WRITING IN TONGUES
Moravian College is no tower of Babel, but neither is English the only language spoken on campus, says Claudia Mesa, assistant professor of Spanish at Moravian. "Maybe we hear English mostly, but you come to our floor and we have a work-study student learning French, but I speak to her in Spanish, and she’s teaching our secretary a few words of Arabic," she says. "And you can go downstairs and [assistant professor of history] Heikki Lempa speaks Finnish, and [assistant professor of political science] Lisa Fischler knows Chinese, [assistant professor of political science] Khristina Haddad is fluent in I don't know how many languages." Moravian's multi-lingual experience can by sampled during a walk around campus, but it's also encapsulated in Babel, the new literary journal produced by the Department of Foreign Languages.
While the department has produced several collections of writing over the years, Babel is a fresh take. As well as a new title, the professionally-printed booklet now sports full-color illustrations by Olga Mesa and a sparsely elegant layout. Its mission, though, remains the same, says Nilsa Lasso-von Lang, assistant professor of Spanish, who instigated the previous incarnations and co-edited the current issue with professor Mesa. "Language classes don't end at the four walls of the classroom," she says. "We want people, especially students, to be aware of that." The issue is dedicated to poetry, with student work in Chinese, French, Italian, and Spanish. Professor Lasso-von Long also contributed a Spanish poem. Future issues will include short stories and essays.
The poems in Babel's inaugural issue were collected in a contest held by the department last semester. More than fifty students submitted their work, ranging from Spanish haikus to Chinese pictograms to a poem shaped like a mountain. (Translations are not included, but hints about some of the poems are provided in the contributors' pages, and readers are encouraged to enjoy the sounds or shapes of poems that they can't read.) Professor Mesa says she especially enjoyed finding out that some of the students in her classes were closet poets. "There are some hidden poets out there," she says. "I was surprised to find out that one student has been writing poetry for thirteen years. This was her first Spanish poem." Attempting poetry in another language is rewarding even for beginners, she adds, since they bring a different point of view. "They may be attracted to words that, for native speakers, have become so normal that they've lost their poetic side." For professor Lasso von-Long, a favorite part of the project was also the most challenging task: motivating the students. "Many students don't like to write poetry," she says. "But it's exciting to help students see that this is a very diverse community. And when you see students start to get excited about a project, that's very rewarding."
Interested in contributing to the next issue of Babel? Submissions are welcome from Moravian students, faculty members, administrators and staffers. Keep an eye out for this semester’s writing contest, or contact Nilsa Lasso von-Lang or Claudia Mesa.