Scottish performer at Poetry Day bridges language gap

The sound of poetry was heard across the Czech Republic over the past week during the sixth annual Poetry Day festival. Although the festival is mostly a celebration of Czech literature, international poets like the one we just heard were also on the diverse bill. Prague high school students watched as Scottish performance poet Anita delivered some fiery lines.

Anita Govan's poem "Dr. Love" is a frustrated description of what it is like to be young an in love. The poet started speaking slowly and quietly.

Eventually, she builds into an explosion of loud yells. The high school students watching responded to the outburst with laughter and uncomfortable gasps.

For the past three years, the British Council has brought performance poets to Poetry Day to appear before Czech high school English classes. The students at this Charles University auditorium didn't understand every word that Ms. Govan whispered and screamed. But the poet said her brand of performance poetry helped her message cross the language barrier.

"I think actually they probably didn't understand every single word of that one. But it's that thing of translating through the physical body, and translating through the visuals, the voice ... and how you choose to play each line that helps to communicate the feeling, if not every single word is understood."

Still, the students' reactions were mixed.

Boy: "Her body language was just amazing. It's as if she was talking to you. ... I'm pretty astonished."

Girl: "I just didn't expect this. It was another level than what I am used to in poems. And she just screamed, and she was amazing."

Girl: "Well, I liked the poems that I think they were a little bit more performed that they should be. I just didn't like her way of performing. ... I think it shouldn't be so much."

Whether or not the students understood every word, teacher Nada Hruskova says performance poetry in English has an educational benefit for the students.

"We more or less expect that they might have problems understanding, because I think it's even difficult to understand poetry in your own language, and especially if it's performance poetry. Then I think that it's not just about understanding every single word or the message of every single poem, but even just experiencing the atmosphere and maybe getting interested in just trying to find out more or just reading authors, or just being interested in English."

Anita Govan has been involved in teaching this style of poetry in schools in Scotland. She even turned these Czech students into performance poets for a moment, when she recruited them to join her in the poem, "Three Monkeys," by reciting the chorus when she pointed at them during her performance.

Each Sunday, participants will be able to vote in our new series Hit of the Century, covering 100 years of music in Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic. (More)