On Tuesday, the Kenyon Bookstore embarked on a flight. At 4:15, a combination of Russian, Italian, Spanish, Chinese and other Modern Languages & Literature majors boarded a plane that took them around the world: a multilingual poetry reading. Standing among BIC pens, Moleskine notebooks and Hallmark greeting cards, students recited poetry from around the globe in an event that kicked off Kenyon’s World Literature Week.
Pashmina Murthy, associate professor of English and director of the Comparative World Literature concentration, began the evening by introducing the readers and organizers. Murthy came up with the idea after talking with her advisee Emmy Roday ’21 about the lack of multi- and bilingual readings that happen on Kenyon’s campus. Roday, who grew up speaking both Hebrew and English, was inspired by the conversation and began organizing and emailing different language departments and their professors to see if there was any interest in such an event.
Along with Hayley Beluch ’22, Roday and Murphy began to recruit a small but strong group of Kenyon students who are multilingual poets, translators and language aficionados.
Sigal Felber ’21 was the first poet to go up to the podium, reading “Last Night,” a poem in Hebrew written by Shachar Pinsker and translated into English by Yosefa Raz and Adriana X. Jacobs. Next was Lena Alpern ’22, who read an original poem in a mix of Hebrew and English. “What is the etymology of my Hebrew,” she asked. “How each word flies out of my word like birdsong.”
Clutching a book of poetry and a donut, Edward Moreta ’22 went up as the first Spanish-speaking reader. He read a piece from Kenyon’s very own Cuban poet Victor Rodriguez-Nuñez, who teaches Spanish literature. “I chose this poem because we often forget the wealth of talent in our community, and we forget to acknowledge it,” he said before reading “Black Sonnet.” The poem was translated by Katherine Hedeen, Nuñez’s translator and Kenyon professor of Spanish.
Grace Cross ’21 read two poems from Italian poet’s Patrizia Cavella’s collection. Cross cited a review by Mira Kosenthal written for the Kenyon Review on Cavella’s poetry: “Her poems are actually deeply interested in trying to change the world, not through such direct means as political engagement or social critique, but, rather, through love.” Cross’ impeccable Italian reverberated through the Goldfishes and Kombuchas of the Kenyon Bookstore.
Next, Jack Heston ’22 read a self-translated rendition of Ai Qing’s “Hope.” Qing, he explained, “always fought for the people [under the Communist Party]. His poems showed that.”
Ella Wilson ’19 read in Russian, Lynn Butzlaff ’22 in German and Liv Kane ’22 in French.
Alexandra Gulden ’21 capped off the evening with an original trilingual poem: she incorporated English, Arabic and Spanish in one glorious verse.
World Literature Week will continue with a speaker in Cheever Seminar room today presenting on the translation of Italian poetry, and on Friday with a presentation on early global cinema.
After the reading was over, Roday was satisfied. “It went really well,” she said. “We spent three weeks writing emails and getting everyone prepared, and we had every language at Kenyon represented. That’s the coolest part, I think, to see that the Kenyon community has strong language abilities.”