Wider Than The Sky Poetry Festival

If you are interested in reading or analyzing poems in different languages, learning about cross cultural introspection through poetry, and connecting with other high schoolers in the Los Angeles area, then the Wider Than the Sky Poetry Festival is for you!

“Wider Than The Sky is a series of events for young people — including monthly writing workshops and a two-day festival in April — celebrating poetry and its power to spark positive change within individuals, communities, and the world,”Joie Zhang ’22, a leader working to revive the Wider Than The Sky Poetry Festival. Harvard-Westlake (HW)hosted the festival for four years in the past from 2014 to 2018, and this year, the administration approved to revive the festival through a virtual platform.

The monthly workshops and the festival will be occurring on April 10 and 11 on an online platform. According to Zhang, “the migration of so many events to the online sphere around April 2020 was part of the inspiration for reviving the festival.”

According to the Wider Than The Sky Poetry Festival website, their mission is grounded in empowering middle and high school students: “Our mission is to empower middle and high school students in Los Angeles and beyond to explore their identities, find their voices, and express themselves; to build creative connections and community; and to center and amplify historically marginalized and underrepresented voices, visions, poetic traditions, and perspectives.”

On the first workshop was held Dec. 6, with a focus on bilingual poetry. While bilingual poetry isn’t the focus of the entire festival, “exploring the cultural intersection in bilingual poetry is in line with our mission to center and amplify historically marginalized and underrepresented voices,” Zhang said. Those who attended explored works by Julia Alvarez, Rhina P. Espaillat and Wang Wei, specifically analyzing syntax.

“Syntax shapes content, languages shape meaning. In a globe with fascinating cultural diversity, multilingual poetry that explores the art of code-switching highlights a key question: how much do cultural connotations affect denotative meaning? What do we lose (and gain) in translation?” according to the Wider Than The Sky website.

Zhang explained her own interest in bilingual poetry by tapping into her ethnicity and background. “As a bilingual second-generation Chinese American writer, I have always been fascinated by the impact that cultural connotations can have on shaping the denotations of certain words in different languages,”Zhang said. “For this workshop in particular, I was inspired by the themes in Julia Alvarez’s poem ‘Bilingual Sestina,’ which is one of the bilingual poems that we analyzed on December 6 in the workshop. In exploring bilingual poetry, I’ve become more attuned to the effect of syntax on semantics, particularly for poems that switch between languages. It’s opened up another layer with which to analyze a poem, and I shared that lens of analysis with the workshop attendees this past Sunday too.”

For those interested in the festival, keep an eye out for any emails from Wider than the Sky and feel free to contact Felicity Phelan ‘21 or Zhang, co-leaders for the team at HW.

For more information, head to their website.

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