Love, Actually in Translation

Kara Brooks, Arts Editor

Love has no boundaries, but, as demonstrated by the event “Love in Many Tongues,” perhaps regional boundaries would be the more appropriate term. While some Oberlin lovebirds snuggled up in love nests elsewhere, others showed up at Slow Train Cafe, where Main Street Readings presented a Valentine’s Day poetry reading featuring a diverse range of love poems.

Organized by poet and Oberlin Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing Lynn Powell, 14 participants were selected to read and translate poems in languages spanning the globe, both modern and ancient.

While all of the poems were charming and both eloquently and skillfully delivered, the poems in the more unusual languages such as Bulgarian, Dutch, Farsi, Shona, Portuguese and Turkish were a true treat for the packed Cafe on Tuesday night. Recognizing the lack of exposure to such languages, Professor of Hispanic Studies Sebastiaan Faber referenced a newspaper comic and joked “I think Italian is spoken in Heaven, and Dutch is spoken in Hell,” before reading the Dutch love poems “Zal ik nog een eindje met je meelopen?” (from Genoeg gedicht over de liefde vandaag, 1999) and “Heb ik je lief” (from Koffers Zeelucht, 2003) by Hagar Peeters. “Dutch is good for irony,” Faber told the audience.

Professor of Piano Sanford Margolis proved extremely talented with his reading of three poems, all in different languages. The first was a quatrain from “Silent words,” a Farsi poem by Rumi. He then switched to Yiddish for the amusing poem “A Letter” by Rachel Korn, before closing with selections from “Arabian Love Poems” by Nizar Qabbani, read in Arabic. All three proved his mastery of foreign languages as he read with great confidence and articulation, the movement of his mouth almost entrancing.

Diverging from the program’s standard were the three songs performed, two by College senior Molly Bradley and the final one “Istanbul’da Sonbahar” (“Autumn in Istanbul”) by Teoman, sung a capellaby College junior and Oberlin Review staff writer, Sarp Yavuz, to commence the Valentine’s Day event. Accompanied by College junior Tyler Vallet on acoustic guitar, Bradley sang two songs written by wife to the President of France Nicolas Sarkozy, and former “Playboy model” (which was made sure to be mentioned) Carla Bruni: “Raphaël” and “Quelqu’un m’a Dit.” The lyrics of the first were fast paced and wordy, while the second song was a highlight of the night due to its catchy and upbeat sound. What the lyrics translated into was of little concern.

Too predictable was Professor of Classics Tom Van Nortwick’s reading of “The Seduction of Zeus” from The Iliad by Homer. “Love in Many Tongues,”’s audience, however, responded well to the contemporary English translation, made obvious by the chuckles, which came in unison, but the reading had the air of a poem performed all too often. Too frequently are Greek and Latin poems translated into a hyper sexual, aggressive, slang voice that relies heavily on humor and drastic contrast from the original text for its appeal. Nevertheless, Nortwick delivered an eloquent performance and confirmed his talent in a foreign language, just as did all of the performers that night.

The reading, which featured 15 different languages and performers ranging in age, as young as the 7th grader Formosa Deppman, who read a Chinese love poem with a translation done by her parents, Associate Professor of Chinese Hsiu-Chuang Deppman and Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and English Jed Deppman, proved to be a success. The feel of the night was warm and accepting, perhaps as contrast to the Valentine’s Day poetry readings at The Fava Gallery, which called for submission of self-written poems and thus created a degree of competition.

Instead, “Love in Many Tongues” demonstrated the meaning of the phrase “Love makes the world go round.”