February 25, 2016
Amid the endless downpour of rain and the gloominess of dark clouds recently gathering over Florence, Nicoletta Peluffo, the Language Program Coordinator, managed to find a bright warm room at Kent State University to speak with me about the literary event Traveling Stanzas. Both she and David Hassler, Director of the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University in the United States, are putting together this “multicultural project that aims at creating a global dialogue through the inclusive language of poetry.”
The mission statement itself is poetry, but I wanted to dig a little deeper into what it really means for not only the creators of the project, but the students involved. This wonderful project puts Italian elementary and middle school students from the Istituto Comprensivo La Pira outside of Florence in contact with Kent State University students through poetry readings.
Peluffo shared that the project began last September, and not only for the festival. Those in attendance of Traveling Stanzas on March 10 at 5:00 pm in Palazzo Vecchio will have the opportunity to experience a part of a larger movement that is working to break down the barrier of language all over the world. Italian children from Istituto Comprensivo La Pira will read their poems, some in Italian and some in English, and the President of Kent State University in the United States, Beverly Warren, will respond with her own poem via Skype. These works among others will eventually be compiled in a book and video.
All of the poems will follow a specific prompt fitting to the theme of the Tuscan AngloAmerican Festival: Where Am I From? This prompt is based off of the beautiful poem by George Ella Lyon entitled “Where I’m From.” The 100 Italian children involved in the event will be answering the same question: “Da Dove Vengo?”
For someone who has been involved with the project Traveling Stanzas for a long time, I asked Peluffo why she thought poetry reading was a beneficial art form to share with the Florentine and American communities present at the festival for those three days. She responded by explaining that poetry could serve as a bridge to connect what she termed the “Tuscan reality” with the “AngloAmerican reality.” They are not only two different languages, but also two different mindsets, which can be united through the feeling and emotion that is emitted through more than just words when someone reads their poetry aloud for others.
Traveling Stanzas is also an important opportunity for the young Italian students involved, because it gives visibility to a school that is open to “multi-culturality.” The Istituto Comprensivo La Pira has many American college students volunteer to help teach simple English to their young Italian students every year. Their eyes light up and the atmosphere in the classroom changes when they have the possibility of learning English from a native speaker from a different country.
Although in some cases the language barrier between Americans and Italians is a problem, in the case of Traveling Stanzas it is an opportunity because “the communication is at a different level” that can only be achieved through art.
For example, Peluffo is currently translating Warren’s poem from English to Italian, but it is difficult because it was written within an “American reality,” or from an American perspective. There is a certain richness in the way words are used to create poetry that forces others to become open-minded in order to understand from a different point of view, especially when the author is a part of a different culture. The children wrote their poems within an “Italian reality,” so the words translated directly into English without taking into account their deeper meaning will not have the same effect on the listener.
Although she speaks perfect English, Peluffo is Italian and thus has an Italian mindset and perspective, which can make it difficult for her to translate a poem that an American wrote. But if she opens her mind and works with her American students, then she is able to see from the other perspective and understand the deeper meaning behind it. Her ability to gain perspective from American students is a beautiful example of the importance of the American presence in Florence. Working together to create art can provide insight into both cultures, and create an understanding that will eliminate negative stereotypes and allow the mindsets to blend together.
According to Peluffo, too often the students who choose to live and study in Florence are compared to “tourists.” She believes that they should be considered “travellers,” because they have chosen to stay in a different country with a different language. Tourists only stay for a short time, but travellers choose to stay for a long time in order to truly appreciate the city.
Peluffo also pointed out that Italian is not an easy language to learn, and even for those putting in effort before and during their stay the many verb tenses can be overwhelming to native English speakers. Yet even those students who do not speak English are in Florence to “admire and emphasize the beauty of the city. How could this be a bad thing to have foreigners promote your hometown?”
The ability to see through a different cultural perspective allows the community to understand differences and “challenge” each other to be open to “otherness.”
If you can’t make the event, don’t be too disappointed! There will be a video loop with readings of the poems playing in the Palazzo Vecchio during the festival.