CULTURE FRONT: Poetic prowess at the library

By on February 3, 2015

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – A few weeks ago, the small town of Ethete, Wyoming, was home to a minor literary first. Wyoming poets David Romtvedt and Matt Daly were in residence at Wind River Tribal College for two days teaching poetry to adults and teens in the community. One of their students happened to be the college’s Arapaho language teacher.

Native speakers of Arapaho number in the double digits, qualifying it as an endangered language. With an Arapaho teacher in attendance, Romtvedt and Daly decided to translate a famous poem into Arapaho and see what happened. They chose Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.” (For readers needing a refresher, it’s the poem that ends: “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep / But I have promises to keep / And miles to go before I sleep / And miles to go before I sleep.”)

Several students collaborated to translate the poem, and at the final workshop reading several participants read sections of the poem.

“The poem gave them the opportunity to use the language,” Daly said. “The rhythm was different. Arapaho uses many guttural and fricative sounds, and repetition of vowels. The meter doesn’t translate but it still sounded like a poem.”

Interestingly, there is no word for “promise” in Arapaho. The closest word is “pledge,” which Daly felt captured the gravitas Frost originally intended and which may feel watered down in modern English interpretations. Daly said the project reinforced the ways art and literature “really do bring people together.”

Daly will read his own work Monday night at the Teton County Library as part of the “Shooting Stars, Falling Objects” poetry reading. Five other Jackson area poets also will share their work.

The group of poets meets regularly to share their work and offer critique to one another. A fiction writer friend, Nanci Turner Stevenson, was so impressed with the local poets she organized a reading. The library’s adult programming coordinator, Leah Schlacter, a poet herself, was happy to help.

The “Shooting Stars” poets include Susan Austin, Cassandra Lee, Bryan Nystrom, Susan Marsh, Connie Wieneke and Daly.

Wieneke noted that they are an accomplished group. “Three of us have received Wyoming Arts Council literary recognition,” Wieneke said. “Several have taught in Teton County or around the state. We all have been involved in the Jackson Hole Writers Conference. At least four of us are actively and avidly working on a collection of poems with the help of our senior poet readers.”

Schlacter commented on the importance of poetry in any community. “Poetry matters because as humans our desire is to connect, and it’s hard to find connections in vastness,” she said, poetically. Plus, she added, echoing what students in Ethete discovered: “Playing with language is cool.” PJH

Shooting Stars, Falling Objects: Six Poets Read on Monday, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in Auditorium B at Teton County Library. Free.

————-

Carpentry

infinite rap of hammers

the table saw hums

what we build here will last

long but not forever

on the land, only

the mingling

of sweat, our salt

tamped in clay soil

the snapping grasses

the juncos of juncos

who will remember wind

and snow dancing into a coupling

the twisting together

of two aspen trunks

– Susan Austin

Invisible

In the yard my husband shovels

leftovers: roof-slid snow, the gray

clumps that used to be leaves.

The end of April and we pretend

to see willows budding golden teeth,

the flaming branches outrunning

a winter’s mangy embrace.

At me, he flicks smiles, that last

December kiss and yes, this, too,

April’s kiss. Crocuses blink, shrivel.

Sheets reel under the wind’s fists.

A storm rearranges faces, frizzles

my hair with the moon-rising voices

of geese. With such utter detachment

what’s been invisible knocks me over.

– Connie Wieneke

(originally published in Petroglyph)

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About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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