Pick of the Week

Cultural Connections

"Subjects emerge from one another," writes Mexican poet Verónica Volkow. "... A chain joins all beings in the meshing of the gears and their devourings, their copulations, their mirrors, their metamorphoses. The entire universe seems to be joined unto itself, emerging from and terminating in a circle that may begin from any mouth, any sex, any eye, any orifice, any touching."

Volkow is actually referring to visual art, but she could easily be describing the effect of the myriad lyrical voices that form a new, two-volume bilingual anthology of contemporary poetry from Mexico and the United States. One volume, called Líneas Conectadas: Nueva Poesía de los Estados Unidos, features works by modern-day American poets--including Kay Ryan, Rita Dove and Sherman Alexie--that have been translated into Spanish. The other volume, dubbed Connecting Lines: New Poetry From Mexico, is full of English translations of works by contemporary Mexican poets, like Alfonso D'Aquino, Coral Bracho and Volkow. All of the poems, although they cover a wide range of styles, themes and viewpoints, join together nicely to unite people across borders through the beauty of language.

To promote the anthology, Volkow is on a national book tour, which will stop in Tucson this Monday. At the event, Volkow will read some of her poems and hopefully talk a little about her work, her life and what poetry means to her.

Volkow was born in 1955 in Mexico City, where she still lives. She completed graduate studies in comparative literature at Columbia University and taught at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México; she's spent plenty of time in both the United States and Mexico, and she's worked closely with both the English and Spanish languages. The author of numerous books of poetry in Spanish, she's also an art critic, essayist and translator who's written extensively about her travels in Africa and has translated work by John Ashbery, Elizabeth Bishop and many others. Needless to say, she's adept at moving between not only cultures and languages, but occupations, too.

Volkow's reading will feature another talented poet and translator, Tucsonan Wendy Burk, who will add to the event by reading poems she's translated for Connecting Lines/Líneas Conectadas. She'll discuss the work of Mexican poets Tedi López Mills and Luigi Amara, both of whom use a focus on nature and a poetic sensuality to present deep philosophical questions in a simple and elegant way.

For Burk, poetry translation is a philosophical experience in itself.

"Translating poetry helps me to visualize and understand more deeply not just the content of the poem, but also the poet's state of mind. ... In translating, one is attempting to reproduce the moment of poetic creation," she says. "You're briefly inhabiting someone else's mind and seeing with her or his eyes, so it's a little telepathic."

And, of course, translations are just as important for a poem's audience as for the translator. Sharing poetry despite language differences helps us learn more about other cultures and become enriched by the experience. At the same time, it helps us realize what we all have in common on a deep, basic level.

"I think of poetry as a backbone for culture, as something essential for humans," Burk says. "It expresses something essential about who we are. When you hear poetry from a certain culture, you're hearing something absolutely essential about what it means to be in that culture. That's important to share--the experience of being, and being human, in one's own culture. ... We'd all like to communicate that to others, I think."

The Connecting Lines/Líneas Conectadas anthology, published by Sarabande Books, is the result of a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts, the United States Embassy in Mexico and the National Autonomous University of Mexico. So far, the book tour has been through Washington, D.C., Texas, New Mexico and California.

A lot of folks have put their support behind the Tucson reading--including the UA Poetry Center, the UA Spanish and Portuguese Department, the Mexican Consulate in Tucson, the Tucson Poetry Festival and the Loft Cinema. The event is presented by Borderlands Theater and the Phoenix Art Museum, and it's part of the Festival Sin Fronteras (visit the Borderlands Web site for more information on that).

Whether you're into poetry or not, this event promises to be uplifting, interesting and entertaining.

"Poetry has gotten us through quite a few millennia," Burk points out, "and with luck, it will get us through several more. If you go without poetry for too long, you get a deficiency, kind of like a vitamin deficiency. Hearing poetry in two languages gives you double the vitamins, double the fun!"

The Connecting Lines/Líneas Conectadas reading will take place at 7:30 p.m., Monday, Sept. 17, at the Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway Blvd. Admission is just $5 at the door. Call 882-7406 for more information.

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