This spring marked Poetry Inside Out’s second year working in partnership with Mills College’s School of Education and the Oakland Unified School District. As part of a semester-long course taught by Mills Professor Tomás Galguera, Poetry Inside Out staff helped run workshops for the sixteen participating teachers from fourteen Oakland schools. The teachers spent the spring learning about the program–both the theories behind it and how to implement it in their classrooms–and met weekly to reflect on their own teaching practices as they worked to promote literacy, participation, cooperation, and cultural diversity in their classrooms. Chuck Erdmann is a teacher at Alliance Academy and participated in the workshops.
For my Newcomer students, Poetry Inside Out was intimidating, challenging, and risky. And yet it was a challenge that they were not afraid to take on. If you can walk from El Salvador or Honduras to the United States, translating a poem or learning a language is nothing. As we all witnessed, the risk that one takes when reading an unfamiliar language, translating it, and creating a new poem builds a wealth of knowledge and a deeper understanding of language.
I first introduced Poetry Inside Out to a small group of eight 8th graders–four from my Newcomer program and four who were proficient English speakers. While reciting the poems was fun, the discussions were minimal and the translation process seemed very formulaic: find the word; translate the word; write the new word. Was I doing something wrong? Then I realized what needed to be done. The process in general was a challenge, but we had to challenge each other, asking questions like “Why do you think that?” or else just plain disagreeing. These were teenagers; they needed conflict.
Once testing week came around I had smaller classes and the experiment began. What if we went from Japanese to English to Spanish? Students used Google Translate and searched for images on their phones in order to identify the synonyms they wanted to use for their double translations. Students spoke in their native languages to develop a deeper understanding. Students with a deeper knowledge of English helped those with less. At times they were vexed. “No this makes no sense in Spanish,” Kevin cried one day. I realized that their previous exposure to poetry was minimal. They struggled to understand that a poet might skew the rules of sense and grammar in order to communicate meaning.
I decided that all my students needed to have this experience and, I asked myself, what better time than the end of the year? While introducing the poem to the group, I initially focused on the process of translation. Some students seemed bewildered. They couldn’t quite grasp how to use the Translator’s Glossary, which gives definitions and possible synonyms for each word, and were more comfortable using Google Translate on their phones. One thing did resonate with the whole class: the joy of reading poetry in another language. The Ethiopian students read Spanish, Salvadorans read Vietnamese, and everyone gave German (my favorite) a try. Participation was growing through the roof.
Students were excited, and it wasn’t until watching a video of my class doing a translation that I realized Jefferson wasn’t off topic when talking to Kevin; he was expressing his excitement for the language we were translating that day. There was something about Poetry Inside Out that went beyond the uncreative, thoughtless, point-and-say curriculum that programs like mine have unfortunately adopted.
Excitement drives me forward and keeps me thinking about my theoretical questions. I began with some doubts because of my students’ language limitations, disrupted educations, and their general placement in schools as "others." But what I did next surprised me: I dove in, I tried, I failed sometimes, but mostly I succeeded. Poetry Inside Out made me reflect on what I wanted my classroom to be: a place for students to learn and love language. Building basic English is important, but it has to be connected to something meaningful. Poetry Inside Out made me feel like we were doing just that.
Help us raise the funds we need to keep Poetry Inside Out in Oakland classrooms next school year! Your donation of any amount gives students the chance to experience the program.
We recently received a letter from a teacher in San Diego who taught Poetry Inside Out in her 7th grade classroom. Her class was typical of most Poetry Inside Out classrooms: diverse in every way, with English-language learners and a range of learning and developmental issues. She felt especially challenged and told us what Poetry Inside Out meant to her and her kids:
In seventeen years of teaching, I’d prided myself on never being one of those teachers. None of us knew what to do. I was running out of tricks.
Until one day I had an email about “Poetry in Translation,” translating poems from world languages into English. “Impossible,” I thought. I nearly deleted the invitation, but a few days later I got the email again.
I went. When I left after the first day of training, I thought, “If it’s as amazing as I think it may be, let’s try it in this classroom.”
On Monday I told my class what I’d signed them up for. I thought they’d laugh, but there was stunned silence. Then I asked who’d ever had to translate or interpret for someone. And nearly all the hands went up. We shared our stories, eagerly, and suddenly they were listening to one another.
That was when the magic began. When I asked for a Spanish speaker to read a poem, quite a few hands went up, but the one I noticed immediately was one I’d not expected. Rodrigo hadn’t raised his hand, used his voice, all year. From that day on he read every Spanish poem.
Only two days in and already kids who ordinarily didn’t participate were, spontaneously. Willingly. There was a palpable shift in dynamics, almost a reversal of roles. Daniel said that translation “made me feel smart.”
As a teacher I needed feedback, so at the close of the first week I gave a self-assessment. On the optimism scale, ten students were looking forward to more, eight were “confident and curious,” and five were “totally excited.”
The tide had turned. We weren’t going to drown. We’d been at it for four days.
In May, the Vice Principal said there was no way around it: they had to take the state assessment tests. So we trudged over to the computer lab. I tried to get them pumped up and excited. It didn’t feel like Stand and Deliver. It was hot and they were exhausted.
All year we’d struggled with being on task and having a positive sense of ability, now we were doing it daily. All year I’d seen careless, sloppy work; now I was seeing attention to detail, increased reliance on one another for suggestions and peer editing. I hadn’t had to counsel or reprimand a student since the project began.
Two days before school ended I could finally see their scores. The full impact of their accomplishment didn’t hit me until a week later: almost all the kids’ scores went up in both Reading and Language, but they also exceeded their goals by 200 and 300 percent.
Poetry Inside Out made them gifted. The content was real and engaging and fresh. They were there for each other when they needed it, like training wheels on a bike. Tina said, “where else do you get to feel brilliant on a daily basis?”
What we’d all thought was impossible wasn’t at all, it just demanded effort, concentration, the joyful humility and community of working together. At one point Bruce said he loved the way “we were all pushing together.”
Someone else might look at the test scores and notice what incredible “bang for the buck” there seemed to be, and I don’t deny that measure. But I might reread the kids’ comments instead and come to rest on the one that says "Poetry Inside Out was the best part of 7th grade.”
We're winding up a fundraising campaign to make sure Poetry Inside Out stays in classrooms this fall! Please consider donating: your gift makes it possible for kids like Julio, Tina, and Rodrigo—who have little chance to experience arts or enrichment activities—to know the world of poetry, build vital reading and writing skills, and most important, begin to think of themselves as smart and capable. Any amount makes a difference!
A Butterfly Feeling
I am nature
I am a firefly that twinkles
like a star bright, glittery, and gold
I am sweet like just bloomed orchids
I bloom by cartwheeling up the sky
A shy white rose is breathing into the earth
a whole other dimension
I imagine many worlds blooming
--Honora, Age 9, Emerson Elementary School, Oakland CA
With June well underway, students are growing restless for summer. Though their attention has shifted to the long summer days that await them, we like to look back at the spring and all they have accomplished. For the past few months the third graders at Emerson Elementary School have been translating poems inspired by nature. Their translations were a great jumping off point, “prompting passionate discussions about our world’s environmental issues, such as fracking, drought, pollution, violence against animals, and climate change,” explained Poetry Inside Out instructor Tai Rockett. The class ended their unit by reflecting on their own connections to nature, producing an anthology of original poetry and illustrations.
Up in the hills of Marin County, a fifth grade class spent their spring tackling the theme of identity. Zigzagging between Spanish and English, Gina Valdés’ “Where You From?” was particularly powerful for the students. Instructor Brian Kirven noted that several bilingual students “felt culturally split” after working with the poem, and that, in particular, “two students in a group interpret[ed] “zurda” as “contradicted,” an expression of the pain of growing up between two cultures.”
Now is your chance to make a difference in a kid's life! Your donation to Poetry Inside Out will keep the program in classrooms next school year.
Bay Area teachers interested in becoming part of a national network of Poetry Inside Out practitioners are invited to attend a workshop on Sept. 25 & 26. For more information, email Program Director Mark Hauber at mhauber [at] catranslation.org
One of the poems carved into the wooden barracks on Angel Island begins with the image of a water dragon on dry land. Removed from their homeland, nearly one million immigrants from China, Japan, and other Asian countries entered this island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay between 1910 and 1940, spending months—sometimes years—living in the drafty barracks, awaiting news about whether they would be allowed to enter the United States.
This past April, seventy-five years after the station’s closure, a class of fifth graders from San Francisco’s Presidio Hill School hiked up one of the island’s steep hills to their campsite, pulling along two wagons full of camping gear and carrying anything else they might need during their overnight stay on their backs. The trip marked the culmination of their unit on the Angel Island Immigration Station.
Michelle Fix, the classroom teacher, explained that the entire unit was based on simulating the immigrant experience. The classroom was transformed, as it became first a steamship, then the station itself. The students held mock interrogations, in which they were given actual case files of family members who would have had to explain the incongruences in their paperwork. The class read several books and looked at photographs from the Immigration Station, asking: What’s going on? How are the people in these photos feeling?
According to Ms. Fix, besides the dedication and enthusiasm of the students, the most amazing part of the experience was the way in which several Bay Area organizations partnered to extend the lesson beyond the classroom. The students ventured to San Francisco Center for the Book, where they made journals so that they could write down their thoughts, impressions, and experiences throughout the unit.
Poetry Inside Out brought poetry into mixture, guiding the students through a translation of one of the anonymous poems that was carved on the barrack walls. Here the students delved into the actual language that immigrants had used to express their experiences. Translating the poem was not easy.
The students struggled with the characters and syntax of Chinese and had to work to guess meaning of the poem’s startling imagery. In particular, they debated the meaning of one troublesome line: was a tiger taunting a caged child or a child taunting a caged tiger? Ms. Fix remembers this moment well: “I remember when I translated the poem before our lesson, I assumed that the speaker as feeling like a child, powerless. It hadn’t occurred to me to think of the scene literally. It was another instance in which I learned from my students.”
The final touch came in the form of a 65-foot sailboat. The group had the chance to enter the Bay from the Golden Gate Bridge and sail toward Angel Island, just as so many immigrants had. Aboard the Baylis, armed with their journals and poem pages, they listened to a man tell his grandfather’s story of arriving at the very station they were now approaching. Along the way, they also learned a bit about the ecology of the bay, testing the water quality and identifying plankton. When they landed, they took their possessions and set off up the hill toward their campsite for the night.
The next day, they walked to the Immigration Station. The pamphlets they were given outlined the different rooms of the barracks and listed the poems found in each room. One particular room on the first floor had been a bathhouse, then a storage room.
There they found a poem more distinct than the others. It had been covered for decades by shelves, and was therefore well preserved. Some of the other poems were extremely faded, though you could still make out the etched lines of the characters on the dusty brown walls.
The students’ desire to touch the poems was palpable, though that was not allowed. Tired and hungry, they wandered through the rooms with their journals opened to their poem pages and translations. At last, they came to the room where the poem they had translated was supposedly located.
It was not easy to identify the characters among the faded scratches on the wall, but when someone finally found it, the entire class gathered around to see the real poem they had discussed in their classroom. Ms. Fix described the moment as the perfect end to the lesson. As she said, “It brought the poem alive.”
What's in the tote bags that the Two Lines editors are filling up for our vacations this summer? You won’t find much in the way of chick lit or cozy mysteries, but if you want to bewilder everyone else on the beach this summer, read on!
What could be more apropos for a summer reading list than writing from the land of the midnight sun? Production Editor Jessica Sevey says, “I've been reading Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle: Book 1 (tr. Don Bartlett), and I just can't put it down! There's something universal about his experiences -- even though it's about his life in Norway.”
Jessica has also discovered a Norwegian poet she likes: Gro Dahle. Right now she’s reading her A Hundred Thousand Hours, which includes the original Norwegian and the English translation by Rebecca Wadlinger. Reviewer Melissa Dickey says that in Dahle's poems, "The house lives; the inanimate becomes animate; the domestic is an active, sexual, sometimes frightening sphere...." In other words, just the ticket for getting you out of the house and into the sunshine.
Associate Editor Marthine Satris recommends The Travels of Daniel Ascher -- a slim, beautifully constructed debut novel by Déborah Lévy-Bertherat, translated by Adriana Hunter. Delightful yet resonant, the novel (published by Other Press in May 2015) follows a young woman as she moves to Paris and uncovers the secrets her family has kept for decades. Returning to the children's adventure stories that made her uncle Daniel famous, Hélène discovers the loneliness and loss buried underneath his whimsy.
Marthine is also excited to spend some time this summer with Wave Books' new edition of Mallarmé's A Roll of the Dice. The long poem is recreated as a visual object by Robert Bononno and designer Jeff Clark, who collaborated on the translation (Jeff also designs our Two Lines journal covers, so we're dedicated fans of his work, to say the least). Mallarmé conjures the abyss through oceanic images, so in Marthine's opinion, it's a perfect fit for those long July days, their "gaping depth like the hull / of a ship / listing from side to side."
Scott Esposito, our marketing expert and maintainer of Two Lines’s web presence, plans to spend this summer with 2015 Best Translated Book Award winner Can Xue's Vertical Motion and Elfriede Jelinek's The Piano Teacher.
The stories in Vertical Motion were translated from the Chinese by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping, and the collection was published by Open Letter Books in 2011. “Trippy and surreal,” the novel will ease you into a “dream like trance” as the tide starts licking at your toes.
Scott delves further into the world of translation with Nobel Prize-winner Jelinek’s novel, published in English by Grove Atlantic in 2009. Translated by Joachim Neugroschel, it explores the outer limits of sexuality through the lens of a masochistic musician and her young, entranced student. The darkness at the heart of the Viennese story will give you shivers even on the muggiest of summer days.
So there you go! Some charming, disturbing, and entrancing reads to while away your vacation with, courtesy of the strange beings who occupy the offices here at Two Lines. Maybe you’ll even stumble one of us reading our recommendations if you’re walking on the foggy shore of the Pacific this summer. Until then!
Can Xue, Vertical Motion. Translated by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping.
Déborah Lévy-Bertherat, The Travels of Daniel Ascher. Translated by Adriana Hunter.
Elfriede Jelinek, The Piano Teacher. Translated by Joachim Neugroschel.
Gro Dahle. A Hundred Thousand Hours. Translated by Rebecca Wadlinger.
Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle: Book 1. Translated by Don Bartlett.
Stephane Mallarmé, A Roll of the Dice. Translated by Robert Bononno and Jeff Clark.
If you haven't heard the news already, we are proud, delighted, and thrilled to announce that Denise Newman has won the 2015 PEN Translation Prize for her translation of Naja Marie Aidt's Baboon (published by Two Lines Press).
Here's an excerpt from the judges' comments:
“From its first line, Denise Newman’s translation of Baboon announces that its readers will be transported to unexpected, bewildering places, and that the journey will at times be abrupt, even disconcerting….If the reader’s transit into Aidt’s narrative world is often jarring, Newman’s agile and compelling translation of her prose into English provides steadfast footing. One can imagine the challenge of conveying the psychological depths just barely concealed beneath Aidt’s measured words, and Newman accomplishes this feat with remarkable skill. It is impossible to miss the urgency and deep humanity of each of these stories, even as the spare descriptions of extreme scenarios push the reader far into unfamiliar territory.”
If you haven't already, order your copy of the book now!
Read more reviews of Baboon on the Two Lines Press blog, and listen to Naja Marie Aidt and Denise Newman talk about translating the book.
Don't miss out on future award winners from Two Lines Press! Subscribe now and get five titles for only $40.
Happy Cinco de Mayo! (not Mexican Independence Day, the holiday commemorates the Mexican defeat of the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862)
How about celebrating with some great literature? We’ve got audio from our April 13 event with rising Mexican author Yuri Herrera in conversation with Daniel Alarcón, and you can check out Herrera’s stunning book Signs Preceding the End of the World.
Among our upcoming May Two Voices events, we’ll be hosting another Mexican author, Mario Bellatin, along with poet and translator David Shook on Monday, May 18 at the amazing Green Apple Books on the Park in San Francisco.
Let us know if you’ll be there, and read about our other events this month!
Go all out and listen to audio of a Two Voices reading with two of Mexico’s most vital women writers, Carmen Boullosa and Pura López Colomé. Boullosa’s new novel Texas: The Great Theft was recently released by fellow translation publisher Deep Vellum Press.
In our Poetry Inside Out education program, students have read and translated iconic poems by Mexican and Mexican-American poets, including David Huerta, Alberto Blanco, Elias Nandino, and Gina Valdés.
Perhaps the best-known Mexican poet is Octavio Paz, who fought in the Spanish Civil War and published more than eighty volumes of poetry and essays throughout his lifetime. Here’s a 3rd grade Poetry Inside Out student’s translation of Paz’s poem “Reversíble”:
inside of myself
outside of myself
outside of myself
in the space
is this space
outside of itself
in the space
and forever going
photo still from the film Cinco de Mayo: The Battle
As we pulled our suitcases through the Minneapolis airport on our way to the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) annual conference, I noticed a scrolling sign that announced, RAIN TAXI WELCOMES AWP ATTENDEES. Oh, I thought, so this is what it’s like. Not even out of the airport yet, and poetry, literature, and the love of reading were part of the fabric of the day.
Writers blanketed Minneapolis, as did the snow, which the weather report had neglected to mention. Snow fell for two days in mid-April, to the surprise of Californians and the resignation of Bostonians. But there were plenty of bars, cafes, and restaurants to take refuge in. And every one of them seemed to be hosting a reading organized by an esteemed press or journal. I kept catching the tail ends of readings and hearing only snippets; when there are so many events going on at the same time, you can end up sitting on a bench outside a bar, paralyzed by the array of possibilities and by the geography of an unfamiliar city.
As an editor I was thrilled to meet even a tiny percentage of the thirteen thousand book lovers who descended upon Minneapolis for AWP’s annual convention. Writers, one hopes, are the most voracious and adventurous of readers, and at Two Lines, those readers are the core of our audience. Sumita Chakraborty, the Assistant Poetry Editor of one of our favorite journals, AGNI, swung by to say hello, picked up Naja Marie Aidt’s Baboon, read one line, and was so caught by it she had to buy the book immediately. Making that personal connection, sharing our books with someone who will fall headfirst into them, is exactly why we come to AWP.
We forged bonds with writers, teachers, and program administrators interested in raising translation’s profile in the writing community. Two students of the University of Arkansas MFA in Creative Writing with an Emphasis on Translation nearly burst out of their skin with excitement to discover Two Lines Press for the first time. Just like the Rain Taxi sign at the airport, the great enthusiasm our fellow AWP-ers showed for beautiful books and translated literature’s future in the US turned a convention into a community.
Meeting with your peers from all over the country is a precious opportunity. The internet gives us the illusion of closeness—I can tweet at writers and editors all over the world and they can respond in seconds—but having the chance to talk with translators and other editors face-to-face creates a human connection in the world of an art mediated by paper or screen. With the small press world spread far and wide, those happenstance connections sometimes seem reserved for AWP.
On my way out on Saturday evening I came across Danielle Dutton, the publisher of the St. Louis-based Dorothy Project. In the darkening hall, we discussed the practicalities of shipping and storing books, the biggest headache for all of us invested in the future of print. I’ve had her press’s owl magnet on my fridge for a few years and am an admirer of what is essentially a one woman show—she publishes stylish, adventurous fiction, only two books a year, and Danielle’s precise eye means that each book is something unexpected and wonderful. The collection of stories In The Time Of The Blue Ball by Manuela Draeger, translated from the French by Brian Evenson and Valerie Evenson, is a Dorothy book. As the publisher of Marie NDiaye, we at Two Lines share an affinity with the Dorothy Project for off-kilter stories by French writers. And despite the feverish hoarseness I felt after days of high-energy interactions, that quiet moment of connection highlighted the openness and communality of the world of literary publishing as it’s practiced by small presses. A shared sense of purpose to serve writers and readers by helping them find each other was the defining element of AWP for me.
Check out a photo of the airport kiosk
Two Lines Press audio: Baboon author Naja Marie Aidt and translator Denise Newman
In the spirit of National Poetry Month, Bob Holman (host of the Language Matters documentary) and other poets brought poetry to the streets of New York.
From the education world, some promising news for bilingual education in Indiana.
U.S. senators are still working on a revision of the No Child Left Behind act outlining national education policy and priorities.
And in case you missed the fabulous news from Two Lines Press, our books were among the finalists for 3 literary awards!
Baboon and Self-Portrait in Green are finalists for the 2015 PEN Translation Prize. Winners will be announced at the PEN World Voices Festival on May 13.
Baboon is also on the Best Translated Book Award longlist. Winners to be announced on May 27 during Book Expo America.
And Self-Portrait in Green is a finalist for a Council of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP) Firecracker Award for Creative Non-fiction. Winners will be announced May 27.
Be sure to check Facebook and Twitter to see which Two Lines Press books have won.
If you haven't read the books, our SPECIAL SUBSCRIPTION OFFER ENDS TOMORROW, MAY 1! Buy a 2014 subscription in the next 24 hours and you'll get 4 books for $30, PLUS a free broadside.
You can celebrate poetry, prose, AND translation at your local indie bookstore on Independent Bookstore Day THIS SATURDAY, May 2. Formerly California Bookstore Day, the festivities go national this year with over 400 bookstores participating (find a store in your area here). We’ll be at Green Apple Books on the Park in San Francisco with a fun Two Lines Press erasure. Hope to see you there!
(Read Part 1 of Lilian's Poetry inside Out adventures here) The next time I met with the fifth graders at Peralta Elementary School, they were ready to take on a new challenge. While we translated our next poem, “Dos cuerpos” by Mexican poet Octavio Paz, I asked the students, what are these two bodies? The poem contains many evocative images and metaphors for the “two bodies, face to face” mentioned in the first line without ever explicitly saying who or what the bodies are. The students’ responses were as varied as they were creative: the moon and the earth, two lovers, the earth and the sky, Adam and Eve at the beginning of time, anybody from dogs to angels.
Here is one student’s translation of the poem:
Two spirits face to face
are at moments two waves
and the night is their ocean.
Two spirits face to face
are at moments two stones
and the night is their desert.
Two spirits face to face
are at moments roots
within the night that intertwines them.
Two spirits face to face
are at moments a knife
and the night, a spark.
Two spirits face to face
are two stars which fall
within the hollow sky.
The students had enjoyed the tableau activity so much that we did it again, but on a more ambitious scale. The classroom teacher prepared an extra-long session during which the students worked together in groups to “translate” one stanza of the poem into different media.
Each group created a tableau: they painted backdrops, arranged their bodies into physical sculptures of the poem, and read the stanza aloud in both Spanish and English, drawing from their translations. During that 90-minute class, the students created vivid performances that represented their visual, kinetic, and literary interpretations of the poem.
Essential to the activity’s success was the discussion the students had at the outset about how they would collaborate to accomplish this task. The classroom teacher suggested they assign roles within the group (director, artist, actor, etc.), but the students were not convinced. So she facilitated a conversation about the pros and cons of different ways of working together, and they ended up agreeing that they did not want pre-assigned roles, but instead preferred to work it out themselves.
Collaboration is one of the most challenging and constructive aspects of Poetry Inside Out. If we want students to have rich discussions and innovative ideas, we need to take the time to talk about and support collaboration. Once we do that, it’s amazing where their imaginations can take them.