Art Beat: Poetry Across Cultures

Jan 16, 2020

Hedy Habra and Dasha Nisula
Credit Andy Robins / WMUK

Writing and translating poetry across cultures is tricky. Just ask Hedy Habra, a poet and artist who taught Spanish at Western Michigan University. Habra is of Lebanese origin, grew up in Egypt, and also lived in Belgium and Greece before to coming to Kalamazoo in 1981. Habra revisits her early cultural roots in her newest poetry collection, Taste of the Earth (Press 23, 2019).


Or ask Dasha Nisula, a retired professor Russian and world literature at Western Michigan University. Nisula doesn’t write her own poetry. Instead, she translates it from other languages, most recently poetry by Slavko Mihalić of Croatia, in a collection titled, Music is Everything (Exile Editions, 2019).

“In every place we’ve lived, we make roots, and when we part from these places, these roots are still alive within us,” Habra says.

Habra says she incorporates her memories and world experiences in all of her books, of prose and poetry. She is fluent in French, Arabic, English, Spanish, and Italian, and she's studying Mandarin Chinese along with Chinese ink brush painting. Her painting is featured on the cover of Taste of the Earth.

For Dasha Nisula, her fascination is not with writing a poem but in translating it.

“Slavko Mihalić has a poem in which he says, 'The poem looks for its poet,'” Nisula says. “And I’m saying, a poem looks for its translator. This helps me understand why I have never translated a whole book from cover-to-cover. I always have to find out which poems are speaking to me, which ones are looking for me. Then I go for those.”

Nisula is the author of four books and also a recent second edition of selected poems by Vesna Parun, titled You With Hands More Innocent (Exile Editions, 2019). Her work has appeared in An Anthology of South Slavic Literatures, Modern Poetry in Translation, Southwestern Review, International Poetry Review, and Colorado Review, among others. Nisula is a member of the American Literary Translation Association.

Hedy Habra and Dasha Nisula will read from their work at Kazoo Books, 2413 Parkview Avenue, in Kalamazoo, on Tuesday, January 21 at 6:30 p.m. They will have a question-and-answer period with the audience and sign books.

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