By Jason Parks
What was the last poem you read by someone outside of your own culture, time period, or primary language? What inspired you to seek out that poet’s work?
Were you dreaming of a visit to a country you’ve never seen? Working on acquiring a new language? Looking for inspiration for a creative writing project?
What about your children? Do they have an interest in poetry? Have you used poetry as a way of teaching your children about their own cultural heritage? If your children haven’t yet found an interest in poetry, would you like to see them expand their intercultural vocabulary and become more engaged with poetry?
For ten years, I’ve been teaching an undergraduate course entitled ‘Contemporary Global Literature.’ Thus, it’s part of my job to cross poetic borders and encounter unfamiliar lives. Even if it wasn’t part of my job, I’d still be doing it.
Just as reading a SciFi or Fantasy novel can take me away from my daily routines and habits of thinking, I’ve also noticed that poetry outside of my family’s everyday experience (and primary language) helps sharpen my sensitivity and awareness of the diversity of life happening all around me.
One of my favorite places to seek out new translations into English is from the online journal Asymptote. I first discovered this journal through the Guardian’s Books webpage where they used to run a series called Translation Tuesdays. I also just do lots of Twitter hashtag searches for #poetry #translation.
Additionally, I love visiting the Poetry Foundation’s collection, especially the page entitled “Poems of Protest, Resistance, and Empowerment.” Of course, there are innumerable poetry journals and individual artists you can seek out through basic Google Searches or looking for free course syllabi online as well.
Over this and the next two posts, I'll be suggesting three activities that you can use, adapt, and modify to try out with your kids (or on your own). The first is mostly a suggestion for considering a poem in translation as students prepare to create "song maps" in the second activity and literary landscape remixes in the third.
Activity 1: Read, Listen to, or Compose a Translation of a Poem
For this activity, you will simply engage with a translated poem. You can do this by going to one of the websites discussed above, such as the Asymptote journal. You can also click on this link to see an example from Kitasono Katsue. Even if you don’t read or speak Japanese, listen to the poem with your kids. Ask them what they think about the rhythms they hear, the emotion, the tone. You can also do this by going to YouTube and searching for audio recordings of poems in various languages.
A second way of engaging with poetic translation is to work with your children to write their own translation of a simple nursery rhyme or even translate their own poem.
Have your child write a couple lines of poetry in a language they know well. Then head over to Google Translate. Have your child pick a language and then put the words and lines from their poem into the translator. Listen to the audio and discuss the differences in the sounds of the words.
I love attuning my kids and my students to the aural/oral aspects of poetry first. I think it helps show how poetry and words are connected to our breath and our bodies. It’s also fun to see what words rhyme in one language but don’t in another language.
Who knows? This activity might even inspire your child to begin studying a new language!Jason (J.R.) Parks has been teaching English full-time for 15 years and is the author of four children’s fantasy novels. His newest novel, Leo and Notsch, follows the adventures of a young boy who discovers a trio of wizards and a dragon hiding out in his small town of Galileo, Missouri. J.R. Parks is on twitter @jrparks321 and can be reached at www.parkswrites.com. He and his spouse, author Kendra Parks, run a small press currently focusing on publishing children’s books.