Sometimes poets feel left out. Often when there are panels on Southern Literature, for example, fiction writers are the ones who sit at the table. Few of us poets are asked to participate. And when regional and national reading programs select their books, no poetry makes its way on board. What a loss, especially for readers! Here in North Carolina, however, we have a program, begun five years ago, called "On the Same Poem," in which readers come together to read a selected poem by a renowned poet. Copies of the poem are mailed around the community, posted on bulletin boards, and as the grand finale, the poet appears to read and answer questions from readers.
Before I divulge the brilliant and innovative folks who introduced this program, let me encourage other groups to follow in their lead, including public schools. I'll follow up on this suggestion later, but for now we'll let it percolate a bit in our minds.
(Tony Hoagland, On The Same Poem poet, 2007)
The creators of this program are the Forsyth County Public Library in Winston-Salem and the Salem College Center for Women Writers. This year the Forsyth Piecers and Quilters Guild served as co-sponsors. Modeled on the Together We Read, On the Same Page, and similar programs, this project features poetry, which is usually left out of the nominations for communal reads. The "On The Same Poem" Luncheon and the open Poetry Reading have become staples of National Poetry Month in Forsyth County. On The Same Poem is billed as "the shared experience of reading and discussing a single poem selected for the occasion." As this year's poet, I followed poets Tony Hoagland, Rita Dove, Martin Espada, and Thylias Moss as honored guests.
The "On the Same Poem" luncheon took place at the Forsyth County Central Library on May 1st at 12:00. Gorgeous quilts, provided by the Forsyth County Piecers and Quilters Guild hung from the walls, and a team of women cloggers entertained us. After being introduced by my long-time friend, poet and novelist Isabel Zuber, I read my poem "Mountain Time" and then talked informally with as many people as I could, seated at tables enjoying a brown bag lunch. When lunch was over, I engaged in a question and answer session about the poem and poetry in general. Copies of the poem had been sent in a mass mailing about a month before the event, so everyone had copies. Sharing lunch with as many readers as wanted to show up, then circulating among them and chatting with them about poetry was heavenly. Come to think of it, maybe that is indeed the poet's version of heaven, an eternity full of poetry readers and other poets, including old friends like Maria Ingram, Emily Wilson, and Becky Gould Gibson.
(Some of the quilts on display, courtesy of the Forsyth Piecers and Quilters Guild)
(Candace Brennan, librarian at Forsyth County Public Library, who helps coordinate the On the Same Poem project, with me and poet/novelist Isabel Zuber, former librarian at the Wake Forest Library. This photo was taken by Ginger Hendricks, Director of the Salem College Center for Women Writers, shortly before my reading at Salem College, following the "On the Same Poem" presentation. )
One of the highlights of my afternoon was meeting a young poet from Nepal named Bimjhana Bishwokarma. She had asked me a question about translation during the Q and A, concerned that translation so often misses the mark when it comes to poetry. Her father was a poet who wrote in his native Nepalese, so she was well aware of how difficult, perhaps even impossible, it is to render a poem adequately into another language. I remembered a heated discussion of a Spanish word used in the translation of my poem "Weep-willow," which appeared in the Spanish version of Lee Smith's FAIR AND TENDER LADIES, when I participated in a seminar at the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching. The two native Spanish speakers and another participant fluent in Spanish argued for quite a while and never came to agreement over the issue!
In my next posts I will introduce Bimjhana and let you read one of her poems. And I will post my "Mountain Time," in hopes that I will receive more questions and comments about it.
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