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Brookline poet laureate hosts evening of multicultural verse

Posted by Your Town  October 26, 2012 03:36 PM

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Ali Mohagerani, owner of Kookoo Cafe in Brookline, reads a poem in Farsi. Photo by Gillian Jackson

As a veteran poetry instructor in Brookline’s school system, Poet Laureate Judy Steinbergh has long recognized what a diverse population of residents occupy her town.

On October 23, at the town library’s Hunneman Hall, Steinbergh arranged an event to celebrate that diversity.

“World of Poetry,” an event that Steinbergh hopes will become an annual celebration, brought together lovers of poetry whose ethnicity dates back to over a dozen countries around the world. Nearly 100 Brookline residents gathered for the evening reading, which featured 19 readers delivering their favorite poems in the languages of their families, forebears and native lands.

For Ali Mohagerani, that language is Farsi. Mohagerani, who owns Kookoo Café in Brookline Village, delighted the audience with his rendition of the famous Persian poet Fereydun Moshiri. A poem celebrating the democratic nature of alleys as meeting places in a large city like Tehran, the poem begins with the lines, “Without you/On a moonlit night,/My thoughts aflight,/I visited that alley again…”

Revolution, romance and resilience were among the themes of the poems, read by adults and young adults alike, in Russian, French, Flemish, Korean, Romanian, Spanish and other languages.

Steinbergh reached out to contacts in the Brookline public schools to find readers who wished to celebrate their native tongue. High school Spanish teacher Ricardo Calleja volunteered immediately.

“I've known Judy Steinbergh for over twenty years,” Calleja said. “She encouraged me and countless teachers in the Brookline system to try our hand at poetry and bring it into our classrooms. When she told me about this event, I couldn't refuse.”

Calleja read a poem of Jose Martí, the national poet of Cuba. “I loved hearing poems in other languages,” he said afterward. “Especially in languages I rarely hear. It proved that the love of rhyme, rhythm and poetic form is universal.”

Giti Ganjei Saeidian, a realtor in Brookline who came from Iran over 20 years ago, read one of her favorite poems of Omar Khayyam. “This is my first encounter with poetry in the United States,” Saeidian said. “I’ve memorized many poems from Iranian poets over the years but never imagined myself reading from them here in the U.S.”

Steinbergh herself was thrilled with the first “World of Poetry” night. “All the readers tonight were great, and I think we are all realizing this vision of how poetry can bring a community together.”

Other readers included Lilia Levitina, Annette Pringle, Roya Amigh, Janice Rebibo, Jim Kates, Maria Marrero, Phillip Speiser, Elizabeth McKim, Rosemie Leyre, Alice D'entremont, and Agnès Albérola. Seventh graders from the Driscoll School and Baker School, as well as students from Brookline High, participated as well.

In the audience was Mary Burchenal, chair of Brookline’s High’s English department, as well as members of the Brookline Commission for the Arts. Over refreshments afterward, readers and guests browsed a selection of books on display from Zephyr Press, a Brookline publisher of books in translation.

Steinbergh’s next appearance as Brookline’s poet laureate will be on November 13 at Brookline Booksmith, where poets Barbara Helfgott Hyett and Jim Kates will join her for a free reading at 7pm.

The writer is a member of the Brookline Commision for the Arts.

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