Chalk Pastel by Melody Holmes    Multicultural Book Reviews



Writing Across Cultures: A Handbook on Writing Poetry and Lyrical Prose: From African Drum Songs to Blues; From Ghazal to Haiku; From Villanelle to the Zoo is an absolute treasure. This book has been so popular among STANDARDS staff and visitors, we've had trouble keeping it in our offices. Yes, really.

What doesn't work for most students of writing is live and fully-fleshed, in Edna Kovacs' book. Those of us who are teachers love it because it's a multicultural writing text that in no way separates the "other" from the "conventional." Rather, quatrains and East Indian rubaiyat are co-mingled in the same short chapter, in which Kovacs explains both the Persian and U.S. techniques in accessible, almost luminous language. And her examples, for every poetic and lyrical form, are stunning. For example, the ghazal, a linked verse form originating in "what is now Afghanistan," is represented in Kovac's text by the Delhi poet Ghalib, as in this translation by the late William Stafford:

Only Love has brought us to the world:
Beauty finds itself, and we are found.
All time, all places, call -- here, not here:
no mirror finds the truth but in itself.
To know -- what do we know? To worship --
emptiness takes us into that craving.
Any trace, glimpse, whatever flickers --
that's all we have, known or not known.
Held by the world, targeted here in the openness,
Earth receives the sky bent forward in greeting.

A similar relation between the sacred/imaginative and the material/physical obtains in Kapualokeokalaniakea Dalire's choreographed hand gestures from the hula/mele of Hawai'i. Kovacs suggests that the photographs, below, taken by the dancer, may be incorporated into new forms of "poems, legends, myths, and stories" (135).


hula/mele hand gestures hula/mele body & hand gestures


No teacher expects a student to love a text the same way only a teacher can. Until now. We've got teachers trying this book out on high school teens, university undergraduates, and continuing education adults. The invitation to play and explore the world of producing poetry, through incantation, song, dance, remembrance, and vision has been readily and happily accepted by each of our students.

We are especially pleased to report that one of our interns-in-training, a 17-year-old Chicano/Apache young man who has consistently claimed to hate reading, and who has been persistenly coded in the public schools as "learning disabled," took Kovac's book and thumbed through it, muttering over and over, "This is deep, man; this is deep." Already a writer of great talent, who hides his work from critique, our young friend had previously stated, "I'm not gonna call myself a poet or anything." After reading through the selections in Writing Across Cultures, he looked up and said, "All this is poetry??"

Yes, teachers and students, all this, and more, is poetry. Welcome to the first cross-cultural handbook that opens a gateway wide enough for just about everybody.

And praise to Blue Heron Press for sending out the extra copies to keep this text circulating in our communities!


Canéla A. Jaramillo

Canéla Analucinda Jaramillo




Writing Across Cultures Book Cover © 1996 by Blue Heron Press
Cover Painting © 1996 by Melody Holmes
Original Photographs © 1996 by Kapualokeokalaniakea Dalire

Used by permission


Review © 1996 by Canéla A. Jaramillo



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