With the process to select 2014 IWP Fall Residents in full swing, we thought it might be fun to look back at one of the highlights of the 2013 Fall Residency.2013 Iowa City Book Festival got an unexpected treat: a soundscape of synthetic birdsong. The birdsong was part of an innovative sound installation project, HORTUS, organized by 2013 Fall Resident Patrícia Portela (Portugal), IWP’s inaugural Community Engagement Fellow, in collaboration with Belgian artist Christoph De Boeck. For four days in October, festival-goers, pedestrians, and community members gazed up curiously into the trees or paused to read the digital plaques along Iowa City’s downtown Pedestrian Mall.
A glimpse of a similar 2012 HORTUS exhibition:
For more on Portela's present whereabouts, visit her blog, Seeds of Culture.
Visit IWP's archives to read panel papers on topics such as "Freedom's Limits," "The New Sexualities," and "Religion and Writing," presented by 2013 Fall Residents at the 2013 Iowa City Book Festival.
A special guest post by University of Iowa student Sara Cooper.Book Wings 2014, the first a collaboration between the University of Iowa (UI) and the University of Baghdad, the second between UI and the Moscow Art Theatre. Both performances took place in the Theater Building on the UI campus.
The most interesting aspect of Book Wings 2014 for me were the many layers on which cultural exchange could be tracked. While one channel of exchange expressed one kind of relationship between the two countries, another channel portrayed the relationship differently. For example, while the verbal exchanges between the Iowa City and the Baghdad moderator in the Iraq-America Book Wings were polite and gracious, the staging of the American plays in Arabic in the Baghdadi theatre gave a different message. Thus the decision, by the Iraqi director, to omit portions of the original text from the American play “Shelter Drills” and instead have the actors perform silently or to mime made the audience in the US (which had access to the full original texts in their program booklets) assume there was tension between the two countries that could not be surmounted by the fiction, and that dialogue was therefore deleted in favor of more neutral acting techniques. Face to face the two countries’ moderators interacted amicably, but the performances made me feel as though the relationship between the two countries was much more complicated than the moderators' tone and style have any hint of.1Shambaugh house blog note: Vladimir Kulikov provided interpretation on the Iowa Stage during the Book Wings Russia Q&A immediately following the performance.2Shambaugh House blog note: the decision to have only one interpreter was made jointly by the partners in both cases, in the interest of streamlining the performance and shortening the performance time.
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: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.
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.
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.
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
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’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?
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
“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, 2014https://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.
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.
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.
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.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.
To learn more about IWP's Distance Learning opportunities, visit: http://iwp.uiowa.edu/iwp-courses/distance-learning-courses
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:
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.
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.
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?
SHARED TRADITIONS, LOCAL PROJECTSparticipants 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.
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.