connected stages in Iowa City and Moscow, fostering cross-cultural conversation and sparking new dramatic ideas. The pioneering 2012 performance was so successful that Book Wings was expanded to include China (in 2013) and Iraq (in 2014), with plans to establish a collaboration in South Africa in 2015.

In WE, THE PEOPLES by Ksenia Dragunskaya a climate refugee causes a stir in a remote Russian village.
In WE, THE PEOPLES by Ksenia Dragunskaya a climate refugee causes a stir in a remote Russian village.
Book Wings 2014 will feature works commissioned from PEN USA Literary Award in Drama winner Michelle Carter, Whiting Award winner Anthony Marra whose novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, set in Chechnya, was longlisted for the National Book Award, and novelist Robin Romm, whose memoir The Mercy Papers was a San Francisco Chronicle best book of the year. On the Russian side the contributors include playwright and prose writer Ksenia Dragunskaya, cardiologist, publisher and writer Maksim Osipov, winner of the Yuri Kazakov Prize, and best-selling Chechen author Herman Sadulaev, twice short-listed for the Russian Booker.
Anthony Marra's humorous play ASSEMBLING A FLUGINFLABINLUG AT A MILITARY BLACK SITE touches on torture in the War on Terror.
Anthony Marra's humorous play ASSEMBLING A FLUGINFLABINLUG AT A MILITARY BLACK SITE touches on torture in the War on Terror.
Michelle Carter, whose play, LUNCH, is a parable about the resistance to homosexual marriage, will travel from San Francisco to Iowa City to watch it premiere on the Moscow Art Theatre stage in Russian (translated by University of Iowa professor of Russian, Anna Barker).

Full bios and summaries of the commissioned works: http://iwp.uiowa.edu/programs/book-wings/2014Russia  

REVOLUTIONARY PORCELAIN by Maksim Osipov debuts in Moscow.
REVOLUTIONARY PORCELAIN by Maksim Osipov debuts in Moscow. "The title, to a Russian ear, is funny," says translator Anna Barker.
Long term, Book Wings aims to provide a model for leveraging new media technologies to increase artistic collaboration internationally. Watch parties will take place at Schkapf in Los Angeles, McGill University (Canada), Amherst College, University of Michigan, Kirkwood Community College, Davidson College, Temple University, at the American Corner at the Mayakovsky Central City Public Library in Saint Petersburg (Russia) and in many other locations, ensuring a lively discussion in the question and answer session following the performance.

Book Wings is made possible by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at U.S. Department of State, the Moscow Art Theatre School, and the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, Department of Theatre Arts, the Virtual Writing University, Information Technology Services, and UITV.

Making Literature Fly: Baghdad & Iowa Link Up in Bilingual Book Wings Collaboration

 

[Click to Enlarge] Heather Raffo's new play, SHELTER DRILLS, will premiere at Book Wings March 11th, 2014.
[Click to Enlarge] Heather Raffo's new play, SHELTER DRILLS, will premiere at Book Wings March 11th, 2014.
On March 11, 2014 at 9am CT (5pm Baghdad time) a team of more than forty actors, writers, directors, translators, engineers, producers, and information technology specialists at the University of Iowa will link up with the University of Baghdad to present Book Wings, a collaborative theatre initiative that uses the latest digital and new media technologies to bring together stage spaces—in this case, 6,500 miles apart—to produce one integrated, interactive theatre experience. Artistic and production teams in Baghdad and Iowa City have been working together for more than six months to prepare for the performance, despite almost daily violence in Iraq.

The Book Wings marathon will include six new plays commissioned for the project on the central theme of “Courage” from distinguished playwrights in Iraq and the United States. 

[Click to Enlarge] Zoom meeting software will allow audiences in Baghdad, Iowa City, and online to experience the show together.
[Click to Enlarge] Zoom meeting software will allow audiences in Baghdad, Iowa City, and online to experience the show together.
These include David Kranes, former artistic director of Robert Redford’s Sundance Playwrights Lab, Catherine Filloux, award-winning human rights and social justice playwright and co-founder of Theatre Without Borders, Mosul-based playwright, novelist, and journalist Hassab Allah Yahya, the author of many critical works on the current state of theatre in Iraq, and Baghdad-based playwright and director Sarem Dakhel. The Baghdad production with also feature the youngest writer commissioned in the project’s three-year history, 21-year-old rising star Ammar Ali, who has twice won the Best First Play Award at the University of Baghdad Theatrical Festival, first for If the Donkey Spoke and most recently for Love in Recent Days. Read the plays.

Book Wings arose out of a three-year partnership between the world-renowned Moscow Art Theatre and the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program as a way for actors, directors, writers and creative thinkers of all stripes to meet and collaborate in the virtual world, fostering cross-cultural conversation and sparking new dramatic ideas.

[Click to Enlarge] Emerging Iraqi playwright Ammar Ali's play MY RIGHT will premiere on the University of Baghdad stage.
[Click to Enlarge] Emerging Iraqi playwright Ammar Ali's play MY RIGHT will premiere on the University of Baghdad stage.
  The pioneering 2012 performance was so successful that a Book Wings partnership was formed with the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center for 2013 and with the University of Baghdad for 2014, with plans to establish a collaboration with South Africa in 2015.

The bilingual show is free and open to the public, and will be viewable worldwide via live Internet stream at: http://www.writinguniversity.org/page/book-wings-live-streaming Watch parties at CultureHub in New York City, Qatar University, Sultan Qaboos University (Oman) and elsewhere will be tuning in from around the world. Audience members in Iowa City, Baghdad, and online are invited to Tweet comments and questions for the live question and answer session following the performance using the hashtag #bookw.

Book Wings is made possible by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at U.S. Department of State, the University of Baghdad, and the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, Department of Theatre Arts, the Virtual Writing University, Information Technology Services, and UITV

More on Book Wings.