– Members of the Faculty of Languages and Cultures in the University of Missouri-St. Louis Departments of Anthropology, Sociology and Languages recited poetry rooted in various forms of social protest.
Photo by Cate Marquis / The Current ©
By Albert Nall, Staff Writer for The Current

Members of the Faculty of Languages and Cultures in the University of Missouri-St. Louis Departments of Anthropology, Sociology and Languages recited poetry rooted in various forms of social protest on March 4 from 12:15 to 1:30 p.m. in the J.C. Penney Conference Center. The audience of approximately 40 was treated to refreshments during the event, which was part of UMSL’s Monday Noon Series and National Foreign Languages Week.

After the introduction by Karen Lucas, assistant director for the Center for Humanities, and Maria Balogh, assistant professor of Spanish, the recitation began with Dr. Maria Kouti, a lecturer who read a couple of poems in Greek by Manolis Anagnostakis. Anagnostakis was a Greek poet, as well as a Marxist.

Anagnostakis was at the forefront of the Greek Civil War, in which the Greek army fought against the Greek Communist Party. The Greek Civil War had political dimensions in the issues of martial law and human rights violations, as well as torture and oppressive regimes, Kouti said.

“Anagnostakis believed that history could not be counted or discounted. Whether you are for or against a cause, Anagnostakis contended that a decision was a matter of conscious self-determination and must be carried out one way or the other,” Kouti said. Kouti recited from a couple of other poems written by Anagnostakis.

Dr. Liz Fonseca, assistant professor of Spanish, then read work by Chico Buarque de Holanda, a musician, writer, activist and dramatist from Brazil.

“Greek and Latin theater and poetry was ingrained in the quest for social justice and often had double meanings that were personified by symbols due to censorship and silence,” Fonseca said.

Dr. Margaret Phillips, associate professor of Latin, cited from one of the most prominent tragedies in Greek literature, “Medea,” written by the poet Euripides. Euripides was ahead of his time in the influence of modern drama, comedy and romance. Euripides inflamed Ancient Greek society with his sympathies toward the oppressed in social culture, especially women.

“Medea,” which was written in 431 B.C.E., tells of the marriage between the sorceresses Medea and Jason, the leader of the Argonauts, a band of heroes in Greek mythology. Jason expresses his intention to leave Medea and marry Glauce, the daughter of Creon. Creon, aware of how scorned Medea is over the loss of Jason, intends to send Medea into exile.

Medea succeeds in persuading Creon to hold off on the banishment for one day and plots revenge against Creon and Glauce. Medea acts by poisoning some robes for her and Jason’s unnamed children as a means of hurting her husband and as bait for Glauce.

The literature authored by Euripides was based on the issue of dowry and its effect on women of that time, Phillips said. The husband was viewed as the master of the woman and her body, according to Phillips.

“Men often ranted about how hard they had it because they had to fight wars. The women of Ancient Greek mythology thought to the contrary. These women preferred being behind a shield to bearing children,” Phillips said.

Kersten Horn, assistant professor of German, read from “Silesian Weavers,” an 1840s tale of the miserable life of a German weaver’s family. Dr. Elizabeth Landers, assistant professor of French, then told the tale of Rene Depestre, a Haitian revolutionary who led student riots in the late 1940s that led to the ouster of President Elie Lescot. Depestre is the founder of Cassa de Las Americas publishing house and wrote poetry about the economic exploitation of black slaves in the Caribbean. Landers read from Minerai Noir, which was published in 1956.

Balogh substituted for Elizabeth Eckelkamp, with the Center for International Studies giving a reference to Tanka poetry, which originated in the ninth and tenth centuries and is one of the major genres of Japanese literature. Balogh said that Tanka was widely published in the wake of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in 2011, which is ingrained in the lore of those who survive disasters. Balogh read “On the Sidewalk,” a poem that the professor wrote.

Professor Fushun Le, a Chinese lecturer, closed out the presentation with a discussion of the Song Dynasty that controlled China from 960-1127. Le gave a profile of Du Fu, who was described as the Sage of Poetry during the Tang Dynasty a couple of centuries earlier.

Heller McAlpin, a book critic, and Martha McPhee, a novelist, will be making an appearance in J.C. Penney Conference Center 202 on April 5 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. McAlpin and McPhee are being sponsored by the Greater St. Louis Humanities Festival 2013. For more information about festival events, go to mohumanities.org.

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