Each year during their January interim I facilitate a three-day workshop with 30-35 Japanese students in the Academy of International Education program based in Osaka, Japan. These students are enrolled at St. Martin’s University and Pierce Community College in Lacy, WA. Students vary in their English speaking proficiency. One of the 5th year students acts as our translator.
In 2010, with encouragement and guidance from Paul Merchant, we worked with four William Stafford poems: “A Ritual To Read To Each Other,” “Ask Me,” “A Valley Like This” and “For My Young Friends Who Are Afraid.” You may review this work on Lewis & Clark College’s William Stafford Archives website (blog of February 25, 2010, under “Information”).
This year we worked with “Malheur Before Dawn” using the following reflection questions: Write about the title, what does it seem to prefigure? How does it work to assist the ideas of the poem? Choose one line from the poem and respond to it: What are your associations with it? What does it remind you of? What question does it ask or answer? Why did you choose this line? Which one word is at the heart or core of this poem? If you had to choose one word to represent the entire poem, which would it be? Explain your choice.
Students work in groups of four, writing individual responses then discussing in their small group followed by full group discussion. The students were asked ahead of time to bring a poem of their own choosing, including a short biography of the poet. We discussed these poems also and compared ideas from their excellent selections to those expressed in “Malheur Before Dawn”. We tied these ideas to Ekhart Tolle’s New Earth, a book they’d been required to read this summer during their annual 30 -day retreat in Hokkaido.
On the third day the students drew a “wood cut” illustrating the one line they’d chosen from “Malheur Before Dawn”. I’d shown them on a large screen Michael Spafford’s wood cuts illustrating Wallace Stevens’ s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”, two wood cuts for each of the thirteen stanzas. Particular drawing paper and pens were selected in advance with advice from Art Media.
One of the students, Seijun Kanazawa, translated “Malheur Before Dawn” from English into Japanese. This is a student who is learning English as his second language! Hirotsugu Kawai, Miho Harada and Yosuki Oi, and a group of students from Steilacoom Hall wrote their own responses to “Malheur” in English.
The Directors of the program say that they’re amazed at the language learning that takes place during these three days.
My thanks to Paul Merchant for encouraging this project, Ann Staley for her help with the focused free-write questions, and to Takuya Otani, Director for his endless patience and good humor in coordinating all the details.
The students in this program were:
Shuhei Nagashima, Masato Nishida, Masaaki Hasegawa, Seijun Kanazawa. Takeshi Ono, Takanori Ito, Akira Oishi, Ikue Nomura, Miho Harada, Kyoko Shimozono, Yuma Kanai, Yosuke Oi, Ryota Mizutani, Tetsuya Yonetsu, Eriko Nekomoto, Mayumi Iwata, Takashi Fujii, Yuki Kato, Yasuyuki Shimada, Takuya Hashimoto, Hirofumi Kuroda, Maki Endo, Ayumi Mikuriya, Yuki Otsuki, Kaoru Fujita, Kokoro Iwano, Koshiro Ueda, Takumi Iizuka, Atsuhito Sekiya, Shingo Kojima, Ryoko Wada, Hiroko Momose, Kimiko Hakomori, Hirotsugu Kawai, So Sato, Makoto Yuasa.
Barbara Schramm, MA
Paul Merchant comments:
Here is the poem, “Malheur before Dawn,” by William Stafford. It was first collected in Holding onto the Grass (Honeybrook Press, 1992), and reprinted in Even in Quiet Places (Confluence Press, 1996) and The Way It Is (Graywolf Press, 1998):
Malheur Before Dawn
An owl sound wandered along the road with me.
I didn’t hear it—I breathed it into my ears.
Little ones at first, the stars retired, leaving
polished little circles on the sky for awhile.
Then the sun began to shout from below the horizon.
Throngs of birds campaigned, their music a tent of sound.
From across a pond, out of the mist,
one drake made a V and said its name.
Some vast animal of sound began to rouse
from the reeds and lean outward.
Frogs discovered their national anthem again.
I didn’t know a ditch could hold so much joy.
So magic a time it was that I was both brave and afraid.
Some day like this might save the world.