International Poetry Reading Draws Crowds

By Courtney Kratz, Staff Writer

On April 20, the Furman University International Student Association (FUISA) hosted one of the last Cultural Life Program events of the year, the International Poetry Reading CLP. As an annual event every spring, the poetry reading is a popular event for poetry lovers and students getting in one last CLP credit.
Open to all students, the CLP boasted poems in multiple languages, including Mandarin, Urdu, Japanese, Spanish, Bengali and Hindi. Each presenter spent five to seven minutes reading his or her poem in its original language and then reading an English translation for the audience. Afterwards, speakers offered both context and interpretation for their selected poem.
The International Poetry Reading CLP offered students a chance to explore poetry from different countries and languages. Those reading were given the freedom to choose any poem they liked, making the reading an opportunity for uncensored artistic expression.
“We don’t review poem selections before the reading. Students are permitted to read whatever they like…Poetry is art, so that’s how it should be,” said FUISA Vice President Aneesh Borah.
Speakers included Furman faculty members, students and even a young poet from the Greenville community. As faculty sponsor of FUISA, Dr. Shuske Yagi introduced the CLP by encouraging listeners to appreciate not only the meaning within each poem’s translation, but also the sound of each poem in its original language. Yagi began the reading with a preface on classic Japanese poetry, followed by a haiku featuring the iconic imagery of Japanese cherry blossoms.
Dr. Sofia Kearns also read a Spanish poem by an indigenous Latin American woman who writes poetry in the original language of her people, with a focus on themes of mountains and the natural world. She said she chose this poem because of its importance in the resurgence of poetry from Native American women since the 2000’s.
Student readers included Muhammad Zakaria Shafqut, who read a Pakistani poem in Urdu about the country’s response to a dictator and authoritarian Islam. Senior Junyang Chai read a 20th century Chinese poem titled “Farewell Cambridge,” which was written by a famous Chinese poet as he graduated from university. Gabriel Russo, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, read a sonnet by a Brazilian poet on the nature of love, which reflects the culture’s focus on mutualism and joy. Aishwarya Tripathi read a famous poem in Hindi about Indian independence from Britain, using a mixture of Hindi and Urdu words as reflective of a multilingual country. The poem focused on the anger and frustration about how much was taken from the people of India by imperial powers, as well as the country’s willingness to struggle and sacrifice for the sake of independence. In addition, a young poet involved in Greenville’s Peace Center poetry program, Mariam Johanan Estrada, read two poems, one in Spanish and one in both Spanish and English. Her poems were entirely original works that read just as beautifully as those that preceded them.
​While each speaker read in their original language, the English readings gave audience members a chance to understand, at least in some way, the poem’s meaning.
“Translations lose some meaning. There are 96 ways to say love in Sanskrit, but only two in English, so of course meaning and feeling in poetry cannot be directly translated. But we have to try,” said Borah.
As one of FUISA’s four annual events promoting international awareness, the International Poetry Reading marks another year of FUISA-sponsored cultural engagement at Furman. Themes of nationalism, the transnational individual, cultural identity and independence, the universal human condition, love and appreciation of diversity were present throughout.
“To share different culture, which is what FUISA does, brings other cultures to Furman’s campus so people can experience them right here. Many will never know that Hindi is a language, people think people speak ‘Indian.’ People don’t know where Bengali is spoken. This is an opportunity to change that,” said Borah.
As both an artistic and cultural event, the International Poetry reading was a great opportunity for Furman students to engage beyond the “Furman bubble.” It offered an opportunity to meet classmates and faculty members with different native languages, perspectives and poetry to share.

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