Wood County native part of poetry anthology
ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM — Chambers of England, an imprint of John Murray Press, part of Hodder & Stoughton Ltd., has published an anthology of poetry in languages identified as endangered.
The anthology of 50 poems from around the world, which was released in North America this month, includes translations from the Faroese language by Wood County native Randi Ward.
The book “Poems from the Edge of Extinction: An Anthology of Poetry in Endangered Languages” was launched in the United Kingdom earlier this year to coincide with UNESCO’s International Year of Indigenous Languages.
The book was edited by Chris McCabe, Poetry Librarian at Southbank Center’s National Poetry Library in London, England. McCabe, a widely published poet who founded the Endangered Poetry Project in 2017, said the anthology developed out of an idea he had in his capacity as National Poetry Librarian of the United Kingdom. He wanted to collect poems spoken or written in endangered and vulnerable languages throughout the world to help foster an understanding of how poetry exists globally.
“I’m delighted to be working with John Murray Learning to showcase the most interesting of this work in Poems from the Edge of Extinction. I hope readers of the book will be as moved as I am by the urgency, invention, and sheer range of poetry as it exists on every continent,” McCabe said in a press release, also noting that one of the world’s nearly 7,000 languages disappears every two weeks.
The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution naming 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL) to encourage urgent action to preserve and revitalize indigenous languages while promoting how these languages represent complex systems of knowledge and communication that should be recognized as strategic resources.
The official IYIL 2019 website stresses the importance of language by citing that “it is through language that we communicate, define our identity, preserve and express our history and culture, learn, defend our human rights, and participate in all aspects of society. We also use language to construct our futures. Language is pivotal in the areas of human rights protection, good governance, peace building, and sustainable development.”
For these reasons, and to further raise awareness of how poetry expands the possibilities of everyday life, language, and collective action, each poem in Poems from the Edge of Extinction appears in its original form, alongside an English translation, and is accompanied by commentary about the language, the poet, and the poem. The anthology includes work by poets such as the United States’ current Poet Laureate Joy Harjo in Mvskoke, Gearoid Mac Lochlainn in Irish Gaelic, Nineb Lamassu in Assyrian, Hawad in Tamajaght, Miguel de Senna Fernandes in Patu’, and Kim Simonsen in Faroese.
Randi Ward, who has been translating Nordic literature for 20 years, says that Faroese is spoken by approximately 60,000 people: 52,000 inhabit the remote Faroe Islands, a self-governing archipelago located in the North Atlantic Ocean, while another 10,000 native speakers are living abroad, mostly in Denmark. “It’s remarkable to consider that there are fewer speakers of Faroese than there are residents in my home county in West Virginia,” Ward said.
Ward first began translating Faroese poetry while she was pursuing her MA in Cultural Studies at the University of the Faroe Islands. Her work, which has garnered international attention, led to Cornell University Library establishing the Randi Ward Collection in its Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections in 2015.
In translating Dr. Simonsen’s poetry for the Poems from the Edge of Extinction anthology, Ward said she was particularly interested in Simonsen’s insight into the complicated legacy of language politics in the Faroe Islands.
“I went to study in the Faroe Islands because I was fascinated by how the Faroese used their poetry and ballad dancing tradition to reconstruct their written language,” Ward said.
“They were able to leverage outside interest in their poetry and language into political influence and support for economic development that eventually resulted in the abolishment of the monopoly system of trade that had kept them impoverished for centuries. The reconstruction of their language was key to the formation and validation of a Faroese national identity. This coincided with the rise of the fishing industry, an increase in population, and a growing movement in favor of self-governance,” Ward said.
“Some people think that what I do has no practical application outside of translation itself,” Ward said, “but studying the poetry and politics of the Nordic lands has taught me how cultivating culture, in and on your own terms, can create opportunities for people to find common ground, better understand their circumstances, and assume more control over their narratives, governance, and natural resources. That’s why it’s very exciting to see some teachers in West Virginia integrating the critical study of contemporary Appalachian literature into their curricula these days.”
Poems from the “Edge of Extinction: An Anthology of Poetry in Endangered Languages” is available on Amazon and at bookstores across the country. For more information about the anthology or the Endangered Poetry Project, visit nationalpoetrylibrary.org.uk.