Friday, April 05, 2013

Poetry Month-Spirits Dancing Into Light

I met Judith Dickerman-Nelson last month at a writers/publishers event in Lowell, MA. Spirits Dancing Into Light, her book of poetry about the Cambodian refugee experience was published by Loom Press. Judith worked  for the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association for 15 years. She traveled to Cambodia, studied and performed traditional Cambodian dance, and began to learn the Khmer language. Spirits Dancing Into Light is divided into two parts: Cambodia and the Camps and Lowell, Massachusetts. Here's what Judith says about the book:

“When I started writing poems, I felt uncertain about the appropriateness of writing about someone else’s burdens and pain. But the more I talked with my Cambodian friends about this project, the more encouraged I became. They shared their stories and listened to my poems and gave me their support. My writing is filtered through my own experiences, my own thoughts, but their experiences are reflected here, as well. It’s funny to think that at one point I believed I would find happiness teaching college students how to write, and perhaps I would have. But my steps took me elsewhere—to the CMAA where I found another culture, another world really. It was within this world that I found myself most at home, with people I now regard as my second family. Here I found happiness.

I hope that I have honored my second family, honored their history and culture by writing this book of poems. Certainly, that was my intent, and that is why I wanted to have this book translated into Khmer, the two languages side by side. Language is an intrinsic part of culture, and to have these poems only in English seemed wrong. However, these poems do not follow the structure of Khmer poetry; instead, they are, essentially, word for word translation of the English original versions.

The beautiful cover design is by Higgins & Ross, the photograph by James Higgins. The poems were translated in Khmer by Boroeuth Brian Chen. 

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