Behind the Scenes at the International Poetry Reading

1st Photo IPRFor nine years, Professors Audrey Fessler and Jeff Vahlbusch have organized the International Poetry Reading. Each year students, faculty and members of the Eau Claire community have gathered on campus to experience the beauty of language by hearing poetry in many different languages. This year’s poetry reading was held April 22 in the Ojibwe Grand Ballroom. There were a total of 43 languages represented through poetry this year. English is not represented at the event in order to focus exclusively on the beauty of foreign language poetry.

As a member of UWEC’s English Festival (the organization that hosted this year’s event), I was able to work closely with professors Fessler and Vahlbusch and see first-hand the amount of work that goes into the International Poetry Reading. I wanted to share with The Foreword‘s readers all the work that goes on behind the scenes.

The planning process starts several months ahead of time when the venue must be booked. Professor Fessler and I met with Jason Anderson back in December in order to claim the Ojibwe Grand Ballroom for this event. This location has been used for the past few years and it perfectly fits the 200-some people that attend each year.

The cake celebrating the event. Each word means "poetry" or "song" in a variety of languages.

The cake celebrating the event. Each word means “poetry” or “song” in a variety of languages.

Next, the organizers look for donations so that the important expenses can be covered. Each year a booklet is provided for everyone in attendance. This booklet gives a translation of the poem into English so that those who do not speak the language can see what the poem is saying. The other expenses are for the refreshments and the publicity posters. This year, the IPR received generous donations through Student Senate via a funding proposal through the Center for International Education. English Festival also donated money in addition to their time and effort in setting up the event. The IPR has also benefitted from the generosity of Don Schliecher of Learning and Technology Services, who believes so much in this event that he has personally recorded it every year for free. Thanks to him, the IPR is livecast to a worldwide audience over the internet, allowing the friends and families of students from abroad to watch.

The process of finding readers is a time-consuming process that takes many months to complete. The goal is to find as many languages as possible while still fitting within the time limit. This means that the organizers must find 40-45 readers and can only take a certain amount of readers for each language. Finding readers requires help from the Foreign Language Department and other university organizations that represent English as a Second Language (ESL) students. As this is a community building event, the IPR welcomes participants from outside the university as well as UWEC students, staff, and faculty.

2nd Photo IPR

The most crucial part of this event is to bring attention to the beauty and complexity of each language. Thus, each reader does not have to be a native speaker of the language or even entirely proficient, it is more important for the reader to have significant passion for said language and a willingness to learn and perform the poems. The poems themselves ranged from comical to sad to one in International Morse Code that translates to, “YOU WE TOUCH… SEE!”.

The end result of all this work was a powerful two hours in which the entire audience engaged in the words of the world. If you were not able to make it to this year’s reading, the 10th annual International Poetry Reading will take place in spring 2016. The next event will be even larger and more prestigious as it is the both the 10th anniversary of the reading and the centennial of UWEC. The English department is committed to supporting these important cultural events, so keep an eye on The Foreword and our departmental Facebook page for future updates.