International Flavor

Language is no barrier at the Euro-San Francisco Poetry Festival

As Ezra Pound said about political speech, “Let the candidate fill his mind with the finest cadences he can discover, preferably in a foreign language, so that the meaning of the words may be less likely to divert his attention from the movement.” Similarly, nonpoets can take in the sense of poetry — if not the meaning — by hearing it spoken in foreign tongues at the Euro-San Francisco Poetry Festival. You might not understand a word of it, but chances are you won't care. The attentive ear can't miss the humor, emotion, and intelligence in the bare speech of a poetry performance, where the essential elements of the verse come through intonation and the combinations of sounds as much as through the definition of the words.

Anyone who has been fortunate enough to see the Berliner Ensemble, for example, knows that a firm grasp of German is not required to catch the nuances of the performance. Volker Braun, a former member of that famous troupe, is now one of his country's leading poets; he will be among the highlights of the festival, which takes place this weekend at various venues around town. On hand will be nearly 30 poets from as far away as France, Sweden, Spain, and Norway — reading in their own languages with translators present. Other highlights include Dacia Maraini from Italy and American beat stalwarts Joanne Kyger and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Among the younger poets, San Francisco's own Taylor Brady stands out as a promising new voice. Brady's hallucinatory prose and poems propel themselves by the “leading tone sound of vowels” to borrow a phrase from poet Robert Duncan. The resulting pieces demand amazing leaps of thought that seem to defy logic but create their own meanings, drawn from the rich stuff of memory. Brady reads Saturday night with poets from Sweden, Norway, and Germany.

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