Talking Social Justice and Translation in the Realm of Poetry

Student Writer / Bethany Eveleth

On Tuesday, April 11 in conjunction with Penguin Random House Publishing, Western’s Contemporary Writer Series and WordHorde hosted poets Todd Fredson and Sarah Vap. Fredson and Vap gave a craft talk that was open to all students, faculty, and staff at 11am. They both discussed their artistic process and led an activity to help the audience understand some of the things that they both attempt to address in their work. Following the craft talk, Fredson and Vap hosted an invitation-only talk for aspiring poets which gave students an opportunity to have further discussion about publishing, the writing process, and translation.

The same evening, at 7pm in the Savage Library, Fredson and Vap read selections from their work. Vap read from her most recent book, Viability.

“[Viability is] a woven hybrid project where I just stole a lot of language,” Vap said in discussion of the her National Poetry Series winning book. She examined and borrowed jargon used economically and juxtaposed that with themes of the body to explore the commodification of human life, particularly women and children, by capitalism. Her work in Viability relies on de-contextualization and repetition to create a series of hybrid prose poems that explore the difficult topics of slavery in the present, motherhood, and the dehumanization of humanity.

Fredson followed Vap’s reading by reading some of his translations of Josué Guébo, an Ivory Coast poet. Translated as serial lyrics, poems that move from page to page without titles, Fredson occasionally stopped to give the audience cultural context about his translations or explain phrases that he left in the original language: French.

“I left some things untranslated because their cultural importance was too great,” Fredson said. Fredson lived in what he classified as a “stereotypical African village” with no running water and no electricity when he was a volunteer for the Peace Corps. It was through translation that Fredson found a way to talk about his own experiences on the Ivory Coast. He discussed his struggles with cultural appropriation and navigating how to capture the unsayable.

The evening concluded with time for audience members to ask further questions and get books signed. Fredson and Vap were receptive and showed genuine interest in their conversations with their audiences. Aided by the intimate settings that Western has to offer and a receptive community, aspiring poets and students were exposed to writers passionately pursuing social justice and hybrid form in the field of poetry.