Two day colloquium looks at international poetry and politics


MultidisciplinaryColoquium-YosefSerkez

One hundred poems chosen by student-curators led a two-day colloquium in the School of Arts and Sciences. The event featured poetry from across the world and students transformed their favorite poems into multi-media projects like short films and poster design.


A multicultural breakfast of berry parfaits, cheese blintzes and zimtsterne graced the opening of "Poetries-Politics," an eclectic, multilingual and collaborative visual poetry exhibition.

The title separates poetries and politics with a dash to represent of a break in thought. The main focus of the event was to surround the audience with the voices of poets throughout history and allow them to find their own meaning. 

“There’s no one message, there’s no one person, there’s no one anything,” said Mary Shaw, a primary organizer of the exhibition and a professor in the Department of French.

The event centered around more than 100 poems chosen by School of Arts and Sciences student-curators. The same poems were mixed into uniquely-designed color-spectrum posters by Mason Gross School of the Arts undergraduate design students. 

Select poems were then produced into five short films by undergraduate directors from the Rutgers Film Lab. The entire exhibition was presented to the University and visiting scholars at a colloquium Thursday and Friday, organized by a number of University departments.

Each poem dated to a different time period and place in the world.

Hundreds of poems throughout history were examined by 16 of the School of Arts and Sciences undergraduate student-curators as part of a Department of Interdisciplinary Studies course with help from School of Arts and Sciences Honors Colloquium students, graduate students, faculty and University alumni. 

Regardless of the original language or political context, if a poem connected with a student-curator, then it was selected. After 100 poems were selected, each was researched with the help of select humanities departments at Rutgers. 

Poems were prepared with translations along with their original dialect of English or French, the official languages of the colloquium. Poems from Africa, Asia, Europe and South America were kept with the original text. The University Libraries also instructed curators on how to cite all poems used, to ensure no violation of fair-use.

Selected poems were translated into design briefs, a PDF file that summarized the poem’s life into digestible pages. The design briefs had a bilingual version for each poem, a summary of its historical and political context, a description of the poet’s life and a paragraph on what the student-curator saw in the poem. 

“They started to build a visual landscape to enclose the poetry,” said Atif Akin, a professor in Design in the Mason Gross School of the Arts, on how his students examined the design brief.

The Mason Gross School of the Arts artists then crafted 120 posters, each with a distinct design that tells its own visual story. The graphic interweaves the poem’s original energy and the multilingual translation into a single matte-coated sheet on the wall. 

Despite crossing over University educational borders and a status quo for fights between editors and designers, there was only a positive collaborative spirit between the 16 literature student-curators and 11 visual designers throughout the entire process, Akin said.  

The collaborative project was then brought into its filmmaking phase.

Five undergraduate students signed-up to make a film adaption of the poems. It brought them to the experimental Film Lab, where student directors began to look through each poem until they found one that personally resonated with them.

For Danielle Lessovitz, the head of the Rutgers Film Lab, interpreting poetry into a visual design has its own element because it is more than just one image, it is the sound of a language and the journey that poetic performances take an audience member through.

“ … For that, film is a powerful medium because it can capture sound, images and place them over time, in a way that a poster or a performance of poetry wouldn’t be able to,” Lessovitz said.

Chenglei Ye, a Mason Gross School of the Arts sophomore, adapted a three-line Japanese poem, the last words before the imminent death of a young Kamikaze pilot in World War II, into a 10-minute short film. 

After exploring the historical context of Kamikaze pilots, Ye said he recreated the pilot’s final moments, an eruptive scene of thunderous, flying shrapnel that puts you in the cockpit, juxtaposed with the tranquil scenes of cherry blossoms and a piano-playing girl beating to the tempo of the pilot’s last breaths. 

The poem expressed the young pilot’s vulnerability and his fear of death, but for that, his admittance of fear was an act of courage, he said. 

Despite the difference in nationality Ye could still connect with the Kamikaze poem because when he looked beneath the surface, everyone is human, Ye said. 

Ye said, “we have the same thoughts and same feelings …"

Lessovitz, also a New York City-based writer and director in film, said it was a unique, collaborative experience to see student directors work through language barriers and connect with other student-curators through poetry.

The poems, posters and films were shown as part of the two-day colloquium and until Nov. 26, the poetic posters will be hung in the fourth, fifth and sixth floors of the Rutgers Academic Building.

Shaw said the open-ended collaboration between different arms of the Rutgers body was the main element that should be celebrated. And although large-scale collaborations do not happen often, Poetries-Politics is an exceptional example of what is possible when people from different departments and backgrounds do come together.

The colloquium and exhibition was a collaboration between multiple departments in the University. 

For G1, a member of the hip-hop duo Rebel Diaz, who closed the colloquium event, it does not matter what medium of art you are using when you are speaking out and "… as long as you’re able to tell your story, and you’re able to connect that to a larger story of resistance,” G1 said. 


Abner Bonilla


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