By: Binh Le
International Education Week (IEW) is a joint program of the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Department of Education designed to celebrate the benefits of international education and exchange. Specifically, IEW aims to “prepare Americans for global environment and attract future leaders from abroad to study, learn, and exchange experiences.”
Penn State Abington held a number of events to celebrate International Education Week, between Nov. 18-22, 2019. One of the liveliest and moving events was the International Poetry Reading program. It was a collaborative effort of Penn State Abington’s Office of Global Programs and Abington College Library. Over the past few years, Penn State Abington Library has held a number of international poetry reading events. What made this recent poetry reading event unique is that Abington’s international students and faculty selected and read the poems that they love or are well-known in their countries. The poems were read in Chinese, English, Hindi, Korean, German, Russian, and Spanish. Topics covered included India’s struggle for independence (Durgam Giri), Haiti’s cultural traditions (Mama), one’s love for one’s country (Venezuela), personal stories (A Letter to Zerana), and, ultimately, love (Kiss Me, Kiss!).
Gerardo Erik Suarez, from Venezuela, selected and read (in Spanish) a poem titled “Venezuela” by Luis Silva. The poem begins with the following lines:
Llevo tu luz y tu aroma en mi piel (I carry your light and your scent on my skin)
Y el cuatrolen el corazón (And the cuatro in my heart)
Llevo en mi sangre la espuma del mar (I carry in my blood the sea foam)
Y tu horizonete en mis ojos (And your horizon in my eyes)
Y si un día tengo que naufragar (And if one day I have to shipwreck)
Y el tifón rompe mis velas (And the typhoon breaks my sails)
Enterrad mi cuerpo cuerca del mar (Bury my body close to the sea)
En Venezuela (In Venezuela).
According to Suarez, this poem is as popular as Venezuela’s national anthem.
Zhijie Yang, from China, read three poems in three different languages: one in Chinese, another in German, and still another in Russian! Originally, the organizers of the event intended to provide international students and faculty an opportunity to share their countries’ poetic traditions. But as it turned out, the event became a showcase of their own poetic talents. They read their own poems!
Valara Cheristin, from Haiti, read two poems she composed titled “Mama” and “Mercy.” According to Cheristin, she wrote the poem ‘Mercy’ to describe the masked cruelty that exists in the world today. Specifically, the poem attempts to point out Haiti’s rich cultural traditions. In so
doing, she hopes to change the ways how Haiti has been portrayed, as she termed it “the only bad side of Haiti,” in the popular mass media. She said “Every county has its problems. However, we definitely should not only focus on them [the problems].”
Denell Lewis, another student, authored the poem “You Fool You.” The poem starts:
Usually when I sat in darkness, I could still see.
But in that instant, there truly was no light.
My eyes were so weak.
They had no choice but to surrender to the weight of my tears.
“I would be nothing without you.”
You would never say so, but your actions deem this.
I have been banished.
You must be so powerful to have put me outside of myself.
I have been jogging in circles next to my soul.
Stuck in a feeing of emptiness and “un-wholed.”
Lewis wrote “You Fool You” for a class assignment. However, according to the poet “it turned out being an outlet to express things I was dealing with in my personal life.” And that “I would like to share this with PSU students because I think it might resonate. Whether they are dealing with a situation themselves or know someone else who feels helpless. I’d like to say that it always gets better.”