Student Viewpoint

The Art of Poetry and Politics

Written by Rocío Mondragón Reyes (SFS'19) Culture and Politics Major, Portuguese Minor

On Friday night four well-recognized figures of the world of writing and translation spoke after performing their pieces at the Mortara Center as part of a Georgetown University Center for Latin American Studies event titled “The Art of Poetry and Politics”. Translator Forrest Gander, and poet Valerie Mejer performed pieces inspired by Mejer's experiences of her home country, México. Similarly, translator Kristin Dykstra and poet Cuban poet Marcelo Morales Centero performed pieces that spoke to Morales’s Cuban experience.

The live performance of the pieces allowed the audience to hear the rhythm and tone with which the poets performed their own work and then compare it to the translators’ performance. The change in language from Spanish to English added to the experience and required the audience to be present to appreciate the shift between the two. Nonetheless, the stories that the poets shared regarding the pieces they shared were an integral part of providing a setting which made the event not a presentation, but an experience.

Aside from the performances, the Q&A session at the end was an in-depth lens into the connection that both these poets and translators have developed to their work. When asked about the connection their work holds to their home countries, poets Mejer and Morales offered two similar answers despite their different experiences. Mejer spoke about feeling that she does not represent the collective identity of México but, nonetheless, is still a part of it. Morales spoke about the moment he saw the politics of his country seep through to his work, which was the day Fidel’s illness was announced. Both have been shaped by their collective and individual experiences in their home countries.

Grander and Dykstra spoke about the experience of translating someone else’s work, especially about the task of translating while maintaining the author’s meaning. They referred to the challenges that arise and the creativity needed when, for example, the author themselves forget what they were attempting to convey with a word or phrase. Grander expressed that he feels his work and his interaction with poetry constantly presents him insight into how the personal becomes political. This question seems most appropriate given the current political climate and the relationship between the poets’ collective identities and their work. Dykstra illustrated this beautifully when she said: “Poetry doesn’t just give information; it takes it away.” I understood this to mean that poetry not only helps us to discover something about ourselves, but it also elicits from us our different reactions to it.