An Evening of Hope: Celebrating Fulbright Through Poetry

An Evening of Hope: Celebrating Fulbright Through Poetry, hosted by the Louisiana Chapter of the Fulbright Association and co-sponsored by the Fulbright Association featured works of acclaimed Fulbright poets, Julie Kane, and Ann Fisher Wirth. The lovely evening was held in November marking International Education Week and attended by over 70 members.

The Louisiana Chapter under the leadership of chapter president Patrice Moulton planned the evening to focus on the resilience of the human experience. As we come close to the end of 2020 and this tumultuous year, we look forward as individuals and as an organization to a brighter 2021. This event is also a sneak peek into all the amazing Fulbright alumni celebrations the Fulbright Association and its network of chapters will organize throughout the coming year marking the 75th anniversary.

Featured Poet, Julie Kane shared, “My Fulbright fellowship was to teach English composition and conversation and American poetry to senior English education majors at Vilnius Pedagogical University in Lithuania, now called “Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences.” It was not for being a poet, yet it has had profound effects on my work as a poet.”

One of the poems Julie read was, “To move to another country and not speak the language unable to tell where the words start and end in that river of speech…silent except when your name is spoken or cake or some number one to ten is to be reborn as a one year old child……,”

Julie states, ‘At first, of course, were the poems written during my six-month stay in Vilnius, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. They were included in my third book, Jazz Funeral, which won the Donald Justice Poetry Prize. A second edition of that book will soon be forthcoming from Red Hen Press, joining my latest book, Mothers of Ireland, as 2020 publications.

In 2005, three years after my fellowship, I was one of twelve international poets and the sole poet from the U.S. invited by the Lithuanian Writers Union to take part in Lithuania’s annual Poetry Spring Festival. A U.S. State Department travel grant helped to defray my travel expenses. For a week, we toured cities throughout Lithuania, giving poetry readings alongside translators who rendered our poems into Lithuanian. In each new city, the mayor would greet us at an official civic event as classical musicians played, and children showered us with bouquets of flowers. Never have I seen a country where poets and poetry were so cherished and respected.

That same year, one of my students from VPU came to my American university to study toward a master’s degree in English. As part of her graduate assistantship, she and I worked together co-translating poems by the Lithuanian poet Tautvyda Marcinkevičiūtė. In 2017, poet H. L. Hix and I co-edited Terribly in Love, a volume of selected poems by Tautvyda in English translation. That publication helped Tautvyda to secure a ten-week residency in the Fall 2019 cohort of the International Writing Program of the University of Iowa, which will influence her poems for many years to come.

The Fulbright experience does not end when our fellowships end. The friendships, professional relationships, and international bridges that we build during our time abroad continue to resonate throughout our lives and to nurture new creative opportunities and developments. I am so grateful for my life-altering Fulbright experience,” said Julie Kane.

The second featured poet Ann Fisher-Wirth discussed her two Fulbright grants while reading her poems. Her first Fulbright, for the academic year 1994-1995, was to the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, where she taught lecture courses in American literature, Southern literature, and American poetry, and a seminar on Willa Cather. She also met with students in Basel and Lausanne for seminars on William Carlos Williams, the subject of her book The Autobiographies of William Carlos Williams: The Woods of His Own Nature.

In 2002-2003 she held the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in American Studies at Uppsala University, Sweden. “My teaching at Uppsala was very diverse, I participated in a team-taught course for SINAS, the Swedish Institute for North American Studies, taught American literature and Southern literature as I had done in Switzerland, and gave numerous lectures on American environmental literature throughout Sweden, and in England, Finland, and France. One high point of the year, and an incredible honor, was delivering the lecture on American eco-novelists Rick Bass and Linda Hogan that celebrated the 50th anniversary of Fulbright presence in Sweden.

Early in October of that year, I was talking long distance with my daughter, the poet Jessica Fisher, and I mentioned that my husband and I had recently visited Uppsala University’s library, the Carolina Redivida, where we had seen the 1539 woodblock map that is thronged with ogres, demons, and mythical beasts and yet is the first geographically accurate map of the Northern lands. Jessica said to me, “Write poems about it.” “Oh I might write a poem,” I replied. “No,” she insisted, “I said write poems.” So I did. One rainy afternoon, I sat on the floor of the darkened room and wrote, “First, notice the bear”—the opening line of what became my fourth book of poems, Carta Marina. An autobiography, a daybook, a travel book, a love story, an elegy, a novel—Carta Marina is all these things, and traces the arc of one of the most important years of my life.

One of my poem was inspired by an engraving on a stone marker that moved me so much. The graveyard was right across from the English Department at Uppsala University, “Suddenly a storm hunted down our year and when I raise my head from the table every leave lay in the grass, the grass dazzled in that piercing blue silence, a door stayed open holding its breath, blunt shoes still with mud on them stood in the closet,  you hear the quiet voices everywhere, he was a good husband, she was a good sister, when my first child died, and the phone rang, they said come Herr Olsen has fallen…..”

I can’t begin to express how wonderful the Fulbright program has been. It opens the world and opens the heart. My family and I saw and learned so much, made lasting friendships, and shared experiences and adventures that we will never forget,” said Ann Fisher-Wirth.

Patrice Moulton, president of the Louisiana chapter moderated the reading. She mentioned that her favorite line from Julie Kane’s poem that really stuck with her, was out of the poem, reasons to love the harmonica, “because it tolerates a little spit, and it feels like in 2020 we are all tolerating more than a little spit. We are doing it well overall but one of the reasons I’m proud to be a Fulbrighter is being part of this community and resilient group of Fulbrighters tolerating a bit of spit.”

“Words that really resonated with me from Ann Fisher-Wirth’s poems were, “encounters have become my meditation,” I think we are all hungry for encounters with people, hugs to come back and things to be a bit more normal. I also loved, “Whoever you are, may you be at peace in this great silence,” in this time, I hope we all find ways to do that and as we have all come together this evening we hope we can all do that,” said Patrice.

Many attendees commented on how lovely it was to spend a Sunday evening listening to beautiful poetry. They loved author stories around the poems they wrote, providing hope with beautiful and relatable imagery.

Some memorable lines from Ann Fisher-Wirth’s poems that resonated with the attendees were, “Whoever you are, may you be at peace in this great silence.” “When you come to love, bring all you have.” “Clear clear like the sky.” It was wonderful to attend such a lovely evening during COVID.

-Shaz Akram, Deputy Director

 

Watch the full event below:

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