• 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 installment comes to us from Samuel Kolawole:

    On the Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Abuja, two Nigerian men argued over where to put what in the overhead luggage compartment....

  • The International Writing Program at the University of Iowa will offer the #Flashwrite Teen Poetry MOOC, its first open online course designed exclusively for teenage students, from March 30-May 3, 2016. Students 13-19 years old are invited to write, share, and discuss poetry with Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduates and fellow teenage writers...

  • Narrative Witness: Indigenous Peoples, Australia-United States, a publication from the International Writing Program, is now available.

    The collection features work created during an online exchange that brought together 32 indigenous writers and photographers living in Australia and the United States in fall 2015. During the two-month exchange, the artists created...

  • By Laura Wang, a current student at the University of Iowa, originally published on laurayingwang.wordpress.comThe Shambaugh House in Iowa City is home to the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program. It was originally the home of Professor Benjamin F. Shambaugh. After passing away in 1940, he gave his home to the University of Iowa, and the Honors Program moved in....

  • By Alyssa Cokinis, Between the Lines ICRU Fellow

    Between the Lines: Peace and the Writing Experience (BTL) is the International Writing Program’s creative writing and cultural exchange program for teenage writers between the ages of 16 and 19. This summer, two sessions will convene in Iowa City, IA for BTL’s ninth year: Russian/Arabic, which will bring together 32 students from...

  • Written by Karen Villeda, 2015 Fall Residency Outreach Fellow, in November, 2015

    “He always thought of the sea, as ”la mar,” which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her. Sometimes those who love her say bad things of her but they are always said as though she were a woman. Some of the younger fishermen, those who used buoys as floats for their lines and had... more
  • 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 installment comes to us from Rochelle Potkar:

    Iowa is affixed in my mind as this cool place of beauty, sprawling gold fields, the rippling river blue, the talcum sky above, the bridges...

  • On Thursday January 14th, 2016, IWP joined dozens of literary organizations and hundreds of writers in a Worldwide Reading event, coordinated by the Internationales Literaturfestival Berlin to draw attention to the dire situation of the Palestinian-born poet and curator Ashraf Fayadh.  A long-time resident of Saudi-Arabia, Fayadh was arrested in 2014 for “spreading blasphemous ideas among...

  • 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 Raed Anis Al-Jishi:

    I lived in Iowa for more than 12 weeks. It felt like home—a dream home for a writer.

    Libraries with enormous resources. An...

  • By Karen Villeda, 2015 Fall Residency Outreach Fellow

    In the course of the fall 2015 semester, in my role as the International Writing Program’s Outreach Fellow, I developed a web-based project, titled INTERNATIONAL WRITING PROGRAM: WRITING LIVES!

    First off, the site is a documentary combining text with multimedia (images, videos) generated by some of the IWP 2015...


University of Iowa launches Creative Writing MOOC Series

[Click to Enlarge] The first MOOC in the How Writers Write Series will focus on Poetry.
[Click to Enlarge] The first MOOC in the How Writers Write Series will focus on Poetry.
The International Writing Program (IWP) is delighted to announce The University of Iowa’s first creative writing MOOC (Massive Open Online Course): How Writers Write Poetry, now open for enrollment. The free six-week course (June 28-August 9, 2014) will include discussions and workshops, as well as craft talks by more than 20 contributing poets, including former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass, Kwame Dawes, Kate Greenstreet, Kiki Petrosino, and Shane McCrae. The course is part of a new University of Iowa MOOC series: How Writers Write: Talks on Craft and Commitment; a fiction writing course will launch in September 2014.

Writing exercises, discussion, and workshops

Robert Hass, who served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 1995 to 1997, will give a craft talk as part of the MOOC.
Robert Hass, who served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 1995 to 1997, will give a craft talk as part of the MOOC.
How Writers Write Poetry will be guided by poet and IWP director Christopher Merrill and by Mary Hickman, poet and editor of Black Rainbow Editions. Twice a week, Merrill and Hickman will introduce and contextualize two short video “craft talks” by contributing poets and assign a writing prompt to MOOC participants. Merrill and Hickman will be supported by a team of teaching assistants, all MFA graduates with substantial experience in teaching poetry.

In the course discussion forum, Hickman, the teaching assistants, and the MOOC participants will examine points raised in the craft talks. The IWP expects to draw an international roster of users, so the teaching assistants will maintain an active presence in the discussion forum around the clock to support ongoing interaction in all time zones (though the course’s working language is English). Participants will be invited to post their poetry for discussion, and each week Hickman and the teaching assistants will workshop a representative collection of the submitted poems.

“The response to our first MOOC was terrific,” said IWP distance learning coordinator Susannah Shive. More than 2,000 people enrolled in Every Atom: Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself in February 2014. “We were thrilled by the participants’ deep engagement with the subject and one another in the discussion forum, and we’re especially excited to offer How Writers Write Poetry participants the opportunity to bring that energy and commitment into workshops of their own poetry. Workshopping hasn’t really been done in the MOOC world yet, and we’re confident we’ve figured out how to make it work.”

The course welcomes readers as well as writers; you can participate in workshops without submitting your own work.
The course welcomes readers as well as writers; you can participate in workshops without submitting your own work.
For those interested in poetry, but shy about submitting their own work for critique, Shive had this advice: “How Writers Write Poetry is an interactive study of how a poet develops and refines the lifelong practice and craft of poetry—it’s ideal not only for poets, but also for those interested in reading and learning more about contemporary poetry. We’ve structured the discussion topics to welcome readers as well as writers, and you can participate in workshops without submitting your own work.”

The course, taught in English, is free and open to anyone with an internet connection. To enroll, visit: http://courses.writinguniversity.org/course/how-writers-write-poetry

The MOOC series How Writers Write: Talks on Craft and Commitment is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and by the University of Iowa, and hosted by the Virtual Writing University with the goal of encouraging global academic and creative exchange.

HORTUS: a soundscape of birdsong

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.

[Click to Enlarge] Portela leading a guided tour of the HORTUS installation in downtown Iowa City.
[Click to Enlarge] Portela leading a guided tour of the HORTUS installation in downtown Iowa City.
The 4,000 plus literary visitors to the 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.  
 Speakers in the trees on the Iowa City Pedestrian Mall.
Speakers in the trees on the Iowa City Pedestrian Mall.
All the while, a network of sensors was measuring the wind and light harvested by trees and plants as part of photosynthesis, and translating these natural economies into bird calls.  The installation also reacted to human movement: a financial algorithm, taking into account solitary and crowd movement, transformed and remapped the soundscape.  Then, each time visitors stopped to read or reflect, the original sound design for the landscape returned, reflecting only the readings of natural energy.  The digital plaques featured looping micro “stories” that compared economic, political, or natural terms such as growth, beauty, regeneration, and time.  In addition, a guided tour led community members through the installation; a salon stirred debate on sustainability; and an evening lecture shared Portela’s experiences interviewing Iowa farmers and agricultural experts.  As the IWP looks ahead to all the future ways in which our visiting writers can engage with the land and people of Iowa and Iowa City, we will be guided by the echoes of those invisible birds, and by the inspiration of passersby looking up at the trees in wonder.

 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.

Layers of Cultural Exchange: Spectator notes from Book Wings 2014

A special guest post by University of Iowa student Sara Cooper.

[Click to Enlarge] Members of the Iowa City audience, waiting for Book Wings Iraq to begin.
[Click to Enlarge] Members of the Iowa City audience, waiting for Book Wings Iraq to begin.
I participated as an audience member in both performances of 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.

UI Director Carol MacVey (on screen) with MXAT host Adam Muskin and Russian playwright Ksenia Dragunskaya on stage in Moscow.
UI Director Carol MacVey (on screen) with MXAT host Adam Muskin and Russian playwright Ksenia Dragunskaya on stage in Moscow.
On the other hand, the Russian-American Book Wings gave the impression of an opposite relationship. When there was any technical difficulty, the Russian moderator acted, I felt, rather rudely.  His exertion of control over the situation made me feel as though the relationship between the two countries was less than comfortable. The Russian adaptations of the plays, however, were lively and entertaining, and stayed faithful to the American texts, portraying a different, more comfortable relationship between the two countries. What made the interactions even more interesting was that Russian moderator was American-born. But I don't know what to make of that.

Baghdad host and interpreter Dr. Maysam Saleh (on screen) interacts with UI host Christopher Merrill during Book Wings Iraq.
Baghdad host and interpreter Dr. Maysam Saleh (on screen) interacts with UI host Christopher Merrill during Book Wings Iraq.
One part of both Book Wings performances that I found especially striking was the absence of translators on the American side. In both performances the interpreting of the conversations, both between Arabic and English and Russian and English was done by the overseas moderators.1 It should have been easy enough to find someone in Iowa to do the interpreting on our side, yet for some reason that job was left to the overseas moderator alone.2 This discrepancy provided another insight into the relationships between the two countries. While the Arabic moderator handled the interpreting job fairly straightforwardly, saying a complete thought in Arabic and then translating it into English, or waiting for the American speaker to finish before translating the complete thought into Arabic, the Russian moderator went back and forth between Russian and, sometimes translating everything and sometimes leaving either the Russian or the American audience in the dark. I thought that the differences between the moderators’ interpreting strategies reflected the relationships emerging out of the moderator exchanges in each performance: the Iraqi and American moderators gracious and conciliatory, the Russian moderator more determined to make the show his own. In both events there were many more layers of exchange, but the textual and verbal performance levels were the ones that I found most interesting.
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.

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.”


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.”


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
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?


Drupal theme by pixeljets.com D7 ver.1.1