• 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....

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  • 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...

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  • 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...

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  • 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....

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  • 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...

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  • 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...

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  • 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...

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  • 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...

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  • 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...

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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.

My Barbaric Yawp: Liviu Martinescu on Whitman in Romanian

[Click to Enlarge] The new
[Click to Enlarge] The new "Romanian" tab on the WhitmanWeb multimedia gallery.
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 delights of rendering Whitman’s words, world, and intent into another language. This week we hear from Liviu Martinescu, who translated "Song of Myself" into Romanian, recently added to WhitmanWeb.
 

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

Liviu Martinescu: Whitman is fairly well-known to the Romanian public. Ever since I can remember (that would be since the early 60s), he has been seen as a towering figure in American poetry, indeed in the impressive gallery of American Number Ones.

Mihnea Gheorghiu’s 1976 translation stands out: Cantec despre mine, Editura Univers, Bucuresti.

What is your favorite section of the poem and why?

Liviu Martinescu: My favorite section — and I am sure I am not the only one to word my feedback in (roughly) such terms — would be a collection of lines, images, stances, reflections/musings, intended ambiguities from all 52 sections. 

[Click to Enlarge] The first of fifty-two sections
[Click to Enlarge] The first of fifty-two sections "Song of Myself" in Romanian.
Since I am supposed to mention just one, then perhaps Section 46 is a bit closer to my heart for its vibrant, no-nonsense dual message, i.e. “I am the best” — “I’m passing on this best to whoever is ready to be my son” (my follower, my open-minded reader, my posterity). Rather than read my blasphemous words, I of course refer the reader to the words of the Master, from “I know I have the best of time and space, and was never measured and never will be measured.” through “Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you,/ You must travel it for yourself.” and up to “Now I will you to be a bold swimmer.” There is some measure of the grandiose, of Romantic dash, in what I called above a no-nonsense message; after all, those lines were written circa 1850–56.

Yet Whitman contrives to reach a perpetually modern spirit even as he manhandles the Romantic fibers: in the soliloquy on the hill, his query to his own spirit is every inch old-school (Shakespearian) English literature; the answer, though, comes in stern American, “No, we but level that lift to pass and continue beyond” — it’s Abe Lincoln’s minimalism, the maximum of emotion in a minimum of terminology.

And the obsessive figure of the son he never had — how can the reader (man or woman) fail to identify with such blatant legacy?

How did your relationship with Whitman evolve over the course of the translation?

Liviu Martinescu: Quite honestly, it zig-zagged like crazy. Now I loved him, now I found him (okay, the lyrical I’s discourse) unnecessarily pompous and, in particular, nerve-stretchingly explanatory — pontifical. Perhaps I should here point out that my previous encounters with Leaves of Grass, in particular with Song of Myself, had not impressed me inordinately (I am perfectly aware how this sounds now). Other than the author’s astounding, suicidal (in a Puritan society) candor, plus the always-lauded deftness of his free verse, I was left with little else. A pioneer, a first-timer, an eccentric whose genius was somehow undermined by a devastating lack of all (granted, bourgeois; but still ... ) shame, that was my representation of Walt Whitman. And oh, unfortunately I will never be able to really grasp that fine distinction between “the other self” and old Walt. In a way, to do so (barring the mandatory explanation to one’s freshmen students that the lyrical “I” is not to be confused with the tax-paying, town-hall-registered author) is to do disservice to the Whitmanesque universe. Now, after the blood-sweat-and-tears summer when I translated the poem, my final opinion is the same, only now backed by hard labor and long hours dedicated to better comprehension: one either takes the entire Walt-as-Whitman is, or immediately misses the point. Walt Whitman’s merits lie oftentimes in his otherwise pedantic excursions, and what so many of his readers find reprehensible in him/his Song--for instance the persistence of his shaping and reshaping himself as the prototype of Planet Earth, nay, of the Universe--is his all-out attack on mediocrity, on Phariseeism, on narrow-mindedness, on egocentrism (sic); it is his bare-chested, bare-handed appeal, standing on a hill showered with shrapnels of hypocrisy, political correctness, religious bigotry, and what have you.

How did translating Whitman inflect your own thinking, your relationship to your own mother tongue, and your sense of American culture?

Liviu Martinescu: In regard to my thinking, see the lines above. Incidentally, my better fathoming of Whitman (hopefully) does not replace my (own) personality traits — as almost every line of the poem spells out it should not.

My relationship with my mother tongue is such an intricate thing that, with all due respect, not even as strenuous an undertaking as the translation of Walt Whitman’s Song can dramatically impact it. But then again, as some other strong voices in the past did, the impact may have been so profound that I fail to feel it on the surface. The American culture no doubt owes a lot to Walt. Not only Ginsberg or Kerouac sprung from that free, epic verse, but an entire nation was given wings of self-expression, wings that other continents do not have even to this day.

Which passage(s) were particularly difficult to translate? Why?

Liviu Martinescu: On the one hand, I remember hours of Google-partying or taking out large encyclopedias from shelves.  On the other, I remember a 59-year-old teacher of English trying hard to make head or tail out of some profound strings of thoughts in the Song, as in Sections 28, 29 and the part of Section 30 that ends roughly in the line “I believe the soggy clods shall become lovers and lumps.” This said, let me add that I believe I crossed those bridges.

"Song of Myself" in Romanian, and fourteen other languages: WhitmanWeb.

New David Kranes play premieres at Baghdad-Iowa Book Wings Exchange

Book Wings commissioned playwright David Kranes.
Book Wings commissioned playwright David Kranes.
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 will connect actors, writers, directors, and translators from the University of Baghdad with counterparts at the University of Iowa. The project uses the latest digital videoconferencing technology to connect stages 6,500 miles apart to present a series of specially commissioned short plays. Kranes is one of six distinguished playwrights in Iraq and the United States commissioned by Book Wings to create a short play on “Courage,” a theme he helped identify.

Kranes’ play, HOW ABOUT THESE FIRES...?! has been translated into Arabic for the performance. As part of the exchange, he also helped refine the English translation of Iraqi playwright Sarem Dakhel’s THE BIRD BREEDER.

The bilingual performance is free and open to the public in Iowa City and Baghdad, and will be viewable worldwide via live Internet stream. Audience members in Iowa City, Baghdad, and online are invited to Tweet comments and questions for Kranes and others during the live question and answer session following the performance using the hashtag #bookw.

Kranes, who has served as dramaturg and mentor for many celebrated works in American theatre, including Pulitzer Prize winners Angels In America (Tony Kushner) and The Kentucky Cycle (Robert Schenkkan) will stay in Iowa City to attend a seperate Book Wings collaboration on March 13, this one linking actors in Iowa to the renowned Moscow Art Theatre (home stage of Chekhov). It was Moscow Art Theatre director Anatoly Smeliansky who hatched the idea for Book Wings in 2010, in collaboration with University of Iowa International Writing Program Christopher Merrill, as a way to give actors, directors, writers and creative thinkers of all stripes a way to meet and collaborate in the virtual world.

[Click to Enlarge] Actors on the University of Baghdad stage rehearse for Book Wings during a Zoom test call on March 3, 2014.
[Click to Enlarge] Actors on the University of Baghdad stage rehearse for Book Wings during a Zoom test call on March 3, 2014.
Artistic and production teams in Baghdad and Iowa City have been working together for more than six months to prepare for the performance, despite the violence in Iraq, with daily suicide bombings, IED attacks, and assassinations.

In addition to Kranes, Book Wings will feature works commissioned from Catherine Filloux, co-founder of Theatre Without Borders, Mosul-based playwright, novelist, and journalist Hassab Allah Yahya, and Baghdad-based playwright and director Sarem Dakhel. Read full bios and summaries of the commissioned works at: http://iwp.uiowa.edu/programs/book-wings/2014-Iraq

“At its best theatre reminds us that our lives hang in the balance at every moment, whether we know it or not,” says International Writing Program director Chris Merrill. “Such knowledge is general in Baghdad, of course, and no doubt it will shape the experience of those who attend Book Wings, in person or online.”

Read the plays: http://iwp.uiowa.edu/programs/book-wings/2014-Iraq

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

My Barbaric Yawp: Luis Alberto Ambroggio on translating Walt Whitman

[Click to Enlarge] WhitmanWeb translator Luis Alberto Ambroggio.
[Click to Enlarge] WhitmanWeb translator Luis Alberto Ambroggio.

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 the process, challenges, and delights of rendering Whitman’s words, world, and  intent into another language. Each week, we'll hear from translators who have spent hundreds of hours pouring over "Song of Myself" as part of online multimedia gallery project WhitmanWeb. This week we hear from writer and translator Luis Alberto Ambroggio, who edited the Spanish translation of "Song of Myself" and translated the WhitmanWeb commentaries in Spanish.

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

Luis Alberto Ambroggio: It is difficult to talk about my country when discussing Whitman, the poet of a nation made of many nations. Actually, my country happens to be the Hispanic/Latin America of the United States, though I was born in Argentina, the land of Jorge Luis Borges, one of Whitman’s translator/admirers, author of the poem “Camden, 1892” and several essays on Leaves of Grass. Whitman is very well known in my language/my Hispanic-American countries. In fact, to implement the cultural diplomacy I so strongly believe in, I will soon be delivering a lecture at the recently inaugurated Nicaraguan-North American Cultural Center in Managua, Nicaragua as a US cultural envoy, addressing the Hispanic element in the American nationality according to ‘the son of Manhattan,’ and more generally talking about the role of  of Whitman’s poetry of democracy for Hispanic-American poets.  The published translations of Whitman’s works into Spanish number more than 20, beginning, in 1901, with those of Balbino Dávalos and followed by many others, including Jorge Luis Borges, León Felipe, Francisco Alexander and those by Álvaro Armando Vasseur and Concha Zardoya; the two last translations were the basis for a version by Matt Cohen now featured on WhitmanWeb, and in which I fine-tuned some lines. In addition to the translations, numerous essays, articles, and poems have been written in the Hispanic-American world about Whitman and influenced by his democratic poetics, with all its virtues and contradictions. Indeed, it has been a honor to join this outstanding cluster of admirers and manifold creations composed by the likes of a José Martí, the Cuban Liberator; the head of the modernist movement Ruben Dario; Federico García Lorca; Nobel Prize winners Pablo Neruda, Gabriela Mistral and Octavio Paz, and many other well-known Hispanic-American poets and writers  as I embodied Whitman in my own translations and in my forthcoming  poetry collection We Are All Whitman (Todos somos Whitman).

What is your favorite section of the poem and why?

[Click to Enlarge] Luis Alberto Ambroggio at work on WhitmanWeb translations.
[Click to Enlarge] Luis Alberto Ambroggio at work on WhitmanWeb translations.

Luis Alberto Ambroggio: Each and every can be considered my favorite, for every single one reveals, expands, and lists the physical, revolutionary and liberatory visions. This begins with the line I celebrate myself and sing myself, what I assume you shall assume for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you  in Section 1 to the discovery of the germinal question what is the grass? poetically narrated on Section 6, followed by the exhausting and challenging catalogues in Sections 15 and 33; the touching and sensual section 28 (characterized by Karl Shapiro as “one of the greatest moments of poetry”);then the amazing lines of Section 51: Do I contradict myself?/Very well then I contradict myself./(I am large. I contain multitudes), echoing Ralph Emerson’s wise reflection that “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” In view of this, how can I possibly choose but every section of this masterful song?

How did your relationship with Whitman evolve over the course of the translation project?

Luis Alberto Ambroggio: I am not the same person, I am not the same poet I was before reading Whitman. This is personal; not just another example of a reception theory or similar experiences. His vision of equality and diversity, of democracy as a force of nature, his sense of universality, recycling, transformation and permanence in the Song of myself  has cemented a new vision of the universe, rendering me into a new myself, made up of everyone. The deep impact of this brotherhood goes beyond superficial absorption. The passion with which I wrote my own collection of poems derives from the emotional contact I absorbed from his lines, individually and as a whole. In spite of what Whitman is asking of us, I cannot and will not destroy the teacher, but rather try to widen his own breast as “We are all Whitman”..  

How did translating the comments on Whitman inflect your own thinking, your relationship to your own mother tongue, and your sense of American culture?

Luis Alberto Ambroggio: Translating the comments of Whitman’s 52 sections of Song of Myself inspired me in such awesome manner that I ended up, in the process, creating my own poetry collection entitled We Are All Whitman (Todos somos Whitman), to be published in the next few months, as it happened previously with Vasseur, León Felipe and others. Some of my own 52 ‘Whitman-empowered’ poems have already appeared in national and international newspapers. We Are All Whitman (Todos somos Whitman) encompasses my own debt and tribute to this visionary and inclusive poet, one who impacted me to the root of my own being by saying, “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” Whitman and Thomas Jefferson make me proud of our American Dream. In our Hispanic-American culture, including the Hispanic US, poetic creation is by its nature social and political, and Whitman’s work validates this ethic and aesthetic pronouncement in an electrifying way.

Which passage(s) were particularly difficult to translate? Why?

Luis Alberto Ambroggio: Each line and its context provides a peculiar challenge. Jorge Luis Borges pointed already to the dilemma faced by every translator of Whitman, the need to choose between a free and arbitrary interpretation and a certain rigor, or a compromise between the two. I subscribe to a view of translation as copulation, and copulating is not always the same. Challenges, when conquered, feel divine.  The long enumerations and comments of section 33 presented some difficulties. In some passages I was more literal, in others more open in the line of an interpretation. But the challenges began with the title “Song of myself” (Canto de (or) a mí mismo) and in section 1 and throughout the poem, the contrast between “I” (yo) and “you”/”your” (which in Spanish is differentiated between the singular “tú” and the plural “vosotros” or “ustedes”/”tuya” or “vuestra”), just as one example of the labor pains of translation.  

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

Luis Alberto Ambroggio: Once again, it made me sweat through the anxiety of the classic phrase traduttore, tradittore (“a translator is a traitor”) only to emerge jubilant, celebrating the miracle of a cultural reincarnation, a new creation and an all-encompassing communion. When we truly communicate and thus form communities, differences and difficulties disappear as we touch, indeed live, the universal humanity in each atom of the “I,” the “you,” and the “we.” I admire the vital synergy of our languages, even while we accept and master each other’s peculiarities. I have noticed in the translations of my own poems that sometimes the English version sounds better than the original. Beauty, though difficult, is thus miraculously shared in content and form. I learned and celebrated that, quite literally, “We are all Whitman (Todos somos Whitman)” around the world, as equal and as diverse as atoms in a borderless universe.   

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

Luis Alberto Ambroggio: Hispanic translations have varied from those that decided to keep the sound--such as in the version by Cohen/Vasseur/Zardoya  on the WhitmanWeb : Hago sonar mi yawp barbárico sobre los tejados del mundo-- to those that chose a harsh-sounding Spanish equivalent — Mi gañido bárbaro resuena sobre los techos del mundo (Francisco Alexander) — or the alliteration of gutural sounds with an onomatopoetic effect, such as in sobre los tejados del mundo suelto mi graznido salvaje, in a more recent rendition. The word “yawp” remains untranslatable but effective in the context of the vivid universe of images at the end of Whitman’s song, of the multifaceted “I” embodied in all of us, in all of nature, in our unending search.

On the Map: 2013 Fall Residents Tell All

My brother-in-law said to me so ‘now that you’re admitted to the bar are you going to give up this writing thing for a while and try the law?’ and to me what he said is ‘are you going to give up breathing for the next couple of years and try the law?”

-Whiti Hereaka (New Zealand)

[Click to Enlarge] Pakistani novelist and humorist Shandana Minhas' interview will make you laugh (or your money back).
[Click to Enlarge] Pakistani novelist and humorist Shandana Minhas' interview will make you laugh (or your money back).
Last fall, sixteen of IWP’s 2013 Fall Residents sat down with editor Nataša Ďurovičová to talk at length about the writing life, reflecting on their time in Iowa City and sharing the “best” things about being a writer in the country where they live and work. The interviews, part of the annual On the Map series, are now available for your viewing pleasure on the IWP’s Shambaugh House Youtube Channel.

“You have to let other people know your point of view because you’re the only person occupying your space in the world.”

-Sridala Swami (India)

[Click to Enlarge] Mahsa Mohebali speaks candidly about her writing and her life as a writer in Iran.
[Click to Enlarge] Mahsa Mohebali speaks candidly about her writing and her life as a writer in Iran.
The series, made possible by a grant from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the United States Department of State, offers a candid and intimate glimpse into the creative lives of these authors as well as a valuable portal into the countries they hail from.

[Click to Enlarge]
[Click to Enlarge]
Curious? Grab the popcorn and explore interviews with Corinne N’Guessan (Côte d’Ivoire), Mahsa Mohebali (Iran), Dénes Krusovszky (Hungary), Oscar Ranzo (Uganda), Muhamed Abdelnabi (Egypt), Patrícia Portela (Portugal), Shandana Minhas (Pakistan), Rodrigo Blanco Calderón (Venezuela), Sridala Swami (India), Lili Mendoza, Roland Rugero (Burundi), Whiti Hereaka (New Zealand), Zeyar Lynn (Burma/Myanmar), Asma Nadia (Indonesia), and Sawsan Al-Areeqe (Yemen).

Marilynne Robinson in UAE: "language needn’t matter"

[Click to Enlarge] Marilynne takes questions on writing (and writer's block) from students at United Arab Emirates University.
[Click to Enlarge] Marilynne takes questions on writing (and writer's block) from students at United Arab Emirates University.
"We learn from books, that's important; but we also participate in books, and that's as important."
 
-Marilynne Robinson, speaking with students at the American University in Dubai
 

Every year, IWP reading tours introduce American writers to new and distinct literary-cultural landscapes and connect them with writers and students in regions with a relatively sparse history of literary liaisons with the contemporary United States. On the docket this year: Iraq, Haiti, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Cuba.

[Click to Enlarge] Engaging with students at NYU Abu Dhabi.
[Click to Enlarge] Engaging with students at NYU Abu Dhabi.

In January, Pulitzer-prize winning novelist Marilynne Robinson joined poet and translator, Christopher Merrill, director of the IWP, on reading tour in the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is a federation of seven emirates sandwiched between Oman and Saudi Arabia on the Persian Gulf. It’s among the ten wealthiest nations in the world, the site of burgeoning economic growth and home to a diverse, cosmopolitan, and multicultural population, including a large number of migrant workers whose plight former Between the Lines counselor Ben Mauk explored in a recent New Yorker blog post. Amid this fast-paced development is a growing interest in literature and creative writing. The Abu Dhabi International Book Fair and the Sharjah International Book Fair bring writers and publishers from around the world to the UAE every year, making the country a hub of the Arab book trade and a point of reference for booksellers, publishers, and distributors in the Arabian Peninsula and Gulf region.

Lively audiences of high school and college students had plenty of questions to ask Robinson, whose novels, including Gilead, have been translated into Arabic. Students at NYU Abu Dhabi in the federation’s capital asked Robison’s advice on writer's block. "If you can't get through writing a piece of fiction, it means you've hit on something that you don't know...you need to give it time,” advised Robinson, who has long taught graduate-level writing workshops and seminars at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

[Click to Enlarge] A lively discussion with Emirati and Arab writers and publishers at Kuttab Cafe in Dubai.
[Click to Enlarge] A lively discussion with Emirati and Arab writers and publishers at Kuttab Cafe in Dubai.

Robinson and Merrill also led a workshop with English faculty at the American University of Sharjah and met with Emirati and Arab writers and publishers at Kuttab Cafe in Dubai, a favorite watering hole for the literary community.

At one point, Robinson sat down with student writers from “Voices in English,” a student-run magazine published twice a year by the United Arab Emirates University English department, to discuss writing and craft. Whether Emirati literature should be written in Arabic or English is the object of vigorous debate among the literary community in UAE.

[Click to Enlarge] Leading a workshop with English faculty at American University of Sharjah.
[Click to Enlarge] Leading a workshop with English faculty at American University of Sharjah.

 “I think there is an interest here in creating Emirati literature and recording the remarkable circumstances of Emirati people,” Robinson told Abu Dhabi’s The National “How do we identify ourselves as a culture and on the other hand as individuals within the culture? How do we receive and inherit and at the same time how do we make statements that assert the present and the identity we feel now? It reminds me of American literature and English literature when they began using their own literary language,” she says. “It is a cusp in human experience that always yields something interesting. It seems like people are poised for that moment and it is very exciting.”

 On the anxiety over preserving the Arabic language, Robinson mused: “It would be valuable to write in Arabic,” she says. “But it is sort of like when Americans were creating their literature, English was a relatively isolated language. French, German and Latin were exceeding it. But they took English as their model. I think the givenness of circumstances that you live in a culture that is cosmopolitan, that is the Emirati experience. Cultures are producing literature in English which is very much specific ethnic literature. If you are writing out of a deep feeling, the language needn’t matter.”

Check back soon for an update on the IWP reading tour currently in Haiti.

My Barbaric Yawp: Alina Dadaeva on translating Walt Whitman

[Click to Enlarge] Writer and translator Alina Dadaeva spent months translating all 52 sections of Song of Myself into Russian.
[Click to Enlarge] Writer and translator Alina Dadaeva spent months translating all 52 sections of Song of Myself into Russian.
 As thousands of students around the world prepare to embark on the journey through "Song of Myself" as part of Every Atom: Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, the University of Iowa’s first Massive Open Online Course, the Shambaugh House blog is delighted to present a new series:  "My Barbaric Yawp: on translating Walt Whitman" in which the translators of online multimedia gallery WhitmanWeb—men and women who have spent hundreds of hours pouring over the poem--offer a rare glimpse into the process, challenges, and delights of rendering Whitman’s words, world, and  intent into another language. Since 2012, WhitmanWeb has inspired an international conversation about Whitman’s poetry and ideas by presenting translations of Whitman’s epic poem "Song of Myself" alongside commentaries, discussion questions, forums, archival photos, and audio recordings. The gallery has published translations in 13 languages, including the first-ever complete translation of the poem into Persian, and is now preparing to add two more: Kurdish and Khmer.  In this first installment, we hear from Uzbek writer and translator Alina Dadaeva, who translated "Song of Myself" into Russian for WhitmanWeb.

How (well) is Whitman known in Russian?

Alina Dadaeva: It’s curious — and very sad — but even though Whitman’s work entered into Russian literature in the beginning of the 20th century, it has not been widely read (if we talk about the general audiences) until recently. That said, ever since the first publication of Whitman’s poems in translation (that of Ivan Turgenev, in 1872), the interest of Russian writers in American poets was consistently high. Since then it has become obvious that a renewed effort is needed to help Whitman’s work find its way to Russian readers, who have been raised in the traditional syllabic-tonic poetry system and are very conservative in their literary tastes. As you may know, the very structure of the Russian language — its flexibility (determined by its grammar), its vast variety of rhymes, and its ability to generate endless permutations (contemporary poets often invent their own rhyme structures, beyond the classical conventions) — has led to the syllabic-tonic system becoming the main criterion for most readers.

Whitman’s free verse thus was, and remains, too free to be seen as verse by those accustomed to a strict poetry system. Children learn to think that verse must have rhyme, and a rhythm, and be easily learned by heart and recited in literature classes, for nobody in Russia graduates without memorizing many of these kinds of poems. Unfortunately, they then also think this way as grown-ups because а) people today don’t have much interest in poetry (especially in contemporary work, where free verse is as common as syllabic-tonic poetry) to change their conception of it, and b) the fledgling period of free verse in Russian poetry is too short to overcome the inertia in the general reader’s mindset.

Will this situation change in a few decades? Probably not. Does this mean that Whitman has no influence on Russian culture? Again, no. His impact is already apparent through his influence on other writers, the greatest example being Vladimir Mayakovsky. And his influence will continue, directly and indirectly — which is exactly how he wanted it.  

What is your favorite section of the poem and why?

AD: To choose my favorite section of Song of Myself is like trying to choose the best star in the universe (which the poem is surely similar to). I can only answer by starting to enumerate «1, 2, 3, … » — and then stop adding because the sections are totally connected, and their very inseparability illustrates the philosophic ideas of eternity, immortality, infinity, and immensity that Whitman represents like nobody else can. Describing some of them («A child said, What is the grass?»; «Who goes there? hankering, gross, mystical, nude»; «Walt Whitman, a kosmos, of Manhattan the son»; «Dazzling and tremendous how quick the sun-rise would kill me»; «And as to you Death, and you bitter hug of mortality, it is idle to try to alarm me»), I sometimes joke that if a busy person wanted to get an overview of world philosophy in a day, he would only need to read these passages instead of hundreds of books. But to understand, feel, and live this poem completely, one’s whole life wouldn’t probably be enough, for perceiving and imagining the idea of the cosmos really doesn’t provide the tools to measure it.

Which passage(s) were particularly difficult to translate? Why?

Probably the most difficult moments of the translation were the political (if one can call them that) points of the poems. Especially with the definition of democracy, which is one of the first words in Whitman’s poetical and ideological vocabulary but (because of its connotations, its media value, its political weight) the very last word that should be included in a poem, according to the perception of poetry common in Russia. This was not what Chukovsky — the great Russian writer and the first translator of Song of Myself — believed, facing this problem in the beginning of the last century. But living in our own time, I needed to consider the vicissitudes of interpretation and take some risks, translating for instance the phrase «I give the sign of democracy» literally, as the poet would probably want it to sound.

How did your relationship with Whitman evolve over the course of the translation? How did translating Whitman inflect your own thinking and your sense of American culture?

AD: Thanks to world culture, which definitely would have been different had Whitman not impacted it, many of his ideas, thoughts, and images (including the images of America he gave us) were familiar to me. But being known doesn’t mean being accepted, absorbed, taken as a part, as an essence, of the other person. Giving Whitman the possibility to speak though me, I gave myself the opportunity to adopt, to accommodate him inside of me. As a result, the most attractive aspects of Whitman’s poetry — the cosmic perspective, the volumetric vision, the anti-hierarchical stance — became my own once Whitman and I joined up in language, allowing me to grow, evolve, and affect other people around me — both those who had already read my translation and those who never will.

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

AD: Every translation means a plunge, not only into the writer one translates but also into the target language. And the greater the translated writer is, the more profound the language he has opened becomes. The reaches of alliteration in Whitman made me feel the interior music of the Russian language as never before, which in turn helped me translate some lines that at first glance seemed untranslatable. Staying with the music metaphor, Whitman taught me to listen to hidden sounds, rhythms, and waves of poetry — and what can be more important for a person who pretends to be a musician (a poet, a translator in my case) than to hear?

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?

AD: Between three possibilities considered at the beginning, I chose the word «крик» [kr:ik], which can also be translated as «scream» or «squawk». Although this word is more common than the «yawp» of the original, I chose it because the connection (both linguistic and literary) between the Russian words «ястреб» («hawk») and «крик» is very strong, and because this word can equally refer to a bird or a man. The other reason is that «крик», like the English «yawp», also consists of one syllable, which helps to represent the sharpness, decisiveness, and swiftness of the original. This being quite fortunate for the translator as Russian words are in general longer than English words, so the syllabic equivalent — when one is indispensable, as in this case — is extremely difficult to find.    

Read Alina's Russian translation of "Song of Myself" on WhitmanWeb.

Aspiring Young Authors: Write with IWP in Iowa This Summer!

American participant Zora Hurst performing at the 2013 Seldom Seen Festival as part of BTL 2013.
American participant Zora Hurst performing at the 2013 Seldom Seen Festival as part of BTL 2013.
Between the Lines: The Writing Experience, the International Writing Program's creative writing summer program for teenagers, is now accepting nominations for young writers ages 16-19 from Russia and Arabic-speaking countries in the Middle East and North Africa to join young U.S. writers for two weeks of writing and cultural exchange.

Now in its seventh year, from June 21st to July 5th 2014 this group of young writers will live and study together on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City, Iowa. Daily activities include world literatures seminars, creative writing workshops with award-winning authors, and nightly cultural exchange activities. Writing workshops are conducted in English, Arabic and Russian, and international writers are chosen for the strength of their writing in their native language of Russian or Arabic.

Here's what students who participated in Between the Lines 2013 have to say about the experience:

All international applicants must apply through the US Embassy or consulate located in their country. The list of participating countries for 2014 includes:  Russia, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Syrian students living outside of Syria are also eligible and may contact the IWP for further guidance.

“It’s a chance to discover the real America, not like we see on TV and the internet,” says BTL '13 participant Inna Dmitrieva.
“It’s a chance to discover the real America, not like we see on TV and the internet,” says BTL '13 participant Inna Dmitrieva.
Applications for international students are due by March 1, 2014. For further information, please visit the program’s international FAQ page.

U.S. students may apply directly to the program via the IWP's online portal: https://iwp.grad.uiowa.edu/. Applications from U.S. students are due by April 1, 2014

Funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and hosted by the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, this program seeks to bring together young people who want to become writers of fiction or poetry in their own language. Between the Lines looks forward to welcoming a new cohort of talented young writers to Iowa City this summer.

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