Admittedly, some poetry can be difficult to interpret, but what if you couldn’t understand a word? Would you still hear a child cry, a man scream, a woman laugh? What if you just sat and listened?

Well, you can find out this week at a unique poetry reading event hosted by Michigan State University’s Residential College in Arts and Humanities’ Center for Poetry, where 15 poets and others will read or recite poetry in languages other than English.

During the “Festival of Listening,” Center for Poetry director Anita Skeen said a number of speakers would read in their native languages with no translation and only a short explanation of the poem. Other than that, listeners are free to interpret the meaning.

“This program is exactly what we hoped to have happen with the Poetry Center,” Skeen said. The center has also sponsored Valentine’s Day, Black History Month and sidewalk chalk poetry programs. Skeen said poetry crosses many fields of interest, citing a recent poetry reading on ice hockey as an example.

In addition to the nativelanguage poets, other poems will be read in languages the readers have come to love, Skeen said. “The idea is for guests to come sit, be quiet and listen,” she said.

Some of the presenters prepared for the festival by attending a session, at which Skeen said the pitfalls of reading work in translation were discussed.

Eric Aronoff, assistant professor in the residential college, will read three poems, one in Hebrew, one in Dutch and one in German, and Steve Esquith, dean of the college, will read in French.

Gabriel Dotto, director of MSU Press, will read in Italian. Before coming to MSU, Dotto worked in Italy for an international publishing company. Carol Cole, the colleges executive assistant, will read in Middle English. Other featured languages include Bamanakan and Turkish.

Reading in their native languages are Fredy Rodriguez (Spanish), an anthropology graduate student; Igor Houwat (Arabic) a Center for Advance Teaching and Learning Fellow; Ming Zheng (Chinese) and Aung Way (Burmese).

Although he’s studying anthropology, Rodriguez has been writing poetry in his native language for seven years. He will read “In Between the Mountain and Me,” which details his anthropological fieldwork.

The poem is about his hometown, the Mayan city of Copan, Honduras, which has an extensive archaeological dig. Rodriguez describes the ancient city and what lies between it and the horizon. The poetry, incorporating archaeology, is a natural for Rodriguez. “I grew up among archaeologists,” he said.

His poetry also incorporates the hieroglyphics found in the ruins, which he said are folk tales of early life.

Following the event there will be a reception in the colleges Lookout Gallery, with a sampling of international foods.

The Festival of Listening is just a run-up to numerous poetry programs the center is holding, including a poetry contest sponsored by Scene Metrospace, the Center for Poetry and the Public Humanities Collaborative. Interested writers must attend an exhibit at Scene and respond to one of the works on display with a poem. Cash awards of $100, $50 and $25 will be presented. Also on the agenda is a writing workshop in honor of Women’s History Month and a series of poetry readings featuring noted poets during April, which is National Poetry Month.

The idea is to reach out to people who don’t normally read or listen to poetry. “We want to reach out to those who are poet-phobic,” Skeen said.

Get your rally caps on

The 22nd annual “Rally of Writers” daylong conference on writing is April 4 at the Lansing Community College West Campus Conference Center. The rally will feature 16 sessions with 10 authors, poets and screenwriters, who will cover all aspects of writing and getting published.

This year’s keynote speaker is Gerry LaFemina, a poet, essayist and fiction writer, who will open the conference with the free and peculiarly titled session “The Strange Duality: the Social and Anti- Social Behaviors of Writers and Pleaders.” Registration for the rest of the conference is $60.

Others include Deb Baker, an Upper Peninsula mystery writer; Lev Raphael, memoirist and mystery writer; children’s author and illustrator Ruth McNally Barshaw; novelist Andrea King Collier; and novelist and screenwriter Jeff VandeZande.

A pre-rally event is set for at Schuler Books & Music at the Eastwood Towne Center at 7 p.m. April 3 on “Movies Made in Michigan.”

More details on the rally are available at

Festival of Listening

7 p.m., Friday, March 20 Snyder-Phillips Hall, MSU campus FREE