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Inner Asian Poetry at Ivy Tech

By Michael Krautkraemer


On November 15, 2017, I took a group of four native speakers of Inner Asian languages to the local community college, Ivy Tech, to give a short poetry reading. Our brief, forty-minute time slot was a part of a larger event celebrating poetry in translation, during which poems from all over the world were read in both their original and their English translation. Particularly delightful for me, personally, one of the deans read a selection from Rainer Maria Rilke right on the heels of a short Goethe piece. European languages seemed to be the most common (as one would expect), but we also were treated to some Hafez in the original Persian—a treat for anyone who studies Iran or Persian culture.

The native speakers that I managed to convince to come read for me were Temuujin Nyamdavaa, this year’s Mongolian Fulbright Language Teaching Assistant; Saltanat Karimsattar, the Kazakh language Fulbright Assistant; Alisher Khamidov, the Fulbright recipient from Uzbekistan; and Mirshad Ghalib, a doctoral student in anthropology who is originally from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the People’s Republic of China. Each of the readers chose their own poem that they considered to be representative of a literary tradition in their homeland, and there was considerable variety.

Temuujin began by reading the first few stanzas of “My Native Land,” by Dashdorjiin Natsagdorj, the founding father of modern Mongolian literature. The poem praises the natural beauty of Mongolia, paying particular attention to the border areas, essentially delimiting the boundaries of the modern territory. It includes descriptions like


High stately mountains Khentei, Khangai and Soyon

Forests and thick-wooded ridges-the beauty of the North,

The Great Gobi desert-the spaces of Menen, Sharga and Nomin,

And the oceans of sand deserts that dominate the South,


 (Natsagdorj, Dashdorj. “My Nature Land,” Symphony in the Flint Hills Field Journal, 2015)


Following my (rather poorly-pronounced) rendition of the English, Saltanat read a poem by Abay Qunanbayuli called “Fall.” Abay was one of the late nineteenth century originators of poetry written in the Kazakh vernacular rather than Chaghatay Turkic. This poem mourns the coming of winter and reminds the reader of the importance of hearth and home,


The grass, no longer blooms as before.

These are the youths—unsmiling and sedate.


The color fades from the old men and the beggars,

And leaves depart their trees, laying scattered on the ground.


(Translated by Michael Krautkraemer and Saltanat Karimsattar)


Next, Alisher read a piece from the single most famous Turkic-language poet of all time, a man whose name is variously rendered Nava’i, Navoiy, or Navai and wrote in Chaghatay. Alisher read the poem, the title of which we translated “I Fell into You,” in a slightly archaic dialect of modern Uzbek. It is a mournful poem about unrequited love that begins with the lines


On encountering your beauty, I fell for you headlong

But what a troubled day it was, when I became your lover

Day to day, I knew that my heart needed space from you

From those “day to days” I fell only further in.


(Translated by Michael Krautkraemer and Alisher Khamidov)


Finally, Mirshad read a piece written by Tahir Hamut, probably the greatest of the Uyghur modernist poets, called “Returning to Kashgar.” This poem is a sketch of the author’s hometown, Kashgar, as seen from the point of view of one who has been away for many years


Watching the mysterious unknown figure of Kashgar

I shudder in dread of glorious nights.

Girls that have married, friends that have died, a dry spring.

Eyes are a pinch of earth that has vanished from the land:

a television, some cheap tobacco, a dirty sock, the original of

a translation.


(Translated by Josh Freeman)


All of these pieces were well-received, and several individuals requested copies afterwards. I have always loved poetry, so it was a welcome experience to be able to share the poetry of Inner Asia with an audience of Ivy Tech students and faculty.