Poetry in Translation, a unit created by Queens teacher Carol McCarthy, draws on the unique abilities of her multicultural classroom. In her introductory lesson plan, Carol calls upon her students to investigate poetry through the lens of their individual cultural backgrounds. Students translate the work of poets from their native country or ethnic heritage, then write and translate their own poems. Students probe poetry in translation in other lessons as well, including "Translating Poets of the Holocaust Era," "Haiku," "Women in Poetry," and a comparative lesson focusing on two translations of Beowulf. Against this backdrop, Carol employs a series of classroom learning activities and Internet research that helps each student to find their place in a poetic tradition.
Unit Length: 8 Class Periods
The purpose of this unit is to motivate students to participate in poetry in translation projects that will utilize a variety of learning modalities. The students who attend Flushing High School are multi-cultural. This factor lends itself to the study of poets from numerous cultural and socio-political backgrounds. It also promotes the nature of collaborative learning and the sharing of new and unfamiliar voices and concepts. The nature of poetry as a genre lends itself to the project. Each poem is a self-contained unit which can be studied on a number of levels. Students will undertake the following tasks individually and also have the opportunity to collaborate in small groups. Each student will select a poem from his/her cultural background and research the life and work of the poet, explore the work in the original language and find or write a translation of the particular work. Thus far poetry in Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Turkish, Russian, French, Bengali, Hindi, and Persian will be included. A variety of research tools will be utilized to do this. The technology component will assist with research and add to the richness of the material by providing textual and visual links to the poet and his/her work. A series of task-oriented rubrics will be constructed for assessment.
Research the poet's life
Find examples of the poet's work in the original language and in translation
Investigate the socio-cultural context of the work
Collaborate with group to find and share material
Report findings and present to class
Use technology to undertake a webquest that includes:
Students will learn to plan and organize.
Polish research skills.
They will become better problem solvers.
They will recognize inter-disciplinary connections as a result of the research.
Better communication and collaborative skills will be goal-oriented with opportunities for revision and re-evaluation.
Students will recognize cultural connections and differences and see how poetry can cross barriers and brings the global community together
Microsoft Paint or Other Drawing Application
After a discussion of various cultural backgrounds which will be placed on the chalkboard, students will name poets associated with their particular culture and, if possible I will elicit favorite poets and add them to the board. A supplementary list will be distributed including the following poets:
Lorna Dee Cervantes
Shirley Geok-Lin Lim
Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce
Nuala Ni Dhomnhonaill
Ranier Maria Rilke
This list is an ongoing instrument which is meant to be amended and developed as the process develops. Students will be free to add poets of their own choice as the term proceeds.
Students will be asked to perform several the following tasks:
Students will be given several weeks to complete this project and will be checked with regard to progress periodically. A bibliography and documentation of sources will be required.
Students will participate in the City College Poetry Contest in the category of Poetry in a Language Other Than English. This will give them the opportunity to share their talents with others and involve themselves with the community beyond the school.
Extra Credit Enrichment Project:
For extra credit students will be asked to find examples of prose essays written by the poet of their choice. This will lead to the writing of a personal memoir. Samples of memoirs will be given out in class to study the genre. These will include memoirs and letters written by poets such as Rilke and Akhmatova and by others such as Primo Levi, Ernest Galarza, and Sandra Cisneros.
Poems Used: Original and translated works by the following poets:
"Refugee Ship" by Lorna Dee Cervantes
"The Language Issue" by Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill
"Pantoum for Chinese Women" by Shirley Geok-lin Lim
The following quote will appear on the board: "At present, the phenomena of butchering, drowning and leaving to die female infants have been very serious." -From The People's Daily, Peking, March 3, 1983. tudents will be asked to discuss the quote, its meaning and implications for women in the Republic of China today. How does this tie in with similar issues in other parts of the world. Discuss related topics and chart on board. What can women from such diverse backgrounds have in common? Discuss and put student observations, culled from collaborative interaction on the board.
Poems Used: Original and translated works.
"Fugue of Death" by Paul Celan
"A Poor Christian Looks at the Ghetto" by Czeslaw Milosz
"Babii Yar" by Yevgeny Yevtushenko
Students will take an online trip to the Museum of Jewish Heritage and investigate the artifacts, art, diary entries to be found on the second floor which features the Holocaust Memorial material. Each will print out information and write a preliminary report on some particular aspect of the holocaust. These will be presented in class and precipitate a preliminary discussion that will set the stage for the study of the three poems noted above.
Find biographical background on one of the poets and report on how his background influenced his work. Find the poet reading his work. Find another poem by the same poet and if possible record the English version in your voice.
Traditional haiku by poets Issa, Basho and Chiyo, translated by Harry Behn and others.
Modern haiku by poets including W.F. O'Rourke and Etheridge Knight.
Selections from The Sea and the Honeycomb: A Book of Tiny Poems, edited by Robert Bly.
Motivation: What makes haiku different from other poetic forms?
Discuss: Format for a haiku: three lines, seventeen syllables, sharp images, references to nature, a sharp turn or sudden insight or contrast.
Students will do online research on the following:
Edwin Morgan's translation of Beowulf
Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf
Students will be asked to free-write on the nature of heroism and the qualities that a hero should have. They will then cite examples of heroic persons they have heard about from literary sources, including mythical heroes. They will then be asked to cite examples of contemporary heroes.
Students will compare and contrast the passages from the Morgan and the Heaneay Beowulf. They will identify literary elements, elements of plot, theme, explore the characterization and draw conclusions as to the nature of a true hero. They will explain why Beowulf can be regarded as a classic and archetypal hero.
Create a contemporary epic with a heroic figure who passes through a series of trials and challenges. Present the hero with insuperable odds that must be overcome. Write this contemporary epic in the colloquial language of your hometown.
Students were very receptive to the work on poetry in translation. The unit proved to be a natural complement to their various backgrounds and as such there was very little resistance to teh work that was covered. Many students were not expecting to explore poets of their own cultural background and when presented with the work they became very enthusiastic and willing to participate. Many had no idea they were capable of writing poetry and many were delighted to indulge in the poetry that had been writing for many years in their native homes.
Importance of Technology:
The technology enabled students to research their poets, get original sources, art, cultural and biographical background. It was very useful to those who wished to go further and adequate for those who did the basics.
I tried to incorporate as much as possible within the parameters of preparation time given at school. I needed additional time, many hours all tolled, to explore and incorporate new units into the curriculum. After the initial work and technology incorporation it becomes very simple to implement new components.
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