International PEN Poem Relay

01 Apr 2008

The Poem Relay seeks to raise awareness about freedom of expression in China in a uniquely PEN way – through poetry and translation.

PEN Centres have been invited to translate and record a short poem, “June” (“Liuyue”) by the Chinese poet, journalist and PEN member, Shi Tao, into as many languages as possible. Shi Tao is serving ten years in prison on the charge of “revealing state secrets abroad”.

Via a website with a map of the world and a relay itinerary (similar to the Olympic Torch Relay itinerary), the poem will virtually “travel” around the world, from centre to centre, language to language, adding new translations as it goes, and ending in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics. Visitors to the website will be able to track the poem’s progress and read and hear new translations of the poem as it arrives at each new centre. As there are more PEN centres than there are destinations for the Olympic Torch, the Poem Relay Itinerary will be different from that for the Olympic Torch, but it is hoped it will intersect with it (unofficially) when it can.

The Poem Relay draws together several aspects of PEN – freedom of expression, translation and linguistic diversity – to send the world a message that only PEN can send:

• It supports Freedom of Expression. The poem is by an imprisoned writer, a main case of PEN, and is itself about a forbidden, censored topic.
• It celebrates Poetry and Linguistic Diversity. The translation and “relay” demonstrate the diversity of languages, literatures, and writers in the world, while at the same time demonstrating International PEN’s diversity and global reach.

The Poem Relay is one of a number of actions organised as part of International PEN’s 2008 China Campaign in the lead up to the Beijing Olympics. The Relay will be managed by a Relay Team on behalf of International PEN and its China Campaign. The team consists of: PEN Sydney (Chip Rolley), Independent Chinese PEN Centre (Zhang Yu) and Swiss German PEN Centre (Kristin T. Schnider).

The following SA PEN members kindly agreed to participate in the project and have submitted their translations:

Dr. Azila Reisenberger – Hebrew
Stanley Onjezani Kenani – Chichewa
D.M. Bin Ngulu Kabemba – French, Lingala and Swahili

“June” “arrived” at the PEN Club Hellenique in Athens, Greece, on the 30th March. On the 31st March the poem “arrived” at the Austrian, German-speaking Writers Abroad and Polish PEN Centres. “June” will arrive in South Africa on the 13th April so diarise to visit on this date! Click on the yellow flag on South Africa on the map of the world. You will be able to see and hear Azila, Stanley and Kabemba’s translations.