Translating Poem, Weaving Rug Unites Sioux Falls

Argus Leader
April 15, 2015

Speaking via Skype from Boston, Ben Miller made it plain how diverse Sioux Falls' population has become.

Miller devised a plan to have a William Carlos Williams poem translated into every language spoken in this city, and he shared early efforts at a Tuesday press conference.

"Sioux Falls martial artists teamed up to provide the Korean translation and another resident, a biologist by training, Safi Bagherpour, provided a fine Farsi translation," Miller said.

"Adrian and Vica Anton completed a Romanian translation at their kitchen table one day. Sioux Falls citizens are currently at work filtering the poem through Hindi, Basa, Swahhili and other languages."

The poem, "The Red Wheelbarrow," in all its translations will be read next year in Meldrum Park, where a mural "The World Comes to Whittier" was painted in 2013. Tuesday, supporters of the Mural Speaks! Project met in Van Eps Park to work on a large rug and be available to anyone who wanted to translate the 22-syllable poem.

Volunteer Ann Dyce spliced the strips of material together in appropriately named "hand hold knots" as she worked on the rug, which would take more and more people to complete as it grew larger and larger.

"I do think it's very important we have enough translators, not just for the poem but everything in this town," she said. "And it's very important to recognize our diversity."

Another volunteer and community supporter, Nan Baker, pointed out the project will take two years to complete and that people from around the world are coming together to help with the translation. Baker participated to help organizers "carry out the vision of engaging all of us," she said.

The rug, made of material donated by Sioux Falls company Raven Aerostar, included multiple colors but the blue and gold held special meaning to Jess Miller Johnson, executive director of JAM Art and Supplies, who is guiding the Mural Speaks! project.

"Those look like South Dakota colors," she said, referring to the state flag and the colors in nature.

At the press conference, which included a presentation of a Mural Speaks! themed song written by Ashford King, Miller shared his vision for the project. Miller, a native of Iowa, is a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. He and his wife, a Minnesota native, will move to Sioux Falls in August.

The project has expanded far beyond Sioux Falls and Boston, where other translators are being sought, Miller said.

"In an outpouring of support from beyond the Plains, translations have been donated by a cutting-edge composer based in Canada; an artificial intelligence expert from Padua, Italy; a professional landscaper residing in Watertown, Mass.; a leading Israeli biologist; a Harvard music professor; an L.A. actress who appeared in 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes'; a young poet in Jakarta, Indonesia; a famous Australian historian and many more individuals," he said.

To volunteer to translate "The Red Wheelbarrow" in another language or read it during the 2016 event, contact Colleen Moran, assistant city attorney, at 367-8745 or cmoran@siouxfalls.org. 

THE RED WHEELBARROW

so much depends

upon

a red wheel

barrow

glazed with rain

water

beside the white chickens.

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2015