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From Flagstaff to France, students take ASU language project to the community

April 18, 2023

Chris Hoshnic was having dinner with a few friends in February when he told them about an event he was working on.

Hoshnic, an intern in Arizona State University’s Thousand Languages Project, was creating a community poem titled "The Landscapes of Language." The poem would be composed of words or phrases people submit showing their appreciation for Indigenous lands and read at the Northern Arizona Book Festival on April 1 in Flagstaff.

Hoshnic had his friends engage in the exercise, and later that night they texted or emailed to him to say they were surprised at the results.

“They said it was really difficult but pretty rewarding, too,” said Hoshnic, a junior who is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in English through ASU Online. “One my friends said they went down a rabbit hole of what actual native land they were on. It was kind of cool. It just sparked curiosity, seeing what’s around them and outside of themselves.

“I think that’s really what is important to me. A lot of people don’t realize a big part of Phoenix is built on Native American lands. One of my good friends lives close to the reservation in Scottsdale, and she was just surprised native land was so close to her.”

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Chris Hoshnic

Hoshnic is one of two ASU students doing community outreach activities this April for the Thousand Languages Project.

Acacia Wastchak, a junior who is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in international trade at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, is putting on an Earth Day Community Translation Challenge in France.

Flagstaff and France. Proving once again that ASU has no borders.

“I think it speaks to the fact that ASU is very international,” Wastchak said.

The Thousand Languages Project was created to translate works from Hayden’s Ferry Review, a semi-annual international literary journal edited by Master of Fine Arts students at ASU.

“It’s a project that I think is all about inclusion,” said Jacqueline Balderrama, a Mexican-American poet who is leading the Thousand Languages Project as the Virginia G. Piper fellow-in-residence. “Inclusion in the way where language can bring us together.”

Balderrama said outreach events such as the Northern Arizona Book Festival and Earth Day Community Translation Challenge are ways to draw people to the Thousand Languages website and “demonstrate how translation can build community and connect people.”

Those relationships aren’t just person to person. Hoshnic, who grew up on the Navajo Nation, said the multilingual community poem he and Balderrama edited and arranged — which is on the Thousand Languages website — will help people appreciate their relationship with the land they live on.

“I understand that the Thousand Languages Project is largely about translation, and I think the recognition of land is really the root of it for me,” Hoshnic said. “I think that’s really, really important. I think recognizing land and language are one in the same.”

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Acacia Wastchak

Meanwhile, nearly 6,000 miles away in Marseille, France, Wastchak took on the task of running the Earth Day Community Translation Challenge. Wastchak, who needed an internship to complete her degree, was already translating works for the Thousand Languages Project and studying abroad.

Marry the best of three worlds, and the idea was born for the translation challenge.

“Since I was studying abroad, Thunderbird was like, ‘OK, if you do it while you’re studying abroad, in your community there, that brings in the international aspect,’” Wastchak said. “Then, of course, using marketing skills, cross-cultural communication and things like that.”

The translation challenge is for Jason Labbe’s poem “Blue in Green.” The poem:

If there are trees

Wherever you live now,

Look up. See sky,

Like chips of smooth seaglass,

Between the stripped limbs.

If there is water,

Look down

At the blizzard of minnows

In the weeds. Remember:

Space between bodies

Is necessary. Find me

If you have forgotten.

There are few places on earth more suited for the translation challenge than Marseille, where Wastchak is living. The city is the home of Aix-Marseille University, which has more than 80,000 students on five campuses and boasts a multilingual student body.

“It’s not just European students,” Wastchak said. “There are students here from the Middle East, Africa, Australia, South America. So, I’m trying to get as many languages as possible for the translations.”

One of the first translations Wastchak received was in Bengali – the official national language of Bangladesh – and she also got a translation in Sard, a romance language spoken on the Western Mediterranean island of Sardinia.

She made an e-magazine and printable zine of the translations, which will be available soon on the Thousand Languages website.

“It’s just a really cool thing to do,” Wastchak said.

And a way, along with Hoshnic’s poem, to bring the Thousand Languages Project to a larger audience.

Top photo by Suzy Hazelwood via Pexels.

Scott Bordow

Reporter , ASU News

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Recommended readings for National Poetry Month

April 18, 2023

ASU poets on the works that they love

Sally Ball understood the question. She just didn’t understand why it was being asked.

April is National Poetry Month – it was started in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets – so Ball was asked what makes poetry still relevant these days.

“Do we ask this question of other things?” responded Ball, a professor and director of Arizona State University’s Creative Writing Program. “Do we ask this question of math? Poetry is an art form that gives voice to the urgent questions, the most powerful feelings of being alive. So, of course, it’s relevant. And it’s not different in its relevance than it’s been over the years.

“I suppose there’s more entertainment, more things that compete for our attention. But I don’t think that makes poetry any less relevant or valuable.”

To celebrate National Poetry Month, ASU News asked Ball and other faculty in the Department of English for recommended reading.

Safiya Sinclair, associate professor, poet and memorist

"Mass for Shut-ins," by Mary-Alice Daniel

This book won the Yale Younger Poets Prize this year. This is a brilliant, curious, expansive debut collection where you can feel Daniel’s mind at work, and one can only admire following its myriad fascinating yarns of thought and inquiry. The poems are haunting and haunted, luminous and funny. It’s a book that deals with the inner architecture of dreams and hellscapes, threads of mysticism and religion, while also casting off those things, as the poet reclaims her own space and her own mythos in the world. I come away electrified each time.

"Judas Goat," by Gabrielle Bates

This is the debut collection of a poet that I have admired for some time for her lush lyricism on the page. This book is so rich in imagery, framed by the beautifully recursive motif of the goat as an exploration of sacrifice and redemption, while excavating the inner life of the poet with Bates’ unique voice and unmatched eye for detail. The best poems reference biblical allegory and myth, while also transforming them. The poems here explore the past, current love, and the complex dynamics of family, with just a very potent high lyric register which I really love.

"All the Flowers Kneeling," by Paul Tran

This book came out last year, and I’m just reading it now. And from the very first poem I was transfixed — like, why haven't I read this book already? It’s so beautifully written, so carefully painterly with exquisite detail and imagery, with a rich lyricism and fine-tuned eye for the subtle shimmers and raw mercies of life. Tran’s poetry is so very musical and precise; I was in awe with the rigorous movement of every poem and the brilliant way they explore the dynamics of selfhood, family, trauma, the horrors of the Vietnam War and U.S. history, all while forging the fire of their own identity. They weave all these really wonderfully lush and haunted threads seamlessly throughout the collection, while paving their own way forward. A truly beautiful and shattering book.

Jacqueline Balderrama, clinical assistant professor, poet, coordinator of Thousand Languages Project at Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing

"American Sycamore," by Lisbeth White

Essentially, it's exploring her mixed-race heritage and her identity linked back to that Black and white ancestry. The book has several sorts of series throughout it. There’s a series of bridge poems that I believe were written while she was traveling abroad in Europe. It kind of offers these perspectives of homeland from a distance, and for the Black body sort of outside in a foreign space. And there’s also these series on trees. And the trees become this symbol for growing roots of heritage and this catalyst for reflection. So, it’s beautifully written.

"Drink of Red Mirror," by Kim Hyesoon

She’s a South Korean poet, and this book was translated into English by Jiwon Shin, Lauren Albin, and Sue Hyon Bae. It’s this surrealist feminist book of poems on intimacy and womanhood, and I kind of really enjoy just the unexpected nature of the poems. They don’t necessarily follow a narrative. You kind of bounce around. But it kind of shows there’s no boundaries, and where you can wo with poetry. It’s kind of connected more by language than maybe story. And the imagery is just kind of intensely beautiful, too. It’s both grotesque and beautiful.

Sally Ball, professor and director of ASU's Creative Writing Program

"Collected Poems," by Ellen Bryant Voigt

She is a MacArthur winner, like our own Natalie Diaz, and she’s the author of ("The Art of Syntax"). She has this kind of luscious southern language and voice. So, the sounds of her poems are really astonishing. This is her collected poems, her life’s work. She’s just turning 80, and there’s such a beautiful intelligence and expression in these poems.

"To the Realization of Perfect Helplessness," by Robin Coste Lewis

This is a book that I guess we would call a hybrid. When her grandmother died, she found this box of photographs that sort of went across her grandmother’s life, and she began writing about them. She sees this book as sort of tracing Black life in America across the last century. The photos are here, so throughout the book there’s this combination of image and text. It’s a very beautiful and moving book that sort of anchors her family story in kind of an under-told historical context.

"True Life," by Adam Zagajewski

He’s a Polish poet who lived quite a lot of his life in the United States. He’s always had a kind of political and social justice kind of consciousness, and then this deeply sort of painterly individual personal attention to the sort of smallest things in the landscape. There’s this poem in here called "Mountains," which says, "look greedily when dusk approaches, look insatiably, look without fear." He’s a poet who addresses these kinds of large subjects that are sort of hovering for all of us, either as a preoccupation or sort of anxiety-producing thing. And he really, directly addresses those anxieties, but he’s also anchored in the world in really beautiful ways.

Alberto Rios, Arizona poet laureate, Regents Professor, director of ASU's Piper Center

"Survival Strategies," by Tennison S. Black

It’s the winner of the National Poetry Series, and it’s coming out soon (September 2023). We hear so much loud in the world today. This is more fundamental to where that loud is coming from. It’s more personal. It shares something that I think we connect with, no matter who we are. I think it’s effective in conveying what everybody is trying to shout. There’s no shouting here, but it’s getting to the essence of so many things, including being a woman and a mother.

"Dear Diaspora," by Susan Nguyen (poet and ASU alum)

Generationally, we have a connection to Vietnam, but the aftermath, as we all know, becomes something flattened out. We don’t place our antagonisms or our interest there. She brings something of a next generational sensibility to that. She’s here, she’s American, but from a very clear and conscience-filled past. She labors under that. Do we all labor under that? No. She brings a sensibility that helps us to be tuned to something we were well in tune with for so long. I find that art that could have come out of that time is remarkable and heartening. This is not a writer writing about the Vietnam War. This is about what comes next.

Scott Bordow

Reporter , ASU News